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Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. (King 10/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 107) One of them was the Boston Globe. (Connell 9/14/2003)
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. (King 10/11/2003; Collins 10/14/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 107) Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. (BBC 10/14/2008) The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” (New York Times 10/15/2003)
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