As a guest on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, former deputy undersecretary of defense and American Spectator contributing editor Jed Babbin falsely accused The New York Times of providing misleading data in its report on homicides of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Babbin claimed that a recent Times article, which reported that "[a]t least 26 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002," included "justifiable homicide" in its tally in order to "put things in the worst possible light." In fact, the Times article, written by Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmidt, specifically and clearly distinguished "justifiable homicide" from "criminal homicide" in its report.
Host Bill O'Reilly invited Babbin on the March 29 edition of The O'Reilly Factor to discuss the Times' March 15 article on the deaths of American prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Babbin claimed that the Times had classified many deaths under homicide to create a negative impression:
BABBIN: The problem that you and I are having is that the Army and the Navy are using the term "homicide" to not just cover murder but to cover justifiable homicide, self-defense, and a whole variety of other things.
I think what the Times is trying to do is put things in the worst possible light. And they know better. I am assuming that they have access to the same kinds of figures and data that I do, because they're not kept proprietarily by the DOD [Department of Defense].
In fact, the Times specifically excluded justifiable homicide when it reported its figure of 26 homicides (which included 24 from the Army and two from the Navy):
In addition to the 24 Army cases listed as criminal homicides and the 11 cases listed as justifiable homicides, 28 cases are listed as confirmed or suspected deaths from accidents or natural causes. An additional five are cases in which the cause of death has not been determined, [Army spokeswoman] Colonel [Pamela] Hart said.
Moreover, contrary to Babbin's claim that the Times is ignoring more accurate data that Babbin himself consults, the Times' figures came directly from the military services. "The new figure of 26 was provided by the Army and Navy this week after repeated inquiries," the Times reported.
From the March 29 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Thanks for staying with us. I'm Bill O'Reilly. In "The Factor Investigation" segment tonight, you may remember that on March 16, The New York Times ran a front-page headline which said, quote, "U.S. Military Says 26 Inmate Deaths May be Homicide." Now, The Factor came on that same night and said The New York Times report was misleading. One of our military analysts, Colonel David Hunt, put the number at four, not 26. Subsequently, we asked the Army to clarify the situation. How many alleged murders are under investigation by military authorities? A simple question. But the answer has been very, very difficult to obtain.
Joining us now from Boston is Colonel David Hunt, the author of the upcoming book on terrorism, They Just Don't Get It. And from Washington, Jed Babbin, former deputy undersecretary of defense during Bush the elder's administration. Mr. Babbin is in close contact with the Army about this matter and is the author of the book Inside the Asylum.
Mr. Babbin, I, after almost three weeks of investigation, still do not know how many potential homicides there are within military ranks in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do you, sir?
BABBIN: Well, I think I know, Bill. I spent quite a number of hours today trying to dig into it. The long and the short of it is there were something like 87 deaths. Of them approximately 30 are being classified as possible homicides. The problem that you and I are having is that the Army and the Navy are using the term "homicide" to not just cover murder but to cover justifiable homicide, self-defense, and a whole variety of other things.
Regarding O'Reilly's citation of Fox News military analyst Hunt's claim that only four homicides had occurred, not 26, Hunt revised his accounting in the March 29 segment. When O'Reilly asked if Hunt stood by his previous claim, made on the March 16 O'Reilly Factor, Hunt explained, "The four I gave you two weeks ago was still a good number. That was talking about people that had been charged for murder." In fact, Hunt made clear on March 16 that "four" referred to all "criminal acts" and "murders," not simply those whom the military had already charged: "There's four -- four -- cases of potential criminal acts by our -- some of them from the CIA, CIA guys, one military, period, not 26, four." He continued: "The New York Times has missed it again. There are not 26 murders, there are four."