- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

With Marines being accused of war crimes, the blogosphere is doing what it does best: scrutinizing the reporting. In this case, the site Sweetness & Light has been on Time magazine’s case for what appears to be justifiable concerns over its reporting of the Nov. 19 Haditha incident, in which Marines are under investigation for killing two dozen innocent Iraqis.

Time first broke the story on Haditha in March, four months after the incident — a delay which too few of the Marines’ more ardent accusers (such as Rep. John Murtha) failed to question. One of Time’s key sources who had taken footage of the aftermath was represented only as a “journalism student.” It has since been learned that this eyewitness was Taher Thabet al Hadithi.

Here’s how Time reporter Aparisim Ghosh described Mr. Hadithi: “[H]e’s a young local man … He brought the tape to Hammurabi Human Rights… and they brought it to us once they found out that we were inquiring about this.”

In fact, Mr. Hadithi is middle-aged and a co-founder of the Hammurabi Organization. The Associated Press has described him as an “Iraqi investigator.” Either Mr. Hadithi misrepresented himself to Time, or Time chose not to mention his association with the previously unknown Hammurabi Organization in its original article on the incident.

Then there’s the timing issue. Mr. Hadithi says he witnessed Marines going house to house killing Iraqis, and videotaped the aftermath the next day. This raises the question of why Mr. Hadithi, or the Hammurabi Organization, waited at least two months before bringing his tape to the attention of the mainstream media, especially since Hammurabi proclaims itself a human-rights group. Nor did Hammurabi’s other founder, Abdul-Rahman al Mashhadani, mention the alleged massacre during an interview with the Institute for War and Peace in December.

In a June 4 article, Time acknowledged Mr. Hadithi’s connections to the Hammurabi Organization, and this time labeled him a “budding Iraqi journalist and human-rights activist.” The article concludes, “If there is any beneficiary at all of the tragedy, it is Hammurabi…which is flooded with new volunteers and free to do its work more aggressively.”

Time has had to correct its earlier contention that it received the video from Human Rights Watch, which Time identified as working with the Hammurabi Organization. Human Rights Watch, as Time now acknowledges, has no association with Hammurabi, raising yet another question: Just what is the Hammurabi Organization? More to the point, did Time adequately vet its founders for conflicts of interest before printing their story and putting our troops at greater risk?

Time has also had to correct its reporting that “one of the most damning pieces of evidence investigators have in their possession, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told Time’s Tim McGirk, is a photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling — and thus posing no threat — before they were shot.” Mr. Sifton has now admitted to Time that he has no firsthand knowledge of this mysterious photo.

As counter-evidence goes, Time’s misreporting unfortunately does little to clear up what happened in Haditha. But as a case-in-point lesson in how the media can artfully angle a story, it’s evidence enough.

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