Are there consequences for soldiers who write publicly, and prominently, against the war? Eight are finding out. “We have failed on every promise,” wrote seven 82nd Airborne paratroopers in a stark dispatch from Baghdad that was the lead Sunday op-ed in The New York Times Aug. 19. Superiors at Fort Bragg were surprised—but not professors at Marquette, where Sp. Buddhika Jayamaha, whose name led the op-ed, had studied. One, Barrett McCormick, said he e-mailed with “BJ” recently. “He was very curious about what was going to happen,” he says. “No one knows what the repercussions will be.”
There may not be any. Army policies permit soldiers to write or blog as long as they don’t compromise operational security (e.g., troop locations) or challenge civilian leadership. “Until it is established that they violated any regulations, they will not be punished just for their views,” said Army spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt.
The future is murkier for Pvt. Scott Beauchamp, whose shocking tales in The New Republic—including a soldier wearing a fragment of a child’s skull—were disputed by bloggers, notably at The Weekly Standard. The influential magazine, which in 1998 was hurt badly by a writer’s serial fabrications, said in two editor’s notes it had re-reported Beauchamp’s work and stood by it, except for one error: one anecdote took place in Kuwait, not Iraq.
But the editors have had no contact with Beauchamp in weeks, and efforts to corroborate his work have stalled. His wife, Elspeth Reeve, a fact-checker at the magazine, said his cell phone and laptop had been confiscated; that he is permitted to speak only to her, his mother and a lawyer, and that some calls are supervised. But the Army said Beauchamp has no restrictions on his communications. (Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.)
The New Republic is waiting to talk to Beauchamp, leaving its critics unchallenged. “It’s maddening,” says editor Franklin Foer. How long can an editor ask readers to wait? “It’s important to try to be thorough … If it takes time, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl said its inquiry is ongoing at the unit level. Beauchamp can’t be punished for his views, but he faces the possibility of an administrative, or noncriminal, charge if the Army determines he lied in his writings.