To the Editors of The Nation
“The Other War: Iraq Veterans Bear Witness,” by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, paints a horribly inaccurate picture of civilian deaths in Iraq and the experiences of many veterans interviewed for this article.
That innocent Iraqi civilians are caught in the conflict’s crossfire is a great tragedy, one felt deeply by American service members. Difficult, and sometimes questionable, decisions are made in the fog of war. However, this article does the US military and The Nation‘s readership a disservice with its sensationalistic and unethical reporting methods.
The Nation violated the trust of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and many of the service members interviewed. Reporters told our members that the focus of this piece was their experience in Iraq generally, not civilian casualties specifically. Many of the veterans involved spent hours talking to Ms. Al-Arian and shared deeply personal recollections on a variety of subjects, only to have their experiences misrepresented and/or isolated. The most graphic recollections were removed from context and used to bolster a preconceived conclusion by the authors about the patterns and frequency of civilian deaths. Critical facts were obscured or omitted entirely. This entire piece is a glaring example of the type of low-quality journalism that has been all too common in the coverage of the war in Iraq since it began.
The reporting tactics employed by Ms. Al-Arian were consistently questionable and even nefarious. One of our members wrote, “I did a two-hour interview with Laila [Al-Arian] and she cherry-picked one tiny anecdote for the piece. I felt used by the whole process.” Another interviewee repeatedly asked the interviewer to clarify the definition of Iraqi “civilian.” The reporter’s refusal to provide that clarification led to a complete misrepresentation of the circumstances they discussed.
In the interviews, veterans described thoughts and responses that were specific to particular circumstances on the battlefield. In the article, those sentiments were portrayed as being the norm. As a result of this selective representation of the facts, egregious practices by service members in Iraq are described in the article as common. For instance, the use of the term “haji” is mentioned in the piece, but the reporters never state that the military banned the use of the term once its use in a derogatory manner became widespread. One of our members explained that to the reporter, but that detail, like so many other relevant ones, did not make it into the published piece.
Our organization was shocked and extremely disappointed by the tactics and low standards demonstrated by The Nation in the writing of this article. The men and women quoted in this article bravely spoke out precisely because they were concerned about the war and its effects on all people in Iraq–military or civilian. Like honorable military service, solid journalism requires an extremely high level of integrity and professionalism. This article is journalism at its worst. The veterans quoted trusted The Nation, and that trust was betrayed. Our members put themselves and their families at tremendous risk by choosing to participate in this article. But that is for each of them to worry about now. And The Nation has a sensational story that is sure to gain significant attention and sell numerous copies.