Winter Soldier Syndrome

More than one reader has suggested that I go to a website hosted by Iraq Veterans Against the War to read about the “reality” of the Iraq war. It actually started before I joined Steve and Philip here on last year–people began emailing me on MySpace and telling me to read IVAW articles and quit talking about what I don’t understand. At least one was a person I knew; he had served in the Marines, but his boots never left U.S. soil. Others quoted names such as Jessie MacBeth and Josh Lansdale and suggested that I was fabricating knowing several people who had served and believed in their mission.

What’s hilarious to me now is that every single name quoted to me by those folks has been debunked as a fraud. And the list of said frauds continues to grow as time wears on. Let’s start at the beginning:

Shortly before the Iraq invasion, comic book author Micah Wright published a book called You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want! In it he claimed to be a former Army Ranger who’d served in Operation Just Cause (the 1989 invasion of Panama meant to depose drug lord and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega) and had been forever changed by war. He was exposed as a fraud by Richard Leiby in the Washington Post and later recanted his story, resulting in his publishers dropping his material before his contract was set to expire.

Jimmy Massey claimed that, during his service as a Marine in Iraq, he and his comrades committed heinous atrocities. Among them were that his unit had fired on unarmed, peaceful Iraqi protesters, American Marines had shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head, and that at one point, his unit had killed so many civilians that they had to call in a tractor-trailer rig to carry the bodies away. He went on a speaking tour with Cindy Sheehan to warn parents of the evils of military recruiters and wrote a book called Kill, Kill, Kill that was a big hit in France. The Associated Press took Massey’s claims and ran with them, trumpeting them from every media outlet that would carry the story. They never checked their facts: they had a reporter, Ravi Nessman, embedded with Massey’s unit, and Nessman wrote in excess of 30 pieces about the unit’s activities. Nessman was never consulted, nor were the Marines ever asked to respond to the story before it was published as the gospel truth. To this day, however, he maintains a website where he peddles his lies and they are swallowed whole.

Jessie MacBeth was once the darling posterboy of IVAW. He claimed to be an Army Ranger who served in Iraq and, like Massey, claimed he had either carried out or witnessed unspeakable acts of horror on innocent civilians in Iraq. He even posted a picture of himself in uniform with a flag backdrop. But as soon as the picture was released, real Rangers were all over MacBeth like flies on a cowpie. His beret was worn backwards, his BDU undershirt was the wrong color, his sleeves were rolled up (Rangers don’t do that), and his unshaven face was completely outside of Army regulations. A tiny bit of digging turned up MacBeth’s form DD-214 (his record of honorable discharge): he served from January to June, 2003, and never left basic training. He certainly never went to Ranger school or Iraq. To be fair, IVAW later began requiring proof of service and no longer endorses MacBeth.

Josh Lansdale, through Wesley Clark’s VoteVets organization, spoke up on behalf of vets by claiming that the Bush administration’s slashing of VA benefits left him unable to access care for his severe PTSD and “busted ankle” (as he put it) for six months. A VA spokesman raised the first red flag when he said that a soldier such as Lansdale would have been bumped to the top of the list and would have been treated within less than 30 days. Clark’s VoteVets group featured Lansdale in an ad designed to smear the Republican incumbent Clark was running against and claimed that soldiers were being sent to Iraq with “Vietnam-era body armor” (a patent lie). Lansdale disappeared shortly after the ad aired; his 1Sgt, Gary Kuehn, spoke about Lansdale’s claims after he retired and shot down every single one. He even pointed out that Lansdale’s busted ankle came from playing volleyball.

Scott Thomas Beauchamp wrote Shock Troops, a diary series, in The New Republic. In it he claimed that he had taken part in ridiculing a woman disfigured by an IED blast, laughed at a fellow soldier as he supposedly marched around with the skull of an Iraqi child, and helped another soldier use a Bradley vehicle to run over dogs. It was the claims of jerking the Bradley “hard to the right” to run over a dog that caught the attention of several reporters; a Bradley is a big, bulky vehicle incapable of sharp turns. Beauchamp later recanted, admitting that he had hoped that his time in the war would earn him credibility as a writer–after claiming “absolute moral authority” on the grounds of simply being a soldier.

Last but not least, today Michelle Malkin and This Ain’t Hell have exposed another fraudster used by the anti-war crowd to push their agenda. Rick Duncan claimed to be a former Marine. He claimed he survived the attack at the Pentagon on 9/11 and later served three tours in Iraq with the Marines. He claimed to have been a Marine Captain and said he’d graduated the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He also claimed that during his third tour in Iraq, he was badly injured in an IED attack that killed four Marines and left him with a plate in his skull and blew off a finger (which was miraculously reattached). This week, members of the Colorado Veterans Alliance–a group that “Duncan” founded–discovered that he was actually Richard Glen Strandlof, and he’d actually been a patient in a mental hospital in Nevada during the time he supposedly survived the IED in Fallujah. He’s now in custody and is being investigated by the FBI for stealing money from the coffers of the CVA.

I can’t remember the last time I heard such a fable being fabricated by someone who supports the war.

Media fact-checking faux pas aside, the IVAW, Winter Soldier, VoteVets and other similar organizations have put people just like this up on their pedestals to speak for them before confirming the veracity of their claims. Not only is it damning to our country, but such fairy tales demean the thousands upon thousands who have served honorably (and the many who have bled and died) in the war, having never witnessed or committed any atrocity like the ones claimed by these charlatans. Winter Soldier began with a political wannabe named John Kerry and his cohorts lying to Congress about witnessing similar atrocities in Vietnam. Winter Soldier Syndrome lives on today.