Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stretching the (anti-)war facts

The past week has seen some controversy on the Internet concerning Christopher Hitchens and Juan Cole.

I, too, have become somewhat upset with remarks that Professor Cole has made on his blog, actually on his comments section. On Friday evening, Professor Cole added the following to a discussion:
At 6:21 PM, Juan said...
Professor Wade writes:

Professor Cole: Today, in the LA Times, Borzou Daragahi reports that the US military "revealed" parts of a "planning memo" by al-Qaida "seized" last month in a raid. The memo "ordered" the mujaheddin, among other things, to "expel those black market sellers of gas, bread or meat...suspected of spying against us." A BLACK MARKET IN BREAD! What is the official price of bread in Iraq? Another pathetic hoax. Psyops has become truly absurd. Thank you for your great commentary.

Larry Wade, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of California, Davis
This was in regards to reporting from Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times on Friday. The report stated, in part:
The memo, which the military said was seized during a raid last month, ordered followers to "make the struggle entirely between Shiites and the mujahedin," as the militants refer to themselves, and lambasted moderate Sunni groups. It included a call for insurgents to "displace the Shiites and displace their shops and businesses from our areas. Expel those black market sellers of gas, bread or meat or anyone that is suspected of spying against us."

The memo, if authentic, provides some of the strongest evidence to date to support an accusation U.S. officials repeatedly have made — that Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been deliberately trying to exploit the country's simmering sectarian and ethnic tensions to spark a full-blown civil war.

The authenticity of the memo could not be verified independently, but its language appears to resemble that of Iraqi insurgency material posted on the Internet and distributed on fliers. Moreover, the memo's call to shift the focus of attacks from Americans and toward Shiites appears to reflect the reality on the ground.
The reporting from the Times on this story seemed appropriate, however, Professor Wade's comments and Juan Cole's dissemination of those remarks were not warranted. Wade seems to have derived his conspiracy theory from just one passage of the memo as reported in a major newspaper. From that, he derives a PsyOps (note the use of military parlance while deriding the troops' honesty and competence) scheme -- a pathetic hoax.

Well, Shiite leaders of prominence believed the memo.

And the first reporting of the Zarqawi tape and memo has an ambiguous mention of "items" that may include documents such as the one presented by the Los Angeles Times, the Army Times with my emphasis:
Among items recovered from the safe house, the special operations source said, was a video showing Zarqawi at various times in “black pajamas with New Balance running shoes on.”

The source said the video seized in Yusufiyah was the same one released April 25.
I emailed Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad to ask about the veracity of the Zarqawi memo. He clarified the translation, "It should have been 'black-market vendors of gas, as well as sellers of bread and meat.'"

Daragahi also wrote, "I don’t think the memo is a psy-ops hoax because we’ve been seeing assassination against bakers and butchers as well as gas vendors."

That reflected the passage in his original story about the reality on the ground matching Zarqawi's alleged tactics. On his Sunday post, Cole rightly praised Daragahi's reporting on Shiite-U.S. tension.

The unfounded allegation by Professor Wade and used by Professor Cole that PsyOps were somehow involved in crafting a Zarqawi document was irresponsible.


Blogger Ezzie said...

Now the Q is... do such stretches of stories happen often to fit agendas?

Impressive post, btw.

10:14 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

In this case, it seems so.

Thank you. Borzou Daragahi is also an outstanding correspondent and I recommend reading everything he publishes.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Rex Publius said...

For all his expertise, Cole showed he was the dog in the fight when he alleged Hitch wrote his Slate piece drunk, while in fact he was, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, who was at Hitch's office at the time, "Stone cold sober."

For all the left can complain about Hitch, and they have ample material to do so, why does everyone just always say "Well, he's a drunk!"

Hitchens critics lose an edge by resorting to ad hominem attacks and not talking about the substantive issues.

3:30 PM  

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