|NMU||TEXAS||Freedom of Information|
Weapons documentation declared lost following FOI Act request
- The El Paso Times was told that documents describing the condition of weapons used by American soldiers during a firefight in Iraq, in which 11 Americans were killed, were missing in action.
Sep. 23, 2003 — The U.S. Army told the El Paso Times last week that records of weapons which allegedly malfunctioned during combat in Iraq, leading to the death of 11 American soldiers, were lost in the field of battle.
American troops were ambushed near the city of Nasiriyah on March 23. Nine soldiers from Fort Bliss, located in southwest Texas, were killed, as were two from the 3rd Forward Support Battalion. Seven American soldiers, including the now-famous Pfc. Jessica Lynch, were captured in the attack.
The Army’s 507th Maintenance Company reported on July 17 that the soldiers’ weapons had malfunctioned during engagement, which “may have resulted from inadequate individual maintenance in a desert environment.” In response, the El Paso Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to the maintenance and operational histories of 31 of those weapons.
“If they had malfunctioned, we wanted to know what the status of those weapons were, what the repairs had been, (and) if there was any history of those weapons not working in other conditions,” said Don Flores, executive vice president and editor of the El Paso Times.
The U.S. military’s credibility has already been questioned in this case, as officials told embedded journalists that Private Lynch defended her regiment and fought tirelessly against the enemy until her capture. It was later revealed that Lynch, who has since been honorably discharged, never fired a single shot because her weapon malfunctioned.
According to the Times, Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said that it is standard practice for soldiers to carry their weapons records with them. Offutt added that all of the weapons were operational before the soldiers left for Iraq, and the 507th Maintenance Company is now attempting to recreate the information, the Times reported.
“They told me that my son was shot in the head, and now they are saying that he was struck by a tank,” said Ruben Estrella in a Sept. 17 El Paso Times story. Estrella’s son, Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, was killed in the March attack. “I think the Army or the government is hiding something, but sooner or later the truth will be told.”
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press