Fish Story

by Nathaniel R. Helms | December 15, 2011

“The 400 pages of interrogations [regarding the incident in Haditha], once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents…by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.”–Michael S. Schmidt, “Junkyard Gives Up Secret Accounts of Massacre in Iraq“, The New York Times, December 14, 2011

New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt probably never heard the old Texas warning to ‘guard against believing your own bullsh-t’ when he authored his December 14th report detailing the story of a carp-cooking Iraqi who found allegedly secret U.S. documents in a surplus American mobile home he is selling.

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It seems that while looking for something to heat his fish the Iraqi fellow found bits of the so-called ‘Bargewell Investigation’ on the floor of a junked trailer. The documents detailed the alleged 2005 Haditha massacre that never actually happened and called The New York Times, Schmidt’s report revealed.

If the Bargewell Report sounds vaguely familiar it is because 10,000 pages of it were leaked to Washington Post reporter Josh White back in 2007. The New York Times quickly scrambled for a copy of its own and the two newspapers had a field day trying to find the most titillating bits of information to scoop each other with.

The 107-page report with its thousands of exhibits was billed as one of the eight or nine smoking guns defining the defining moment of the Iraq War at the time. An Iraqi guy cooking fish with secret US documents in an abandoned American mobile home in 2011 sounds like the real defining moment.

White revealed his findings in a April 21, 2007 Washington Post story titled ‘Report On Haditha Condemns Marines.’

‘Though Bargewell found no specific cover-up,’ White sadly noted, “he concluded that there also was no interest at any level in investigating allegations of a massacre.”

Schmidt’s new story even managed to incite enough ire that the publicly somnolent Beltway military lawyer Neil Puckett was stirred to publish a press release on his law firm website decrying Schmidt’s foul deed less than a month before Puckett defends the last Marine standing in the alleged ‘Haditha Massacre’ investigation. Last time Puckett let loose a broadside his client Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich spent three years waiting for the military appeals courts to untie the Gordian knot Puckett had woven.

It was probably the timing that got Puckett’s goat this time. Reading about dead civilians in the Times, especially stories about slaughtered toddlers and old men in wheelchairs, is obviously not conducive to objectivity at a time when an open mind is of the essence. Of course The New York Times always believes its own bullsh*t so that never matters.

Defend Our Marines heard on pretty good authority that the documents the Times got hold of weren’t the issue with the brass in Baghdad despite what the newspaper claims. It was the fact somebody was so careless they failed to properly dispose of declassified classified documents when the last US troops began pulling out of Iraq.

The Pentagon really hates it when their folks get caught being stupid, especially since in October– before the military had been told about the discovery of the documents–an US Army general was assuring journalists Americans never allow their classified documents to be used for cooking fish.

“We don’t put official paperwork in the trash,” The New York Times reported Maj. Gen. Thomas Richardson as saying.  

In the culprit’s defense, that person probably didn’t know it was classified material left on the floor for carp cooking since anyone can read a lot of the same stuff on Defend Our Marines. Two months ago the State Department even asked for permission to use DOM’s archives for its treaty negotiations in Baghdad. It seems the officials negotiating a new Status of Forces Agreement to keep American troops in Iraq couldn’t get any legal documents from the Pentagon to bolster its case. In retrospect, maybe the State Department should have sent a couple of crackerjack investigators to gin up some secret documents from a Baghdad junk yard the way the enterprising New York Times reporters did.

The Time’s assertion that Marine LtGen Johnson was revealing something new when he was discovered reflecting on the horror that was Iraq in 2005 was utter nonsense. That part of the story would have served better wrapping the junkman’s leftover fish. The entire copy of the interview with Johnson was referred to repeatedly in a series of stories DOM presented some years ago. At the time Johnson’s ‘suspected involvement’ in the alleged cover up of the alleged massacre at Haditha that didn’t actually happen was being analyzed to the nth degree and Johnson’s third star was being held up while Baghdad burned. He eventually got his star.

For the record, the interview with Johnson was conducted by Marine Col. John Ewers, the military lawyer who investigated the alleged murders at Haditha for Bargewell and then advised Marine General James Mattis the convening authority in the matter to prosecute eight junior Marines for a laundry list of heinous crimes he’d help uncover. Johnson was simply telling Ewers that it was hard to keep track of all the murders, massacres, and malfeasance being perpetrated in Iraq at the time.

The Beltway reporters were aghast! No doubt Col. Ewers had never heard that old Texas saying either because his involvement on Bargewell’s behalf before he counseled the convening authority later led to the dismissal of all the charges against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest ranking Marine to be prosecuted in the Haditha investigation.

The attendant who found the stash of classified papers reportedly said he had no idea what any of the documents were about, only that they were important to the Americans. Maybe he was looking for instant replay? In early 2006 two Iraqi insurgents masquerading as journalists said something similar to Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk when they were pedaling fresh video purported to be the smoking gun that proved a decimated squad of ambushed Marines at Haditha, Iraq had gone berserk and slaughtered 24 innocents.

Yesterday’s news, tomorrow’s garbage. Some things never change.


Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
15 December 2011


Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war correspondent, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).