Here’s a quick chronology, followed by my comments.
First, during this summer’s Israeli/Hezbollah War, AP, along with several other news outlets, was shown to have relied upon doctored and staged photographs, and false and/or misleading stories fed to them by local stringers sympathetic to Hezbollah. (You can read all about it here, at LGF.)
Second, for some time in the Iraq War, major news outlets have been caught relying on information, some true and some false, that they received from local “reporters” whose manifest sympathies lie with the insurgents. Many of these stories and photos have been nothing more than propaganda for the insurgents. I don’t know offhand whether AP has been caught in this propaganda net, but I suspect a little research would show that it has.
Third, this weekend, AP reported that Shiia militia burned six Sunni men alive.
Fourth, Curt, at Flopping Aces, dug into the story and discovered (a) that the source the AP cites is probably an imposter and (b) that the US Army has no knowledge of the alleged event — which is pretty surprising, because it was reported as a huge deal. Curt found a whole bunch of other stuff, which you should read at the source, but all of which points to problems, big problems with the AP story.
By Steven R. Hurst, Associated Press BAGHDAD — The attack on the small Mustafa Sunni mosque began as worshippers were finishing Friday midday prayers. About 50 unarmed men, many in black uniforms and some wearing ski masks, walked through the district chanting “We are the Mahdi Army, shield of the Shiites.”
Fifteen minutes later, two white pickups, a black BMW and a black Opel drove up to the marchers. The suspected Shiite militiamen took automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the vehicles. They then blasted open the front of the mosque, dragged six worshippers outside, doused them with kerosene and set them on fire.
This account of one of the most horrific alleged attacks of Iraq’s sectarian war emerged Tuesday in separate interviews with residents of a Sunni enclave in the largely Shiite Hurriyah district of Baghdad.
The Associated Press first reported on Friday’s incident that evening, based on the account of police Capt. Jamil Hussein and Imad al-Hashimi, a Sunni elder in Hurriyah, who told Al-Arabiya television he saw people who were soaked in kerosene, then set afire, burning before his eyes.
AP Television News also took video of the Mustafa mosque showing a large portion of the front wall around the door blown away. The interior of the mosque appeared to be badly damaged and there were signs of fire.
However, the U.S. military said in a letter to the AP late Monday, three days after the incident, that it had checked with the Iraqi Interior Ministry and was told that no one by the name of Jamil Hussein works for the ministry or as a Baghdad police officer. Lt. Michael B. Dean, a public affairs officer of the U.S. Navy Multi-National Corps-Iraq Joint Operations Center, signed the letter, a text of which was published subsequently on several Internet blogs. The letter also reiterated an earlier statement from the U.S. military that it had been unable to confirm the report of immolation…
…The U.S. military said that neither police nor coalition forces had reports of such an incident.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry later said that al-Hashimi, the Sunni elder in Hurriyah, had recanted his account of the attack after being visited by a representative of the defense minister…
…Seeking further information about Friday’s attack, an AP reporter contacted Hussein for a third time about the incident to confirm there was no error. The captain has been a regular source of police information for two years and had been visited by the AP reporter in his office at the police station on several occasions. The captain, who gave his full name as Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, said six people were indeed set on fire.
On Tuesday, two AP reporters also went back to the Hurriyah neighborhood around the Mustafa mosque and found three witnesses who independently gave accounts of the attack. Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened.
Those who would talk said the assault began about 2:15 p.m., and they believed the attackers were from the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He and the Shiite militia are deeply rooted in and control the Sadr City enclave in northeastern Baghdad where suspected Sunni insurgents attacked with a series of car bombs and mortar shells, killing at least 215 people a day before.
The witnesses refused to allow the use of their names because they feared retribution either from the original attackers or the police, whose ranks are infiltrated by Mahdi Army members or its associated death squads.
Two of the witnesses — a 45-year-old bookshop owner and a 48-year-old neighborhood grocery owner — gave nearly identical accounts of what happened. A third, a physician, said he saw the attack on the mosque from his home, saw it burning and heard people in the streets screaming that people had been set on fire. All three men are Sunni Muslims…
That’s the rundown. Here’s my comment about the language I highlighted in the above “news” report:
Who are these two unidentified AP reporters? If these are the same types of stringers who have been filing false reports and shilling photos during both the Iraq War and the Israeli/Hezbollah War, why should we believe these further assertions? Frankly, AP doesn’t have any credibility with me. I’d like some independent corroboration. I’d be a whole lot more interested in this alleged proof if the AP would name the reporters who went back to the neighborhood to update their witness list.
I’m also sorry to say that, by this time, I’m unlikely to believe any local witnesses, and would accept only forensic evidence from the site itself. Because the story has legs, and because the insurgents’ favorite news outlet has been challenged, I think any witness who comes forward now is tainted. It’s just as likely that these purported eyewitnesses are plants who have been carefully groomed to give “nearly identical” and possibly false accounts of something that may or may not have happened.
AP has only itself to blame for this, even if the story is in fact true. Having blown its credibility with a series of demonstrably false stories in the past several year, why should I trust it now?
UPDATE: Read about CENTCOM’s response to the AP’s latest salvo in the War against the American Military. By the way, I love Charles Johnson’s new name for AP — Associated (with terrorists) Press.
UPDATE II: You can see Michelle Malkin’s clear rundown of the whole sequences of events here, at Hot Air.