AP, U.S. military spar over atrocities report
The Associated Press is standing by its report that six Sunni men were burned to death in Baghdad Friday by Shiites, even though U.S. military officials have accused the wire service of relying on a source who "is not who he claimed he was," an Iraqi police captain.
Military officials also say they cannot confirm that the incident took place and have asked AP to retract or correct the story, which was repeated by media around the world and cited as a grim example of Shiites taking revenge for a deadly bombing that killed more than 200 people a day before.
"The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question," AP International Editor John Daniszewski said in a statement e-mailed to On Deadline this afternoon.
He added that "we have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses."
"The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters," Daniszewski wrote.
"The AP stands by its story."
But a U.S. military spokesman has told the AP in a letter that "neither we nor Baghdad Police had any reports of such an incident ... and could find no one to corroborate the story."
"Unless you have a credible source to corroborate the story of the people being burned alive, we respectfully request that AP issue a retraction, or a correction at a minimum," Navy Lt. Michael Dean, the spokesman, wrote to the AP on Monday.
Full texts of both Daniszewski's statement and Dean's letter follow if you click read more.
The dispute stems from this story, which the AP distributed to its clients Friday.
Questions raised by the U.S. military spokesmen have sparked considerable discussion in the blogosphere, particularly among conservative commentators. Michelle Malkin is among those who have raised questions about whether AP was led astray by an Iraqi correspondent. Curt at Flopping Aces has been among the most active in chronicling the accusations.
Update at 4:50 p.m. ET. More reporting and detail from the AP:
The wire service has sent out a new story about the reports of the burnings. This new story, which acknowledges the challenges to AP's earlier reporting from U.S. military authorities, says that additional witnesses interviewed today told reporters that they had seen the atrocities.
"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," the story says. "Others in the neighborhood said they were afraid to talk about what happened."
Lt. Dean's letter to the AP:
Dear Associated Press:
On Nov. 24, 2006, your organization published an article by Qais Al-Bashir about six Sunnis being burned alive in the presence of Iraqi Police officers. This news item, which is below, received an enormous amount of coverage internationally.
We at Multi-National Corps - Iraq made it known through MNC-I Press Release Number 20061125-09 and our conversations with your reporters that neither we nor Baghdad Police had any reports of such an incident after investigating it and could find no one to corroborate the story. A couple of hours ago, we learned something else very important.
We can tell you definitively that the primary source of this story, police Capt. Jamil Hussein, is not a Baghdad police officer or an MOI employee. We verified this fact with the MOI through the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team.
Also, we definitely know, as we told you several weeks ago through the MNC-I Media Relations cell, that another AP-popular IP spokesman, Lt. Maithem Abdul Razzaq, supposedly of the city's Yarmouk police station, does not work at that police station and is also not authorized to speak on behalf of the IP. The MOI has supposedly issued a warrant for his questioning.
I know we have informed you that there exists an MOI edict that no one below the level of chief is authorized to be an Iraqi Police spokesperson. An unauthorized IP spokesperson will get fired for talking to the media. While I understand the importance of a news agency to use anonymous and unauthorized sources, it is still incumbent upon them to make sure their facts are straight. Was this information verified by anyone else? If the source providing the information is lying about his name, then he ought not to be represented as an official IP spokesperson and should be listed as an anonymous source.
Unless you have a credible source to corroborate the story of the people being burned alive, we respectfully request that AP issue a retraction, or a correction at a minimum, acknowledging that the source named in the story is not who he claimed he was. MNC-I and MNF-I are always available and willing to verify events and provide as much information as possible when asked.
Michael B. Dean
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
MNC-I Joint Operations Center
Public Affairs Officer
Daniszewski's statement today:
The Associated Press denounces unfounded attacks on its story about six Sunni worshipers burned to death outside their mosque on Friday, November 24. The attempt to question the existence of the known police officer who spoke to the AP is frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.
AP reporters who have been working in Iraq throughout the conflict learned of the mosque incident through witnesses and neighborhood residents and corroborated it with a named police spokesmen and also through hospital and morgue workers.
We have conducted a thorough review of the sourcing and reporting involved and plan to move a more detailed report about the entire incident soon, with greater detail provided by multiple eye witnesses. Several of those witnesses spoke to AP on the condition that their names would not be used because they fear reprisals.
The police captain cited in our story has long been known to the AP reporters and has been interviewed in his office and by telephone on several occasions during the past two years.
He is an officer at the police station in Yarmouk, with a record of reliability and truthfulness. His full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein.
The AP stands by its story