STRIKE THREE FOR PENDERGAST? [Perhaps not. See this update, posted on May 25, 2005.] The Boston Globe today publishes yet a third letter disputing the facts in former Mass Pike general counsel Peter Pendergast's op-ed piece of November 15 - this time from someone Pendergast had praised.
Jack Lemley, described by Pendergast as "the legendary 'Chunnel' construction manager" who would have been brought in to oversee the Big Dig back in 2001 if it were not for then-governor Jane Swift, writes that he had never been offered the position. He adds that, in his view, the Big Dig tunnel is safe.
Last week Pendergast appeared on NECN's NewsNight to discuss his allegations. (Scroll down to "Boston Globe Unveils Further Big Dig Problems.") When pressed by co-host Jim Braude as to why Swift wanted to quash the reforms being pushed by Pendergast, Pike board member Jordan Levy, and former board member Christy Mihos, Pendergast replied, "Bechtel was apparently one of Jane Swift's constituents." (That's a reference to Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering combine that's overseeing construction - or perhaps actually not overseeing it.)
Meanwhile, Globe ombudsman Christine Chindlund today writes about "The Art of Writing Headlines" because, she says, she's currently "between controversies." Okay, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt - the controversy over Pendergast's op-ed is still playing out. Chinlund is scheduled to write again for the December 6 issue. The Pendergast column - how much of it is true, how much isn't, what sort of editing it went through - would be an excellent topic.
KEVIN SITES ON THE FALLUJAH SHOOTING. Here is the weblog entry from NBC News cameraman Kevin Sites to which the New York Times devotes this story today. Sites's account is harrowing. Notable is his belief - conviction would be too strong a word, since he's wrestling with it in his own conscience - that despite the terrifying, chaotic environment in which the US marines found themselves, the marine who allegedly shot the wounded Iraqi was nevertheless out of bounds.
Sites's entry is must reading in full, but here's a passage on how he dealt with his own dilemma regarding what to do with his tape:
I knew NBC would be responsible with the footage. But there were complications. We were part of a video "pool" in Falluja, and that obligated us to share all of our footage with other networks. I had no idea how our other "pool" partners might use the footage. I considered not feeding the tape to the pool - or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.
But to think this through is one thing; to reach moral judgments about the young marine is another. Sites writes that the marine seemed horrified by what he'd done within moments of the shooting. For context, read Dexter Filkins's heart-stopping account in yesterday's Times about urban combat in Fallujah. As I wrote last week, I can't imagine that this sort of thing doesn't go on all the time.
Also, Slate last week published an excellent analysis by two military veterans on whether the marine actually committed a war crime. It's not an easy call, according to Phillip Carter and Owen West; for one thing, it depends on whether the dead Iraqi should have been considered an American prisoner, and that's something that could be argued either way. Carter and West also point out how repulsive it is to draw any sort of moral comparison between the marine's instantaneous reaction to an ambiguous, potentially deadly situation and the terrorists who cold-bloodedly executed Margaret Hassan.
I don't know where this is going, but I do know this: the marine's actions should be judged strictly on their own merits, and not on the fact that Sites's footage has inflamed some in the Arab world. It's not hard to understand why the marine did what he did. On the other hand, marines undergo rigorous training aimed at preventing this sort of thing from happening.
Perhaps he should be given extensive counseling and then be quietly discharged, with some follow-up to make sure he's getting on with his life. Based on what we know so far, that's the fairest solution I can think of at the moment.
I'd suggest counseling for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as well, but I'm sure it's too late for it to do any good.