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Profile: Frank Thorp
Frank Thorp was a participant or observer in the following events:
A barely conscious Lynch lies on a stretcher. An American flag is draped over her chest. This will become one of the iconic photos of the Lynch saga. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Washington Post prints a story purporting to detail the trials and tribulations of Private Jessica Lynch, captured in a recent ambush by Iraqi fighters (see March 23, 2003). The Post headline: “She Was Fighting to the Death.” According to the story, Lynch fought valiantly to defend her injured and killed comrades, herself killing several of her attackers and suffering repeated gunshot and stab wounds. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
'Talk about Spunk!' - According to the tale, provided to Post reporters by unnamed US officials, Lynch continued firing until she ran out of ammunition, and even after suffering “multiple gunshot wounds.” An official says: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.” One military official, senior military spokesman Captain Frank Thorp, tells reporters from the Military Times that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture. We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily. Reports are that she fired her [M-16 rifle] until she had no more ammunition.” (This is not true, but Thorp will later deny that any deliberate deception occurred—see April 2007 and March 18, 2008.) Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is fulsome with his praise of Lynch after being briefed by Pentagon officials: “Talk about spunk! She just persevered. It takes that and a tremendous faith that your country is going to come and get you.” Initial reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death at the scene, but those reports were incorrect. Officials warn that “the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed.” Pentagon officials say they have heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroism, but as yet have no confirmation from either Lynch or other survivors. Eleven bodies were found at the hospital during her rescue; at least some of those bodies are believed to be those of US servicemen. Seven soldiers from Lynch’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company are still listed as missing in action; five others were captured after the attack. Iraqi broadcasts have shown video footage of the five, along with pictures of at least four US soldiers killed during the attack. Because of debriefing and counseling, it may be some time before Lynch is reunited with her family in West Virginia. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; US News and World Report, 3/18/2008; Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008] Other media stories add to the Post’s account. The New York Daily News reports: “Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch—and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation.… Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. ‘It’s awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,’ Yarsinske said.” The Daily News is almost certainly referring to Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi who told US forces about Lynch being at an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003). The Los Angeles Times reports Lynch was “flown to a US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she was reported to be in stable condition, recovering from injuries said to include broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
Discrepancies in Story - An Iraqi pharmacist who was at the hospital during Lynch’s captivity says as far as he knew, Lynch only suffered leg wounds. He recalls her crying about wanting to go home. “She said every time, about wanting to go home,” the pharmacist recalls. “She knew that the American Army and the British were on the other side of the [Euphrates] river in Nasiriyah city.… She said, ‘Maybe this minute the American Army [will] come and get me.’” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Story Almost Pure Fiction - According to subsequent investigations by reporters, the Pentagon tale as reported by the Post is almost pure fiction (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that at this point in the narrative, “Jessica Lynch herself, unable to speak, was reduced to a mere pawn, an innocent bystander in the production of her own big-budget action-packed biopic.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 82]
Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who falsely told reporters that captured Private Jessica Lynch “fired her weapon” at her captors “until she had no more ammunition” in initial military press briefings (see April 3, 2003), discusses his misleading statements with staffers of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the possibility that the US military used the Lynch story as propaganda (see April 24, 2007). Thorp, who was later promoted and became the chief public relations officer for then-Joint Chief Chairman Richard Myers, writes: “As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States.… I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same.… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them.… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred.… That is what I stated.” Thorp says he does not recall ever seeing any classified battlefield intelligence reports concerning Lynch, and says he does not now remember if his remarks were based on such reports. When asked if he knew at the time that Lynch had, in fact, not gotten off a shot at her attackers, Thorp replies, “I would absolutely never, ever, ever, ever say anything that I knew to not be true.” At the time of the Lynch rescue, the chief public affairs official for CENTCOM briefings was Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications for CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. Wilkinson tells the committee that he was not a source for the media reporting concerning Lynch, and that he didn’t know any details of her capture and rescue: “I still, to this day, don’t know if those details are right or wrong. I just don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any operational report.” Thorp and Wilkinson claim not to know who provided such misleading information to reporters. And neither can explain why initial reports were relatively accurate (see March 23, 2003) but subsequent reports were so suddenly, and so luridly, inaccurate. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
US News and World Report interviews three US soldiers once held captive in the first days of the Iraq invasion: Private Jessica Lynch, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, and Private Patrick Miller. Lynch was captured and held for nine days in an Iraqi hospital before being rescued (see June 17, 2003); her story was quickly inflated by military public relations officials and eager media representatives into a fabricated tale of torture and derring-do (see April 3, 2003). Johnson and Miller received much less press coverage during their 22 days in captivity. Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, then a captain and a senior military spokesman, told reporters when Lynch was rescued that “she fired until she had no more ammunition.” That report was untrue. Thorp now says, “There was never, ever any intentional deception involving Lynch.” But the Pentagon and the news media alike were hungry for a telegenic hero, he notes. “That’s America. We want heroes, in baseball, in politics, in our day-to-day life.” [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008] Thorp, now a rear admiral, became the top public affairs official for then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Lynch: Weathering the Controversy - Lynch, who has weathered years of controversy about her unwitting involvement in a Pentagon PR campaign, is not convinced that there was no deception, as Thorp insists. “They wanted to make people think that maybe this war was a good thing,” she says. “Instead, people were getting killed, and it was going downhill fast. They wanted a hero.” All three say that they were no more heroic than any of the soldiers who fight every day. “It’s nice that people remember and stuff, but the way I look at it was I was just doing my job as a soldier,” says Miller, whom Lynch has cited as displaying outstanding bravery the day of their capture. Johnson adds: “I think we tossed around the hero word a little too much. I got shot and caught, and that’s it. [T]here are loads of soldiers out there who deserve all the props, and they don’t get enough.” Lynch, who was discharged from the Army months after her rescue (see August 22, 2003), does not watch television coverage of the war. “Honestly, it’s hard; it’s depressing,” she says. Five years after her capture, she still faces numerous physical disabilities and more surgery in the weeks and months ahead.
Miller: Wants to Return to Iraq - Miller, who shot several Iraqi soldiers before being, in his words, “gang-tackled” and captured, is still in the Army, having refused a medical discharge and needing to continue his wife’s medical insurance coverage. He recalls one conversation with an Iraqi during his captivity: “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller, now a staff sergeant, wants to return to Iraq, though Army regulations forbid a soldier once kept as a POW from returning to the country of his capture.
Johnson: Permanent Disability - Like Miller, Johnson’s captivity was relatively uneventful. She recalls one doctor in particular, “an old man with two wives and 11 children, who was really nice to me.” He protected her during her stay, even sleeping outside her door. “I don’t know if he thought somebody would come in, or something would happen to me,” she says. “When people start talking to me about Islam, that’s who I think of—a very nice man who took a big chance.” Johnson was going to write a book about her captivity, but her publishers backed out after Johnson did not give them the story they wanted. “They wanted this really religious book,” she says. “I’m a Catholic and my faith is important to me, but as a single mom with tattoos, I can’t be writing a book telling people how to live their life.” Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has succeeded in winning permanent disability status from the Army after a long, bitter struggle (see October 24, 2003). She is raising her 7-year old daughter, studying to be a caterer, and says that in general she is coping well. [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008]
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