Soldiers told to stay out of debate

U.S. military provides guidelines on what troops should say to reporters

By Larry Kaplow

Military press officers are telling U.S. troops to stay out of the fray if reporters ask them about the congressional debate concerning their
future in Iraq.

A “public affairs guidance” memo sent to units in Iraq from the Baghdad command offers talking points for soldiers if asked what they think of the nonbinding resolution passed by the Democratic-controlled House on Feb. 16 opposing the Bush administration’s troop increase in Iraq.

The unclassified memo, viewed by a Cox Newspapers reporter embedded with troops last week at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty, shows the workings of the military’s vast press operation on one of the hottest issues it handles — the civilian leadership debate on the war.

U.S. troops are instructed to “not make public comment” about the vote beyond a brief set of recommended talking points.

Army Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the Multinational Division-Baghdad, said the military often issues talking points concerning specific operations or policies.

He said it is not an order and knows of no cases in which soldiers were punished for varying from public affairs guidance.

“It’s a guidance,” Bleichwehl said. “It’s a normal procedure that we use. It’s a tool to help leaders and soldiers to communicate.”

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