Monday, July 03, 2006

July 3 Mahmudiyah Update: Little News, E & P Ghoulish

The Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer provides some additional details of the Mahmudiyah crime. Virtually all of the details are sensationalistic and virtually none have probative value, save for possibly this:

"The family kept the news a secret, fearing the disgrace," he said. "They thought it was done by militias, not U.S. forces."

Reached by telephone Saturday at his home in Iskandariyah, south of Mahmudiyah, a member of the extended family would not discuss the incident.

"What is the benefit of publishing this story?" said Abeer's uncle, Bassem. "People will read about this crime. And they will forget about it the next day."

This explains why no report of a crime ever reached the U.S. military. The military had been interested in the case because they thought it was an terrorist attack, but only opened their criminal investigation after two different American soldiers reported hearing rumors about the incident.

The Post reports that a neighbor claims the girl was afraid of the soldiers and that the girl's mother had made arrangements for her to stay at the neighbor's house. Knickmeyer also traces with great attention to detail the dates and relative times of known events, such as when the bodies were claimed and how long the military investigated the scene on the day of the attack. Most of the details seem trustworthy, but the Post may have used dubious sources: Robin Boyd has found that the Post may have cribbed large portions of their story from a jihadi web site.

Meanwhile, Editor & Publisher is positively ghoulish about the whole affair, praising the Post's reporting by adding melodramatic airs to the story before quoting the Post at length.

To balance the effects of reading all the gruesome details of a crime American soldiers are being investigated for, and frankly because I could use a break from writing about those details, I've decided to add to any Mahmudiyah post a report of a soldier's heroism. Call me fair and balanced.

From an April 11, 2006 Army press release:
Family of AR Soldier receives Silver Star

By Pfc. Jennifer L. Sierra

JOINT FORCES TRAINING BASE, Los Alamitos, Calif. (Army News Service, April 11, 2006) – One hero's courage under fire was honored April 8 as the 63rd Regional Readiness Command's Maj. Gen. Paul E. Mock presented the Silver Star to Jim and Barbara Witkowski, parents of Sgt. James Witkowski.

Witkowski, 32, was killed in action October 26, 2005, during a combat logistics patrol near Ashraf, Iraq. Witkowski's unit, the 729th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit of the 63rd RRC, came under attack while conducting a 23-vehicle convoy to deliver building materials to another unit.

Maj. Sean J. Cannon, the 729th company commander at the time of the attack, depicted the attack as being very complex, unfolding with improvised explosive devices, small arms fire, and a combination of hand and rocket-propelled grenades.

Witkowski saves fellow Soldiers' lives

Entering a kill zone of approximately one mile, the convoy started receiving small arms fire. As IEDs exploded on both sides of the highway, insurgents rushed the convoy, shooting RPGs and lobbing hand-grenades.

Meanwhile, Witkowski held insurgents down with suppressive fire from the 50-caliber weapon atop his vehicle. When a grenade landed in his turret, Witkowski continued to engage the enemy amidst incoming fire. Doing so, he absorbed the full brunt of the explosion, saving the lives of three other Soldiers in the vehicle.

If Witkowski had not taken that action, "all four of them would have died without a doubt," said Master Sgt. John Souza, of Watertown, Mass. Souza, who was also in the ambushed convoy.

Witkowski's father, a Vietnam veteran from the 101st Airborne Division, swelled with emotion as Mock pinned the prestigious medal on his chest in his son's behalf.

"This shows that he was a much better person than I was. I'm just so very proud of him," said the senior Witkowski.

Family, friends honor Witkowski's memory

Many of Witkowski's fellow Soldiers described him as ever-optimistic and likable.

"He loved life, he lived the day as it came," Souza said. "There was never a dull moment with him; he saw the light side of everything."

Sgt. Chad Fisher of the 394th Adjutant General Company, (a 63rd subordinate unit) and Witkowski’s childhood friend, heard about Witkowski’s death while deployed in Kuwait. Through wishes of the Witkowski family, Fisher was appointed as official escort, accompanying Witkowski’s body back to Arizona.

"I felt honored to have been chosen to escort him home," said Fisher.

The Silver Star medal recognizes gallantry in action and is the military's third highest medal for bravery and courage. Witkowski is only the second Army Reserve Soldier who served in OIF to receive it, according to Army officials.

"This honorable and selfless act exemplifies the dedication that Witkowski had toward his country," the Mock said.

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