Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A problem

Awhile ago my friend Dann posted a blog entry, which in turn referred us to this blog by Michael Yon. It's a long entry and has some interesting stuff and some great photos. But what Dann was understandably disturbed by -- as was I -- was this quote:
The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

This kind of thing is enough to send a cold chill down anyone's back. And from what we all know of al Qaeda, they're twisted enough in their thinking to use any means to achieve an end.
But it didn't quite make sense to me. Everything I read about any militant Islamist organization shows them using much more logical tools to gain the trust and participation of the people. They hand out money. They move in where there's war or disaster and turn people against the West with acts of charity that make them beloved and protected as they spread their tentacles through the populus. Do they intimidate or do they recruit? Probably both.

You can't prove a negative. Did it happen? Does it happen? I asked my Israeli friend.

This is a woman who is very politically active. She's a political writer, steeped in news and blog sources, reads all sides. And she deeply loves her country. Like all Israeli citizens, she served in the INF, and her son does now. During last summer's war with Lebanon, she was near the border helping the citrus harvest in the kibbutz in which she was raised. Her husband was reactivated to INF duty and she spent the war in a bomb shelter wondering if he and their son would come home. Neither she, nor any Israeli, will have any liking for militant anti-Israel Islam. She says this and I offer it to you:

Yes, this is a very common regional rumour, and appears from time to time. I personally heard it first about the Syrians back in 1968. Here is an account of it from a right wing [emphasis mine] newspaper: It's obviously apocryphal, there is no substantiation of it and it is a very common rumour, as I said. It has appeared from time to time in many situations, from the Inquisition onwards and probably before that. There is a sociological issue, or button, that is pushed whenever cannabalism is mentioned and it is very common to accuse one's enemies of it to demonise them. It's done by most cultures who want to de-humanise their opposition. It has a parallel in the "Jews use the blood of Christian Children to make matzoh" slander common in Poland and other eastern european nations in the 16-20th centuries, also.

It is not true - the story your friend and World Net Daily quoted - and you will notice there is no sourcing, no direct witnesses, etc., so it has all the earmarks of an urban legend. You will not find this story sourced in any legitimate press (and if there was a shred of evidence of it's veracity, believe me, there are a million Fox reporters who would be slavering to report it, as well as Murdoch rags).


ronnie said...


Have you emailed a link to this post to Yon?


Mike said...

There's a bigger issue here than someone falling for ... or in this case, uncritically passing along ... an old legend. Hemingway famously said that a reporter needed a built-in bullsh*t detector. This guy obviously doesn't have one, because this is the kind of story that shocks you for five minutes, until you say, "Wait a minute, that's ridiculous ..." and start looking for sources.

If he is going to be so completely gullible about something so obviously phony, how on earth can you trust him to sort through the more difficult and subtle issues in a situation like this?

In our business, credibility is all we have.

Dann said...

Actually, Michael Yon posted a statement on his blog a couple days later specifically indicating that he had no independent confirmation of that particular incident. He continues to seek independent verification of the story as he travels throughout Anbar.

The "baked boy" incident was reported as part of a much larger report of mass graves of Al Qaeda victims that were discovered. The report of mass graves was very well documented.

So, yes, Ruth, terrorists do use threats to coerce people that resist into compliance. Cash is the carrot and guns are the stick. The terrorists use both.

Michael tries, and IMO succeeds most of the time, at keeping his reporting and his opinions separate. He reports what he sees with as little filtering as possible. When he offers an opinion, he makes it clear that it is his opinion rather than expressing his opinion by choosing to report/not report facts on the ground.

I wouldn't judge his work based on this one episode. His credibility at this point is better than the AP, Reuters, and the BBC, IMO.

At the very least, he is worthy of being given a second chance on this issue.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

OK, Dann, i read the link you posted as a 2nd chance for Yon and i feel he had a second chance there he didn't take.

Perfection in journalism isn't possible, and i assure you i do not apply weakest-link criteria to it and say a mistake makes the body of work worthless. It's his failure to admit "I effed up," not the eff-up itself that could discredit him, and WHAT a waste of a decent writer with a unique you-are-there position and great photography.

Instead he gets prickly and hauls out "I never claimed it was verified" and calls it "precious" (!) to call him on the lack of verification.

His claim that, from the verified beheadings and torture, to cannibalism, it's not much of a stretch - well, i disagree, but if others don't, OK. Matter of opinion, certainly both are true atrocities.

Yet i wonder why, gullible or not, he doesn't stick to what he observes or what is documented. Aren't those incidents horrible enough? He's the one claiming that the destruction of those children in that mass grave is just as bad as cannibalism - so why bother with the lurid and undocumented?

Unless he's not being entirely straight in saying he considers them comparable, and he really does think (as i do) that the cannibalism thing, if it were true, would be yet a newer and more horrible level of evil. And that reporting it will stir people and achieve an end, despite the means being shrouded in unknowns.

If those who support and believe in what he's doing were to tell him "Retract that fully and don't do it again" they'd be doing him and his work a huge service.

Dann said...

Hi Ruth....btw, is "Ruth" OK here? My place? Anywhere outside of racs??

Short and sweet....

1) I have a correction/modification/update posted on my site that I believe adequately addresses the issue you have raised.

2) The WND story is incorrect. It states that Michael Yon has confirmed that the cited passage happened when in fact he has never confirmed it. Mr. Yon confirmed and documented the mass graves found by the Iraqi Army and coalition forces.

3) Your Israeli friend is incorrect in claiming that the story wasn't sourced. It was sourced from someone serving in the Iraqi Army that asked not to be named. She is correct in stating that there were no direct witnesses.

4) I disagree that Mr. Yon's work is a waste of a decent writer. He has a better batting average than does the AP, BBC, Reuters, etc.... IMO.

5) Thank you for pointing out the weakness in that particular story so that I could...I hope....adequately correct my blog.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Dann - good entry.

And to all - call me Ruth anyplace you run into me if you like. I fail to sign comments not out of a desire for that much anonymity but out of pure forgetfulness! I'm an unmedicated ADD.

Call me anything, just don't call me late for brownies.