By: Joe Strupp
In another Web first, The New York Times has posted on its Web site a video Letter to the Editor from Charles Ferguson, the anti-war filmmaker, responding critically to L. Paul Bremer’s recent Op-Ed defending his order to dismantle the Iraqi Army in 2003 after the U.S. took Baghdad.
Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal said it was the first such video Letter published by the paper.
The video was briefly available only through TimesSelect, but has since been made available free of charge.
In his Sept. 6 Op-Ed, Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, claimed he did not act alone in disbanding the Iraqi Army, contends that the decision was right, was not “controversial,” and made with input from a variety of military and government officials.
“In fact the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government. And it was the right decision,” Bremer said in his piece. “By the time Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, the Iraqi Army had simply dissolved. On April 17 Gen. John Abizaid, the deputy commander of the Army?s Central Command, reported in a video briefing to officials in Washington that ‘there are no organized Iraqi military units left.’ The disappearance of Saddam Hussein?s old army rendered irrelevant any prewar plans to use that army.”
The video letter posted today by Ferguson — director of the current widely hailed documentary “No End In Sight” — offers a mix of war images and those of related officials with Ferguson’s voice narrating his beliefs that Bremer has misled readers in his Op Ed.
“L. Paul Bremer argues that his decision to disband the Iraq Army in May 2003 was carefully considered by top officials in the American government and was, quote, not controversial. These claims are dubious at best and are directly contradicted by many officials who appear in my film, ‘No End In Sight’,” Ferguson says. “In fact, as with many other Bush policy decisions in Iraq, Bremer’s disbanding of the Iraqi Army was a catastrophic mistake made by a small group of senior Pentagon civilians with no military or reconstruction experience.”
Ferguson’s 10-minute video comes largely from his film, including video and audio comments from officials such as former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and General Jay Garner, who headed the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA). Both disagree with Bremer’s contention that the idea to disband was widely circulated among officials before it occurred.
Armitage, on video, states that “this idea to disband the entire Army was one that came to me as quite a surprise.” Garner, meanwhile, counters Bremer’s claim that he was one of several officials who received a copy of Bremer’s draft report outlining the proposal to disband. “I never saw the draft,” Garner says in an audio snippet of a phone interview. “I was never asked to comment on it.”
Rosenthal said the video came about after Ferguson wrote the paper a traditional letter responding to Bremer’s column. “It said ‘this is all wrong’,” Rosenthal told E&P. “In the course of discussions with him, he said he would like to use clips from his film on the Web site and that led to further discussions and it was his concept to package it as a letter to the editor….
“I have never heard of it before being done here,” he adds. “It is an amazing use of the Internet. This is what the Internet is all about.”
When asked if this might prompt more such video letters, he said, “if it does, great.”