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Profile: Jessica Lynch
Jessica Lynch was a participant or observer in the following events:
Privates Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa. [Source: CNN]US Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk, is injured in a Humvee crash in the city of Nasiriyah. Lynch’s convoy had become separated from its mates and wound up lost in Nasiriyah, where it came under attack. An Army investigation later shows that Lynch and her colleagues were lost due to exhaustion, several wrong turns, and faulty communications (see July 10, 2003), all of which contribute to the convoy’s misdirection. Eleven US soldiers die in the ambush; Lynch and five others, including her close friend Private Lori Piestewa, are taken captive (see October 24, 2003). Piestewa is mortally wounded and will die within a few hours. Besides Lynch and Piestewa, the others taken prisoner are Sergeant James Riley; Specialists Edgar Hernandez, Joseph Hudson, and Shoshana Johnson; and Private First Class Patrick Miller. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; POW Network, 6/22/2006]
Photos of five US captives broadcast by Al Jazeera. The soldiers are, clockwise from the left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley. [Source: Al Jazeera / CNN]The Arab television network Al Jazeera broadcasts graphic close-up shots of dead US soldiers taken during the same ambush that saw the capture of Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). The bodies are sprawled on a concrete floor; a smiling Iraqi fighter points out the individual bodies for the camera. At least two of the soldiers appear to have been shot, one between the eyes. In the same broadcast, four exhausted and shaken captured US soldiers, also members of Lynch’s unit, are shown giving short and uninformative answers to their captors. Still photos of five soldiers are shown by the network. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] The still images of the prisoners are shown on at least one US news show, NBC’s “Dateline.” [New York Times, 3/28/2003] The parents of one of the captives, Shoshana Johnson, learned of their daughter’s capture from a Spanish-language news broadcast on Telemundo before they were informed by the Pentagon. Joseph Hudson’s mother learned of her son’s capture from a Filipino television broadcast. Johnson’s sister, Army Captain Nikki Johnson, says that it is not necessarily wrong for footage of American POWs to be broadcast because “[y]ou get to see the condition the soldiers are in now. It’ll be very hard for them to mistreat them and try and say, ‘Oh, we found them that way.’” Johnson’s father, Claude, who fought in the 1991 Gulf War as an Army sergeant, says, “The instant we found out they were prisoners, we should have been talking to the people in the Red Cross and ensuring that somebody got out there. We can’t turn the clock back. What is done is done. Now is the time to get the people from the Red Cross or whatever organization is available to go in and make a true assessment, and then we can go from there.” Miller’s half-brother Thomas Hershberger says, “We are glad he wasn’t killed. We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we hope he is treated humanely.” Hudson’s mother Anecita says tearfully, “I just would like [to say] to the president of United States of America [to] do something about it—to save my son. And I want him to come home.” [CNN, 5/25/2003] Excluding Lynch, the US soldiers will be freed 22 days later; Lynch will be rescued from a Nasiriyah hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003).
Entity Tags: Patrick Miller, Jessica Lynch, International Committee of the Red Cross, Claude Johnson, Anecita Hudson, Al Jazeera, Joseph Hudson, Nikki Johnson, Thomas Hershberger, Shoshana Johnson, NBC, Telemundo
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Still photo from Defense Department video of Lynch’s rescue. [Source: Associated Press]US Special Operations forces rescue captured Private Jessica Lynch from Saddam Hussein Hospital hospital near Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003). According to the Pentagon, the rescue is a classic Special Forces raid, with US commandos in Black Hawk helicopters blasting their way through Iraqi resistance in and out of the medical compound. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The Associated Press’s initial report is quite guarded, saying only that Lynch had been rescued. An Army spokesman “did not know whether Lynch had been wounded or when she might return to the United States.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
'Shooting Going In ... Shooting Going Out' - Subsequent accounts are far more detailed (see April 3, 2003). Military officials say that the rescue was mounted after securing intelligence from CIA operatives. A Special Forces unit of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Air Force combat controllers “touched down in blacked-out conditions,” according to the Washington Post. Cover is provided by an AC-130 gunship circling overhead; a reconnaissance aircraft films the events of the rescue. One military official briefed on the operation says: “There was shooting going in, there was some shooting going out. It was not intensive. There was no shooting in the building, but it was hairy, because no one knew what to expect. When they got inside, I don’t think there was any resistance. It was fairly abandoned.” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] CENTCOM spokesman General Vincent Brooks says he is not yet sure who Lynch’s captors were, but notes: “Clearly the regime had done this. It was regime forces that had been in there. Indications are they were paramilitaries, but we don’t know exactly who. They’d apparently moved most of them out before we arrived to get in, although, as I mentioned, there were buildings outside of the Saddam Hospital, where we received fire—or the assault force received fire—during the night.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
'Prototype Torture Chamber' - According to a military official, the Special Forces soldiers find what he calls a “prototype” Iraqi torture chamber in the hospital’s basement, equipped with batteries and metal prods. US Marines are patrolling Nasiriyah to engage whatever Iraqi forces may still be in the area. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Secretive Intelligence Sources - CENTCOM officials refuse to discuss the intelligence that led them to Lynch and the 11 bodies. One official says, “We may need to use those intelligence sources and collection methods again.” [New York Times, 4/2/2003]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Reporters are given a detailed briefing about the rescue, as well as copies of a video of the rescue shot by the soldiers as they performed the mission (see April 1, 2003). Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
General Vincent Brooks briefing reporters, with a photograph of Jessica Lynch displayed in the background. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, at US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar, shows reporters a video clip of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003), filmed with night-vision lenses. The clip shows Lynch on a stretcher and being rushed to a helicopter. Brooks says that before the raid, the hospital was apparently doubling as a military command post for Iraqi forces. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] “We were successful in that operation last night and did retrieve Pfc. Jessica Lynch, bringing her away from that location of danger, clearing the building of some of the military activity that was in there.” Brooks says. “There was not a fire-fight inside the building I will tell you, but there were fire-fights outside of the building getting in and getting out. There were no coalition casualties as a result of this and in the destruction that occurred inside of the building, particularly in the basement area where the operations centers had been, we found ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model, and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post. The nature of the operation was a coalition special operation that involved Army Rangers, Air Force pilots and combat controllers, US Marines and Navy Seals. It was a classical joint operation done by some of our nation’s finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind.” [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Reporters Given Video - Within hours, reporters are given a slickly produced five-minute edited version of the video of Lynch’s rescue, edited by a Defense Department production crew. Author and media critic Frank Rich later calls it “an action-packed montage of the guns-blazing Special Operations raid to rescue Lynch, bathed in the iridescent green glow of night-vision photography.” The video vies with a still photo of a barely conscious Lynch lying on a stretcher, with an American flag on her chest, for the most-broadcast image of the day. [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82] (In a tragic corollary to the video of Lynch’s rescue, the father of James Kiehl, a fellow soldier killed in the March 23 assault, was unable to find his son in the video footage. He will eventually find a shot of his son, dead and laid out behind the hospital, in a picture on the Al Jazeera Web site. The Defense Department videographers had left footage of Kiehl on the cutting room floor.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82; Huffington Post, 3/19/2006]
Some Reporters Dubious - CNN’s veteran war correspondent, Tom Mintier, later says, “I was a bit upset that [the Pentagon] spent so much time giving us all the minute-by-minute, this happened, that happened, she said this, we said that… and on a day when you have forces going into Baghdad, it wasn’t part of the briefing. Seems like there is an effort to manage the news in an unmanageable situation. They tried it in the first Gulf War, this time it was supposed to be different.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 80-82]
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
Army Private Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital by US Special Operations forces (see April 1, 2003), arrives at a US military hospital in Landestul, Germany. Military officials describe her as in “stable” condition, with multiple broken limbs and multiple gunshot and stab wounds. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke tells reporters that Lynch is “in good spirits and being treated for injuries.” Another military officer tells reporters that she is conscious and was able to communicate with her rescuers, but “she was pretty messed up.” Lynch has spoken with her parents by telephone, who describe her as in good spirits, but hungry and in pain. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] The New York Times reports that Lynch suffered from gunshot wounds: “Details of what happened to Private Lynch were scarce. An Army official said Tuesday night that Private Lynch had been shot multiple times. The official said that it had not been determined whether she was shot during the rescue attempt or before it.” The Associated Press reports, “Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was suffering from broken legs, a broken arm, and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] It is later determined that Lynch was not, in fact, shot (see April 15, 2003).
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]
Colonel David Rubenstein, a spokesman for the US military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, confirms that Army Private Jessica Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed as previously reported (see April 3, 2003). Rubenstein says, “While the mechanism of injury is still unclear at this point, the most recent evaluations by our staff do not suggest that any of her wounds were caused by either gunshots or stabbing injuries.” According to Rubenstein, Lynch’s injuries include fractures to her right arm, both legs, right foot and ankle, and lumbar spine. She also has a head laceration. She has already undergone several surgeries and is scheduled for more. She will “require extensive rehabilitative services” even after the surgeries. Rubenstein says he cannot tell if Lynch’s injuries were sustained during the ambush or while she was in Iraqi custody. Doctors have not discussed the care she received while in an Iraqi hospital (see May 4, 2003). [CNN, 4/4/2003] Around the same time as Rubenstein’s press conference, Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch, confirms that his daughter suffered no gunshot wounds. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] “We have heard and seen reports that she had multiple gunshot wounds and a knife stabbing,” he says, but “[t]he doctor has not seen any of this.” Contradicting Lynch’s father’s statement, an Associated Press story reports: “Dan Little, a cousin who held a news conference Friday night in West Virginia, said he had talked with her doctors and they had determined she had been shot. He said they found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds.’ They also found shrapnel, Little said.” Little’s statement would continue to fuel the story of Lynch’s gunshot wounds. The New York Times presents both sides of the tale, writing: “Pfc. Jessica Lynch shifted overnight from victim to teenage Rambo: all the cable news shows ran with a report from the Washington Post that the 19-year-old POW had been shot and stabbed yet still kept firing at enemy soldiers (see April 3, 2003).… Later yesterday, her father said she had not been shot or stabbed.” Numerous media reports also cite “an Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed” who helped the US rescue team secure Lynch. The lawyer, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, tells of Lynch being interrogated and slapped by a black-clad Fedayeen (see June 17, 2003). [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
The Associated Press reports that questions remain about how Army Private Jessica Lynch was injured (see March 23, 2003 and April 1, 2003). While US military doctors are reporting that Lynch did not suffer from gunshot wounds as originally reported (see April 4, 2003), the Associated Press report reads in part: “Lynch’s family in West Virginia said doctors had determined she’d been shot. They found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds,’ said her mother, Deadra Lynch.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
Newsweek cover featuring Jessica Lynch. [Source: Newsweek]The American US edition of Newsweek released this day features a cover story about US Army Private Jessica Lynch, recently rescued from captivity by US forces (see April 1, 2003). While the story mentions her doctors’ statements that she was not shot (see April 4, 2003), it focuses on the accounts of some of her family members (including members in West Virginia who have not seen Lynch). The Newsweek story repeats a cousin’s claim of gunshot wounds from “low-velocity small arms,” and goes on to say, “The unpleasant implication was that she might have been shot after she’d been captured, rather than wounded in combat.” The account also questions her treatment at the Iraqi hospital, alleging the possibility of mistreatment and quotes her father as saying “she survived for part of her time in the hospital on nothing but orange juice and crackers.” [Newsweek, 4/14/2003; Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] An unnamed senior administration official says, “The possibility of mistreatment has been very much on the mind of President Bush.” Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that the Newsweek story is an illustration of the saying, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. [Source: Yuri Gripas / Reuters / Corbis]Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who provided intelligence leading to the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), arrives in the US with his wife and daughter. Al-Rehaief is granted political asylum under the “humanitarian parole” program, which is usually used to expedite entry into the US for medical emergencies. A spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says, “Quite honestly, it was the fastest way to get him and his family to safety in the United States.” Al-Rehaief is provided a job with the Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by former US representative Bob Livingston (R-PA). He is also given a $500,000 book contract by HarperCollins, which as reporter Robert Scheer notes, is “a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch’s story, as it did the rest of the war.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2003]
For the first time, a major American news organization runs an article on Army Private Jessica Lynch that questions the initial versions of her capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003), though it places the story towards the very back of its main section, on page A17. The Washington Post’s lede compares the US military’s version to “a Hollywood script” with “Hollywood dazzle” and “little need for real action.” The story is based on interviews with Iraqi doctors who treated Lynch. One, Haitham Gizzy, says of the US military: “They made a big show. It was just a drama. A big, dramatic show.” Gizzy and others at the hospital say that Iraqi soldiers and guerrilla fighters had fled the hospital the night before the US launched its rescue attempt. According to Mokhdad Abd Hassan, a hospital staffer, most of the fighters in the area, and the entire Ba’ath Party leadership, including the governor of the province, came to the hospital earlier that day, changed into civilian clothes, and fled. “They brought their civilian wear with them,” Hassan says. Pointing to green army uniforms still piled on the lawn, he says: “You can see their military suits. They all ran away, the same day.” Gizzy adds: “It was all the leadership. Even the governor and the director general of the Ba’ath Party.… They left walking, barefoot, in civilian wear.… [I]t look like an organized manner” of retreat. When the US rescue team arrived, Gizzy says: “there were no soldiers at our hospital, just the medical staff. There were just us doctors.” Like US doctors currently treating Lynch (see April 4, 2003), Gizzy says Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, as initial accounts stated (see April 3, 2003). “It was a road traffic accident” that caused her wounds, Gizzy says. “There was not a drop of blood.… There were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.” At the hospital, he says, “She was given special care, more than the Iraqi patients.” [Washington Post, 4/15/2003] Subsequent media accounts will begin backing off of the claims of multiple gunshot wounds. [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] Post ombudsman Michael Getler, who will write highly critical analyses of the newspaper’s coverage of the Lynch story (see May 25, 2003 and June 29, 2003), later notes that while the Post deserves recognition that it was one of the first media outlets to interview the Iraqi doctors and tell their side of the story, the newspaper chose to print this story “way back in the paper.” Since it “was based on Iraqi sources” and buried so deep in the paper, “it didn’t get the attention that it otherwise might have gotten.” He adds, “I think in general, the press was quite slow to try and go back on this story which seemed fishy, almost from the start.” [Democracy Now!, 7/23/2003]
As part of a story about media errors and exaggerations in Iraq, the St Louis Post-Dispatch cites fundamental problems in earlier coverage of the Jessica Lynch story (see April 1, 2003, April 3, 2003, and April 15, 2003). The story reads in part: “Key elements in the story appear to have been wrong. Lynch’s father and her Army doctor have both said there is no evidence that she was shot or stabbed. There is as yet no substantiation of any torture. Doctors at the hospital say that when the rescue team swooped in the building was undefended; militia forces had fled the day before.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
London Times reporter Richard Lloyd Perry, who has covered the Jessica Lynch story from the outset (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003), explains why he believes the Pentagon seized upon inaccurate and false reports of Lynch’s actions during and after her convoy was ambushed and she was captured (see April 3, 2003). In a radio interview, Perry says that the fabricated story about Lynch “came at a stage in the war when [the US military was] a bit short of good news to put out. And I remember at the time that clearly a lot of thought and preparation had gone into this—this presentation. You know the story was told from the point of view of the rescuing forces. There was very little mention made of any—any of the Iraqis in the hospital or both on the Iraqi side. And it was portrayed as a—a very dangerous mission carried out to save this, you know, this young rather attractive young woman. And it was clearly a PR coup at the time. But [Lynch’s rescue] wasn’t like that. As far as I can remember, no one at the time really questioned the Pentagon account that had been put out. And because there was fighting still going on, it was difficult at that point to get to the other side. But it struck me as interesting and significant that these doctors had their own story to tell” (see April 15, 2003). [Democracy Now!, 7/23/2003]
IKONOS satellite image of Saddam Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]Toronto Star bureau chief Mitch Potter reports a very different version of events surrounding the capture and hospitalization of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see March 23, 2003). Whereas US military officials have claimed that Special Forces rescued her in a dramatic battle with Iraqi resistance forces (see April 1, 2003), Potter finds that Iraqi soldiers had actually left the hospital two days before the rescue. In fact, Iraqi doctors had attempted to return Lynch to US units once before, but were fired on by US forces and forced to return to the hospital. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Shootout Never Happened - Potter calls the story of Lynch’s rescue a “flawless midnight rescue… in true Rambo style” that “rais[ed] America’s spirits when it needed it most. All Hollywood could ever hope to have in a movie was there in this extraordinary feat of rescue—except, perhaps, the truth.” Potter quotes three hospital doctors, two nurses, a hospital administrator, and several local residents, and presents a far different story than the one released by US officials. Dr. Harith al-Houssona says he came to consider Lynch a friend as he cared for her injuries. He says the story of the rescue is almost complete fiction: “The most important thing to know is that the Iraqi soldiers and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier. The night they left, a few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back. We carefully moved her out of intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the Americans, who were just one kilometer away. But when the ambulance got within 300 meters, they began to shoot. There wasn’t even a chance to tell them ‘We have Jessica. Take her.’”
Staged Rescue - On April 1, US Special Forces soldiers descended on the hospital. Hassam Hamoud, a waiter at a nearby restaurant, was approached by some of the soldiers. “They asked me if any troops were still in the hospital and I said, ‘No, they’re all gone,’” Hamoud recalls. “Then they asked about Uday Hussein, and again, I said ‘No.’ The translator seemed satisfied with my answers, but the soldiers were very nervous.” At midnight, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital’s upper floor prompted the staffers to take cover in the X-ray department, the only part of the hospital with no windows to the outside. The soldiers cut the power, then blew the locked doors and stormed inside. The staffers heard a male voice shout: “Go! Go! Go!” Seconds later, the door smashed open and a red laser targeting light found the forehead of the chief resident, Dr. Anmar Uday. “We were pretty frightened,” Uday recalls. “There were about 40 medical staff together in the X-ray department. Everyone expected the Americans to come that day because the city had fallen. But we didn’t expect them to blast through the doors like a Hollywood movie.” Another doctor, Mudhafer Raazk, noticed that two cameramen and a still photographer, all in uniform, accompanied the strike teams into the hospital. The tension quickly dropped after the soldiers realized no Iraqi fighters were in the building. A US medic was taken to Lynch’s room and the soldiers secured the hospital without incident. Several staffers and patients were immobilized with plastic handcuffs, including, al-Houssona recalls, one Iraqi civilian already motionless from abdominal wounds suffered in an earlier explosion. One group of soldiers ask about the bodies of missing US soldiers, and are led to a grave site opposite the hospital’s south wall. All were dead on arrival, the doctors say. After four hours, the soldiers departed, taking Lynch with them. Raazk says: “When they left, they turned to us and said ‘Thank you.’ That was it.” The staff went through the hospital to assess the damage: 12 doors were broken, a sterilized operating theater was contaminated, and Lynch’s bed, the hospital’s only specialized traction bed, was damaged beyond repair. “That was a special bed, the only one like it in the hospital, but we gave it to Jessica because she was developing a bed sore,” al-Houssona says.
'We All Became Friends' - Al-Houssona recalls that, far from ominous hints of torture and abuse, the hospital doctors and staff became friends with the injured American soldier. “We all became friends with her, we liked her so much,” he says. “Especially because we all speak a little English, we were able to assure her the whole time that there was no danger, that she would go home soon.” Though the hospital had an acute shortage of food, the staffers scrounged to find her extra juice and cookies. She was also assigned the most nurturing, motherly nurse on staff, Khalida Shinah. She has three daughters of her own, some close to Lynch’s age. Through a translator, Shinah recalls: “It was so scary for her. Not only was she badly hurt, but she was in a strange country. I felt more like a mother than a nurse. I told her again and again, Allah would watch over her. And many nights I sang her to sleep.” Houssana recalls Lynch being frightened in her first hours in the hospital. “Everybody was poking their head in the room to see her and she said ‘Do they want to hurt me?’ I told her, ‘Of course not. They’re just curious. They’ve never seen anyone like you before.’ But after a few days, she began to relax. And she really bonded with Khalida. She told me, ‘I’m going to take her back to America with me.”
No Gunshots or Stab Wounds - Far from suffering “multiple gunshot” and stab wounds detailed in previous Pentagon reports (see April 5, 2003), Lynch was suffering from injuries resulting from the wreck of her Humvee. Houssana believes she was hurt when she was thrown from the vehicle. “She was in pretty bad shape,” he recalls. “There was blunt trauma, resulting in compound fractures of the left femur and the right humerus. And also a deep laceration on her head. She took two pints of blood and we stabilized her. The cut required stitches to close. But the leg and arm injuries were more serious.” Lynch was only one casualty among many in the hospital, almost all suffered in the intense fighting around Nasiriyah. The hospital lists 400 dead and 2,000 wounded during the two weeks bracketing Lynch’s stay. Almost all were civilians, but Raazk does not blame the Americans alone for the carnage. “Many of those casualties were the fault of the fedayeen, who had been using people as shields and in some cases just shooting people who wouldn’t fight alongside them. It was horrible.” By March 30, Lynch had regained enough strength that the doctors were ready to operate on her badly broken left leg. She required a platinum plate on both ends of the compound fracture. The doctors were preparing similar surgery for her broken arm when the Americans rescued her. On April 4, an American military doctor visited the hospital. The doctors say he came to thank them for the superb surgery. “He was an older doctor with gray hair and he wore a military uniform,” Raazk recalls. “I told him he was very welcome, that it was our pleasure. And then I told him, ‘You do realize you could have just knocked on the door and we would have wheeled Jessica down to you, don’t you?’ He was shocked when I told him the real story. That’s when I realized this rescue probably didn’t happen for propaganda reasons. I think this American army is just such a huge machine, the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing.”
Angered at Reports of Abuse - The US media’s reports that Lynch was abused and perhaps even tortured sadden and anger the hospital staffers. When Shinah is told of the reports, her eyes fill with tears. She composes herself and answers: “This is a lie. But why ask me? Why don’t you ask Jessica what kind of treatment she received?” That is not currently possible; the Pentagon is restricting access to Lynch as she continues to recuperate at Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A spokesman says, “Until such time as she wants to talk—and that’s going to be no time soon, and it may be never at all—the press is simply going to have to wait.” [Toronto Star, 5/4/2003]
US military officials report that Private Jessica Lynch, who was captured after an Iraqi ambush (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital (see April 1, 2003, May 4, 2003, and June 17, 2003), has no recollection of what happened after her unit was attacked and she awoke in the hospital. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The Pentagon continues to deny media access to Lynch, who is recovering from her wounds in Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. [Toronto Star, 5/4/2003]
The BBC airs a documentary “Saving Private Lynch,” that attempts to present the facts behind the much-hyped story of Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003). The documentary is as much about the Pentagon’s manipulation of the story, and the American media’s enthusiastic cooperation in that manipulation, as it is about the events of the capture and rescue. [BBC, 5/15/2003]
Interview with Iraqi Doctors - Prominently debunked is the story that Lynch was shot and stabbed while attempting to fight off her captors (see April 3, 2003). In an interview with Iraqi doctor Harith al-Houssona, who works at the Nasiriyah hospital that cared for Jessica Lynch (see May 4, 2003), al-Houssana says that no Iraqi troops had been at the hospital for two days when US forces raided the building to rescue Lynch. “There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound—only road traffic accident,” al-Houssona says. “They want to distort the picture. I don’t know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury.” Hospital staffers add that Iraqi military and civilian leaders had fled the area before the raid occurred. Another doctor, Anmar Uday, even speculates that the rescue was staged. “We were surprised,” he recalls. “Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital. It was like a Hollywood film. They cried ‘go, go, go,’ with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital—action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.” (The BBC correspondent who compiled the report, John Kampfner, will state that he does not believe the rescue was staged—see May 20, 2003). Al-Houssana says that two days before the rescue, on March 30, he put Lynch in an ambulance and attempted to return her to a US outpost. He was forced to return to the hospital when American soldiers fired at the ambulance. [BBC, 5/15/2003; Chicago Sun-Times, 6/18/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Media Response and 'News Management' - The documentary shows how quickly American broadcast journalists and news anchors were to seize upon the story and sensationalize it even more. CBS anchor Dan Rather uses the phrase, “Saving Private Lynch,” in a comparison to the movie Saving Private Ryan, a fictional treatment based on the actual rescue of an American soldier during World War II. Another news correspondent even refers to Lynch as “Private Ryan” in a segment. Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper says of the documentary: “In the Meg Ryan movie Courage Under Fire, a (fictional) female American soldier in the heat of battle became either brave and heroic, or overmatched and frightened, depending upon which account you believed. Something tells me Jessica Lynch might have been all of the above. Her story is not the clean and simple movie it seemed to be two months ago. But the truth is undoubtedly a whole lot more real and a whole lot more interesting.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/18/2003] The BBC concludes that the Lynch story is “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.” [BBC, 5/15/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
Andrew Sullivan. [Source: BBC]Right-wing journalist Andrew Sullivan attacks the BBC’s John Kampfner over Kampfner’s recent piece on the Jessica Lynch media coverage (see May 15, 2003). Without refuting the details of the story, Sullivan calls the BBC report a “smear” and writes: “I remember the reporter, John Kampfner, from my Oxford days. He was a unreconstructed far-lefty. No doubt these days he’s a reconstructed one.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
John Kampfner. [Source: John Kampfner]BBC correspondent John Kampfner discusses his recent report disputing the original coverage of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 15, 2003). Kampfner’s report is the basis for a recent BBC documentary as well as a news article. An Iraqi doctor stated in Kampfner’s report that he believed the entire rescue had been staged; Kampfner does not believe that. “Credit where it is due,” Kampfner says. “The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated. So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible. Where we took issue with the official version as put out by Central Command, in Doha [Qatar], to the world’s press, was the way the Americans did it. They went in, all guns blazing, helicopters, a great, heroic rescue mission.” Kampfner wants to know why the Pentagon will only allow the BBC and other news organizations to see its edited version of the film of the rescue instead of “the rushes,” which Kampfner explains is “the unedited film, the real-time film, as shot by the US military cameraman who was with the rescue mission.… They declined to do that.” Kampfner also notes that British government officials were worried from the outset “about the way the Americans conducted the whole media operation from Doha. [A] British military spokesman… told us on camera that he was deeply unhappy with the American media handling.” [CNN, 5/20/2003]
Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen acknowledges that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of US soldier Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003): “This newspaper told its readers that she had been shot and stabbed, that she had fought off her Iraqi attackers—her gun blazing—until she went down and was taken prisoner, hospitalized, and then rescued eight days later. Trouble is, much of that may be false. Lynch apparently was not shot. Lynch was not stabbed. Lynch may not have put up much of a fight, maybe none at all. The lights may have gone out for her the moment her unit was attacked and her vehicle went off the road. It was then, probably, that she suffered several broken bones. This information, too, was in the Post—sort of.” The lurid, action-hero details were published on the front page, Cohen notes, while the subsequent updates that contradicted the original story were buried deep in the later pages of the newspaper. “You are forgiven, therefore, if you do not have the facts on Jessica Lynch,” he writes. “They were extremely hard to get.” He does not blame the Post for doing “anything unethical or wrong—or, for that matter, different from what is done elsewhere.” The two reporters who wrote the original story were likely “misled or misinformed by their sources in the military. They were only reporting what they had been told.” He is not sure whether the Pentagon deliberately reworked the story into more dramatic form, or whether Pentagon officials simply made a series of mistakes. Where the Post went awry, Cohen writes, was in refusing to acknowledge its errors. The Post sent a reporter to the hospital in Nasiriyah where Lynch had been cared for; that reporter learned from the doctors there that Lynch had neither been shot nor stabbed. That story was confirmed by the commander of the military hospital in Germany where Lynch was initially taken after being rescued and by Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch (see April 4, 2003). But the Post buried these contradictions and opposing versions in its back pages, instead merely “fold[ing] them into other stories. The reader, like a CIA analyst, had to read everything to understand what the Post was saying. It seemed to be backing off its original account, but not in a forthright way.” Why does this happen? Cohen asks. “Partly it’s a matter of pretense. Journalism is alchemy with words. We turn nuances, lies, denials, spin, and unreturned phone calls into something called The Truth. Often we succeed. When we don’t, we don’t want anyone to notice. We would like to appear omniscient.… But the public is on to us. Our aloofness, our defensiveness, our sheer inability to concede uncertainty (which goes beyond merely correcting factual mistakes) has cost us plenty. Instead and too often, we add invisible asterisks of doubt to stories and then commend ourselves for our exemplary professionalism.” [Washington Post, 5/23/2003]
Michael Getler. [Source: PBS]Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler joins his Post colleague Richard Cohen in admitting that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 23, 2003). Getler writes that one of the biggest problems journalists face is their increasing reliance on anonymous sources, such as the unnamed Pentagon officials who provided the fabrications used by two Post reporters to create the original Lynch story. Additionally, Getler worries that “intelligence information is being politicized and that reporters aren’t probing hard enough against the defenses of an administration with an effective, disciplined, and restrictive attitude toward information control.” The problem goes far beyond the fictional story of a single US Army private, Getler writes. The justifications for the invasion of Iraq—weapons of mass destruction and connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda—have not yet been confirmed. Many of those came from unnamed government officials. New allegations by unnamed officials point to hostile acts by Iran and Syria, and even to unfriendly acts by the US’s European ally, France, which led the opposition to the Iraq invasion. Whether those stories cite “intelligence officials,” “senior administration officials,” or others of what Getler calls “useless descriptions,” the upshot is the same: lurid, alarming, and potentially baseless allegations and stories are regularly making their way into print without anyone taking responsibility for them, or advancing incontrovertible proof of their veracity. The Post continues to be the primary source of the largely fictional account of Lynch’s capture and rescue. Getler pleads, “If there is a different version, or a confirming version, of this that is authoritative, I hope somebody will write it, along with a more probing account of her rescue.” [Washington Post, 5/25/2003]
Fox News political pundit Bill O’Reilly savages the journalists and commentators who question the official story of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003). O’Reilly characterizes the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer (see April 10, 2003 and After and May 30, 2003) as a “radical columnist who [sic] many perceive to be a hater of [the] USA,” “despises President Bush,” and has “anti-American motives.” The Times itself is “extremely left-wing in its editorial presentation.” The BBC, which along with the Toronto Star was one of the first news organizations to question the official story (see May 4, 2003 and May 15, 2003), “was stridently against the war in Iraq and chastised by one of its own correspondents for slanting its reports.” O’Reilly says that while he “does not know the truth in this matter… we have no reason to doubt the mission’s original report. However, if it turns out that the US military is lying, it will be a terrible scandal.” [Fox News, 5/27/2003] As far as can be ascertained, when the more accurate chain of events is reported, essentially validating the reports by the BBC and Scheer (see June 17, 2003), O’Reilly will not respond to or investigate what he calls the potential “terrible scandal.”
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke lambasts Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer for his reportage on the Jessica Lynch story (see April 3, 2003 and May 30, 2003). Scheer is frankly disbelieving of the sensational reporting surrounding Lynch’s capture and rescue, especially in light of recent reports that indicate the Pentagon’s version of events is anything but accurate (see May 4, 2003). In a letter to the Times, Clarke calls Scheer’s recent work a “tirade” and adds: “Scheer’s claims are outrageous, patently false and unsupported by the facts.… Official spokespeople in Qatar and in Washington, as well as the footage released, reflected the events accurately. To suggest otherwise is an insult and does a grave disservice to the brave men and women involved.” [Nation, 5/30/2007] It is later shown that Clarke, who heads the Pentagon’s military analyst (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and journalist embed (see February 2003) programs, is entirely wrong about her claims as to the accuracy of the Pentagon’s depiction of events (see June 17, 2003).
Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, one of the first American political reporters to question the official Pentagon version of the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003), provides an overview of the personal and professional attacks launched against him by the Pentagon and by right-wing pundits (see May 27, 2003). Scheer, an unabashed liberal, notes that many of the attacks come from newspapers and news broadcasters owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose HarperCollins book publishing firm is preparing a book to be written by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. Al-Rehaief is the Iraqi lawyer who provided key information leading to Lynch’s rescue and was rewarded by being granted asylum in the US, given the book deal, and given a job with a Washington lobbying firm (see April 10, 2003 and After). Scheer is more discomfited by the attack from the Pentagon, whose public relations chief, Victoria Clarke, called Scheer’s reporting a “tirade… unsupported by the facts” (see May 29, 2003). Further reporting will show that the official story did not accurately reflect the events (see June 17, 2003). Scheer observes, “[W]hat is a grave disservice is manipulating a gullible media with leaked distortions from unnamed official sources about Lynch’s heroics in battle.” He notes that the Pentagon refused to allow the BBC or any other news organization to view the complete, unedited video footage of the April 1 rescue (see April 1, 2003), instead insisting that the media use only the edited footage provided by the Pentagon. Scheer adds that Clarke and other Pentagon officials continued to insist that the original reporting—Lynch had fought fiercely with her attackers and finally succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds—was accurate long after reports from US military doctors disputed those claims, and even after top US military officials began questioning that version of events. The Pentagon, Scheer writes, was intent on producing what “quickly became the main heroic propaganda myth of the US invasion of Iraq.” Scheer concludes: “What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for—and supplied their own blood to—a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used—if not abused—Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.” [Nation, 5/30/2007]
Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel James Casella confirms that, contrary to previous reports (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003), rescued POW Jessica Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). “She wasn’t stabbed,” Casella says. “She wasn’t shot and she has some broken bones.” Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Lynch is currently undergoing treatment, says only that Lynch has had surgery to repair a broken foot and otherwise “remains in satisfactory condition, undergoing occupational and physical therapy.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003] It is not explained why it took so long to confirm this.
A banner welcoming Jessica Lynch home. [Source: Reuters/ Corbis]Neighbors of 19-year old Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003) in her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia have entirely rebuilt and added on to her family home, where she lived with her parents and siblings before being sent to Iraq. Everything is accessible by wheelchair, as Lynch is expected to be confined to a wheelchair, or a bed, for months to come. None of the controversy over the apparent propagandizing of her story (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003) should reflect on Lynch herself, say residents. Her friends and fellow townspeople are working hard to prevent speculators and others from profiting from Lynch’s ordeal by selling merchandise designed to cash in on the national outpouring of sympathy and support for the wounded soldier. On the other hand, the town has already put up signs on the highways leading into town that read, “Home of Jessica Lynch, Ex-P.O.W.” One Palestine resident says of Lynch, “She’s going to be on a pedestal the rest of her life. Palestine’s going to be on the map. It’s made a place in history.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003]
The New York Times reports on the frenzy among news outlets to secure interviews with Army Private Jessica Lynch, currently recuperating from wounds suffered when her Humvee overturned and her unit was attacked by Iraqi forces (see April 1, 2003 and May 4, 2003). Such attempts at wooing a subject are called “the get.” NBC’s Katie Couric, the co-host of its flagship morning broadcast Today, sent Lynch a bundle of patriotic books. Diane Sawyer of ABC News sent Lynch a locket. CBS News sent her a letter promising a two-hour documentary, an offer from MTV for a possible news special, a music-video program or a concert in her honor with “a current star act such as Ashanti” in her hometown, and a potential book deal with Simon & Schuster. (CBS News president Leslie Moonves will later call that letter a mistake.) In May, CBS News correspondent Jane Clayson sent Lynch a birthday greeting noting that they shared the same astrological sign. [New York Times, 6/16/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] Sawyer and ABC will eventually win out for Lynch’s first media interview (see November 11, 2003).
The Washington Post reports that Jessica Lynch, the US Army private captured by Iraqi guerrillas and later rescued by American soldiers from an Iraqi hospital (see April 1, 2003 and June 17, 2003), is recuperating from her injuries in a guarded ward in Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She receives daily physical therapy by herself, kept away from other patients. Reporters are not allowed near her. Her father, Greg Lynch, rarely leaves her bedside. For 67 days Lynch has remained hospitalized, and her days in Walter Reed will not soon end; her physical condition remains severe. Doctors at Walter Reed put her bones back together with an extensive and delicate network of rods and pins; it sometimes takes an hour for her to move from bed to wheelchair. She is still in severe pain. Her mother, Deadra Lynch, says, “It’s amazing she can walk at all—she is a body full of pins and screws.” She is psychologically traumatized, say people who have seen her, and she is sometimes disoriented. Her father says she remembers nothing of her capture. US military sources say she is either unable or unwilling to speak to any extent about her nine-day stay at a Nasiriyah hospital, nor does she talk about her rescue by a covert US Special Operations unit. “The doctors are reasonably sure,” Army spokesman Kiki Bryant says, “that she does not know what happened to her.” [Washington Post, 6/17/2003]
Jessica Lynch being carried from a transport plane to a hospital in Ramstein, Germany, April 2, 2003. [Source: Associated Press / Baltimore Sun]The Washington Post publishes a much more exhaustively researched attempt at telling the accurate story of US Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture, rescue, and subsequent recovery. The Post printed a dramatic tale of Lynch’s guns-blazing capture, her abuse at the hands of her captors, and the firefight that resulted in her rescue (see April 1, 2003). That story turned out to be almost entirely fictional, most likely a product of Pentagon propaganda (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, and May 25, 2003). In a very different front-page story, it now attempts to tell the story directly and without embellishment.
Brief Propaganda Victory - The original story, featuring Lynch emptying her M-16 into her assailants until finally succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds, quickly made Lynch into what the Post calls “the story of the war, boosting morale at home and among the troops. It was irresistible and cinematic, the maintenance clerk turned woman-warrior from the hollows of West Virginia who just wouldn’t quit. Hollywood promised to make a movie and the media, too, were hungry for heroes.” That story was quickly exposed as a fraud. This Post story, its reporters assert, is far more extensively researched: “The Post interviewed dozens of people, including associates of Lynch’s family in West Virginia; Iraqi doctors, nurses and civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah; and U.S. intelligence and military officials in Washington, three of whom have knowledge of a weeks-long Army investigation into the matter. The result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history.” At least one similarity with the original story remains, the reporters acknowledge: most of the US officials who spoke to the reporters insisted that their identities not be revealed.
The Real Story of the Capture - According to military officials, Lynch indeed tried to fight her assailants, but her weapon jammed. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed. Her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, fell prey to an ambush outside Nasiriyah after getting lost. Army investigators believe that Lynch and her colleagues became lost because they were not informed that the column they had been following was rerouted. Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it crashed into a jackknified US truck. She was severely injured in the crash, including multiple broken bones and compression of the spine. The other four soldiers in the Humvee were killed or mortally wounded. She was captured by Iraqi guerrillas. In what may be a continuation of the government’s attempt to inflate the tale, two US officials familiar with the Army investigation say that Lynch was mistreated by her captors but refuse to give details.
Eyewitness Account - Sahib Khudher, an Iraqi farmer, saw a large US convoy of trucks, trailers, wreckers, and Humvees pass by his house before dawn on March 23. A few hours later, he saw trucks again pass his house, this time fighting off an ad hoc assault force of Iraqi irregulars in pickup trucks. The Iraqis were firing into the US vehicles and at their tires. “There was shooting, shooting everywhere,” Khudher recalls. “There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English.” Khudher was witnessing the tail end of the 507th Maintenance Company’s convoy, 18 Humvees, trailers, and tow trucks. Most of the soldiers were part of a Patriot missile maintenance crew.
Missed Route Change - The 507th missed a route change and quickly became separated from their larger 3rd Infantry unit. Because of truck breakdowns, 18 vehicles of the 507th split off from the rest of their convoy, and became entirely separated. Lynch was with these vehicles, which entered Nasiriyah around 6:30 a.m. Unfamiliar with the streets, the commander became lost, and eventually ordered the convoy to attempt to turn around and backtrack. By that point, around 7 a.m., the streets were filling with Iraqis, and the commander ordered the troops to lock and load their weapons.
Assault - As the convoy attempted to drive into central Nasiriyah, Iraqi forces launched an attack. The assailants were both uniformed soldiers and civilians, according to accounts by the American survivors of the assault. The attackers fired on the convoy with small arms, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. The situation worsened for the Americans when an Iraqi T-55 tank appeared, and the assailants positioned sandbags, debris, and cars to block the convoy’s path. The senior military officer later described the battle as “very harrowing, very intense.” Lynch may have been one of the soldiers returning fire, but she may not have gotten off a single round: “We don’t know how many rounds she got off,” says the official. “Her weapon jammed severely.” While details are unclear, it is believed that Lynch’s vehicle broke down, and she clambered into a soft-top Humvee driven by Private First Class Lori Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit. Another occupant, Master Sergeant Robert Dowdy, pulled two more soldiers into the Humvee. Lynch rode the transmission hump between the two seat. The senior military officer says that Dowdy was encouraging his four soldiers “to get into the fight” as well as “trying to get vehicles to move and getting soldiers out of one broken-down vehicle and into another.” The four soldiers in the Humvee “had their weapons at the ready and their seat belts off,” says the senior officer. “We assume they were firing back.” [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] (Lynch will later confirm that her weapon and others’ were jammed with sand and useless.) [Time, 11/9/2003]
Collision - During the firefight, a US tractor-trailer with a flatbed swerved around an Iraqi dump truck and jackknifed. As the Humvee sped towards the overturned tractor-trailer, it was struck on the driver’s side by a rocket-propelled grenade. Piestewa lost control of the Humvee and plowed into the trailer. The senior defense official calls the collision “catastrophic.” Dowdy was killed instantly, as were the two soldiers to either side of Lynch. Both she and Piestewa were severely injured. Lynch’s arm and both legs were crushed; bone fragments tore through her skin. Khudher recalls seeing a Humvee crash into a truck. Watching from a safe distance, he saw “two American women, one dark-skinned, one light-skinned, pulled from the Humvee. I think the light one was dead. The dark-skinned one was hurt.” The light-skinned woman was apparently Lynch. She and Piestewa, who was Native American, were both captured by Iraqi guerrillas.
Garbled, Contradictory Reports - Understandably, the reports of the ambush in the hours after the attack were garbled, contradictory, and confused. Arabic-speaking interpreters at the National Security Agency intercepted Iraqi transmissions referring to “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them,” according to a senior military officer who read the top-secret intelligence report when it came in. Some of the Iraqis at the scene said she had emptied her weapon at her assailants. Over the next few days, numerous reports are received by the commanders at US CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar. Some of the reports are relayed Iraqi transmissions concerning a female soldier. The stories are contradictory. Some say she died in battle. Others say she was wounded by shrapnel. Others say she was shot and stabbed during the firefight. The only ones to receive these reports were generals, intelligence officers, and Washington policymakers, all of whom must be cleared to read the most sensitive information the US government possesses. The initial tale of Lynch’s “fight to the death” came from these high-level officials. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003] Another possible explanation later given forth was that the Army had intercepted Iraqi radio chatter about a yellow-haired soldier from Lynch’s unit who fought bravely before falling; that soldier was later identified as Sergeant Donald Walters. Interpreters had confused the Arabic pronouns for “he” and “she” and thought the radio transmissions were about Lynch. [New York Times, 12/14/2003]
Initial Treatment - Lynch and Piestewa were taken to a small military hospital in Nasiriyah, where both are initially treated for their wounds. That hospital is nothing more than a burned-out ruin today, but on the morning of Lynch’s captivity, it was the scene of frenzied activity, overwhelmed with Iraqi soldiers and irregulars fleeing, fighting, and bleeding from wounds. US soldiers were coming in from Kuwait in heavy numbers. The hospital’s director, Adnan Mushafafawi, remembers a policeman bringing in two female American soldiers about 10 a.m. Both were unconscious, he remembers, severely wounded and suffering from shock. According to their dog tags, they were Lynch and Piestewa. “Miss Lori had bruises all over her face,” he remembers. “She was bleeding from the eyes. A severe head wound.” Piestewa died soon after arriving at the hospital. Though Piestewa may have been shot, Mushafafawi says, Lynch had been neither shot nor stabbed. Mushafafawi and medical staffers cut away Lynch’s uniform, lay her on a gurney and began working on her. She had major fractures of her arm and both legs, and a minor head wound. They sutured the head wound, and gave her blood and intravenous fluids. After X-raying her fractures, they applied splints and plaster casts. “If we had left her without treatment, she would have died,” Mushafafawi says. Lynch briefly regained consciousness during the treatment, but was disoriented. “She was very scared,” he says. “We reassured her that she would be safe now.” She resisted having Mushafafawi reset her leg, he remembers. Two or three hours later, Lynch was sent to Nasirayah’s main civilian facility, Saddam Hussein General Hospital. Mushafafawi believed at the time that his hospital would be attacked by US military forces (it was overrun two days later). He had both Lynch and Piestewa’s body sent to the civilian hospital. Mushafafawi says he does not know what happened to either of the soldiers between the time they were captured and when they were brought to his hospital.
Hospitalized - Lynch arrived at Saddam Hussein hospital that afternoon in a military ambulance. The doctors there were shocked to find a severely injured, nearly naked American woman, wearing heavy casts, beneath a sheet. Hospital officials say that during her time there, she was given the best possible care they could provide. They do not believe it was possible for Iraqi agents to have abused her while at the hospital. A member of Iraq’s intelligence service was posted outside the door to her room, but the staff never saw anyone mistreat her, nor did they see evidence of any mistreatment. Her condition was grave, the doctors and nurses recall, unconscious and obviously in shock. The hospital was overloaded with casualties and barely staffed; only a dozen doctors from a staff of 60 were on duty. Many nurses had not come to work either. The roads were unsafe, the electricity came and went, medical supplies were stretched thin, and casualties kept pouring in. “It was substandard care, by American standards, we know this, okay?” says Dr. Harith al-Houssona. “But Jessica got the best we could offer.” Lynch began to improve after several days of treatment. She was moved from the emergency room to an empty cardiac care unit, where she had her own room, and was tended to by two female nurses. She was in terrible pain, and was given powerful drugs. Though she was hungry, she was leery of the food being offered her, insisting that the food containers be opened in front of her before she would eat. Her mental state fluctuated. Sometimes she joked and smiled with her doctors and nurses, sometimes she would weep. “She didn’t want to be left alone and she didn’t want strangers to care for her,” Dr. Anmar Uday recalls. “One time, she asked me, ‘Why are you standing in front of me? Are you gong to hurt me?’ We said no, we’re here to help you.” Her primary nurse, Khalida Shinah, weeps herself when describing Lynch’s misery. Shinah recalls singing her to sleep and rubbing talc into her shoulders. Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, says that there was more than mere sympathy and camaraderie responsible for the decision to give Lynch the best care they could. Everyone knew that the Americans would soon come for Lynch, he says, and “we wanted to show the Americans that we are human beings.… She was more important at that moment than Saddam Hussein.” Besides, he adds, “You could not help but feeling sorry for her. A young girl. An American. A prisoner. We did our best. Believe me, she was the only orthopedic surgery I performed.” The hospital staff were not the only ones interested in ensuring the Americans would be happy with Lynch’s treatment. At the time, the hospital had between 50 and 100 Iraqi fighters in or around the site at any one time, though the number steadily dwindled as US forces came ever closer. Senior Iraqi officials worked and lived out of the basement, clinics, and the doctors’ residence halls and offices. They all knew the Americans were coming, al-Houssona recalls, “and toward the end, they were most worried about saving themselves.”
Suspicious Wounds - Khafaji was suspicious of Lynch’s wounds. He had trouble believing they came from an auto accident, no matter how severe. The fractures were on both sides of her body, and there was no glass embedded in her wounds. US military sources believe most if not all the fractures could have been caused by the accident. Khafaji says, “[M]aybe a car accident, or maybe [her captors] broke her bones with rifle butts or by stomping on her legs. I don’t know. They know and Jessica knows. I can only guess.”
Interrogation - Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, a lawyer, says he learned about Lynch’s capture on March 27, when he went to visit his wife Iman, a nurse at the hospital. Al-Rehaief saw numerous Fedayeen in the “traditional black ninja-style uniforms that covered everything but their eyes,” as well as “high army officials there.” Al-Rehaief says one of his friends, a doctor, told him of Lynch. Curious, he peered through a glass panel into her room and, he says, “saw a large man in black looming over a bed that contained a small bandaged woman with blond hair.” The man wore epaulets on his shirt, indicating that he was a Fedayeen officer. Al-Rehaief recalls, “He appeared to be questioning the woman through a translator. Then I saw him slap her—first with the palm of his hand, then with the back of his hand.” After the Fedayeen officer left, al-Rehaief slipped into Lynch’s room and told her he would help. He left the hospital and sought out US soldiers, soon finding a group of US Marines. He told them about Lynch. (The Marines corroborate what they know of al-Rehaief’s story.) They sent him back to the hospital several times to map it out and routes in and out of the hospital. He also counts the number of Iraqi troops there.
Fabrication? - While the hospital doctors and staffers believe al-Rehaief did tell the Marines about Lynch, they dispute other portions of his story. There is no nurse named Iman at the hospital, they say, and no nurse married to a lawyer. “This is something we would know,” says one nurse. Al-Houssona believes little of al-Rehaief’s story. “Never happened,” he says. As for the Fedayeen slapping Lynch in her hospital bed, “That’s some Hollywood crap you’d tell the Americans.” Al-Houssona believes al-Rehaief embellished his story for his listeners. Al-Rehaief and his wife were taken to a military camp in Kuwait, and later received political asylum. He now lives in northern Virginia, where he is working on a book for HarperCollins and a television movie for NBC about his version of events (see April 10, 2003 and After).
Task Force 20 - The Special Operations unit given the assignment of rescuing Lynch, Task Force 20, is a covert Special Ops unit assigned the highest priority tasks. There was a larger reason than Lynch for that unit to be interested in the hospital: pre-mission briefings indicated that the hospital had been repeatedly visited by Ali Hassan Majeed, the infamous “Chemical Ali,” in recent days. Ground sources and images from Predator drones indicate that the hospital might be a military command post. There was every reason for Task Force 20 to go into the hospital heavily armed and taking full precautions, or as one Special Ops officer puts it, “loaded for bear.” A force of Marines, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, was ordered to mount a feint into Nasiriyah to draw off Iraqi forces near the hospital.
Rescue - Around 1 a.m. on April 1, commandos in blacked-out Black Hawk helicopters, protected by AC-130 gunships, entered the hospital grounds. Marines established an exterior perimeter, and Army Rangers set up a second perimeter just outside the hospital walls. These forces were fired upon from adjacent buildings, military sources say, though the fire was light. Commandos burst into the hospital, set off explosives meant to disorient anyone inside, and made for Lynch’s room. Uday says that the doctors and staffers fled to the X-ray room, where they might be more secure. Though the soldiers quickly burst into the X-ray room, no shots were fired and no resistance was offered. “It was like a ‘Rambo’ movie,” Uday recalls. “But we were not Rambo. We just waited to be told what to do.” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, who gave American reporters video footage of the rescue mission, says, “There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and out.” The commandos found Lynch in a private bed, lying on the hospital’s only bed used to ease bedsores. A male nurse in a white jacket was with her. One of the soldiers called out, “Jessica Lynch, we’re the United States soldiers and we’re here to protect you and take you home.” She answered, “I’m an American soldier, too.” The commandos find “ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post,” Brooks says. It is unclear if the hospital had indeed been used as any sort of military headquarters, but it is certain that the last of the Iraqi soldiers had fled the day before.
Recovering the Dead - The commandos retrieve two American bodies from the morgue. Staff members lead soldiers outside, where seven other soldiers were buried in shallow graves. They tell the soldiers that they buried the seven because the morgue’s faltering refrigeration couldn’t slow their decomposition. All nine bodies are from Lynch’s unit. Navy SEALs dug up the bodies with their hands, military officials say.
Propaganda Opportunity - Within hours of the rescue, a second contingent of US tanks and trucks rolled up to the hospital. They were not there to attack anyone. Instead, CENTCOM’s public affairs office in Qatar had seen an opportunity. “We wanted to make sure we got whatever visuals were available,” a public affairs officer involved in the operation recalls. The rescue force had photographed the rescue, and Special Forces had provided video footage of Iraqi border posts being obliterated to the news media. That video footage had received extensive airplay in the US. This, the public affairs officers think, could be much bigger. Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson, a CENTCOM public affairs officer, says, “We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it, we’d like to have” the video. “We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn’t need to. It was an awesome story.” The Lynch story, if properly presented, could be a boon to the military’s public relations. Stories of US troops bogged down on the way to Baghdad and killed by the dozens in vicious firefights could be erased from the news broadcasts by a feel-good story of heroism and camaraderie. According to one colonel who dealt with the media in the days after the rescue, the story “took on a life of its own. Reporters seem to be reporting on each other’s information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept.” No one at CENTCOM ever explains how the details of Lynch’s “heroic resistance,” “emptying her gun” into her assailants, and finally “falling from multiple gunshot wounds” were given to reporters. [Washington Post, 6/17/2003]
Entity Tags: Ali Hassan Majeed, Jessica Lynch, Adnan Mushafafawi, Anmar Uday, Harith al-Houssona, John Robinson, Donald Walters, Khalida Shinah, Al Jazeera, Vincent Brooks, Robert Dowdy, Washington Post, Lori Piestewa, Sahib Khudher, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Task Force 20
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, one of the writers of the exhaustively researched and far more accurate account of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s ambush and capture in Iraq (see June 17, 2003), is interviewed on National Public Radio. Priest tries to explain why the original version of events as chronicled by the Post (see April 3, 2003) and other media outlets were so luridly incorrect: interviewer Neal Conan says that Priest and her colleagues now know “that were caused in the Humvee accident during the attack by Iraqi troops and the fact that probably Jessica Lynch was not the second coming of Audie Murphy, not that anybody should have expected her to be that. But nevertheless, The Washington Post and National Public Radio and many other news outlets reported a very heroic version of the story. How did that come to be?” Priest says that Lynch and her fellow soldiers indeed performed like heroes, fighting for their lives against an unsuspected and ferocious onslaught.
Relied on Presumably Credible Sources - According to Priest, she and two other Post reporters, relied on “people that we believe are credible and that have access to the sort of information that you would rely on in the very first instance to figure this out, which means intelligence information.… Three of us, in fact, gathered the information that made our story and which said she might have been shot and stabbed, and she fired off all her rounds. And these were people who we trusted over the months and years that we’ve dealt with them, and they were reading from classified, in most cases, intelligence reports. They were initial reports from the field that were both intercepted or eavesdropped conversations with Iraqi soldiers in which these soldiers were talking to one another through their cell phones or radio systems saying that there was a white female who was acting very brave and fighting them. And we went back several times to those sources and repeated—to find out the reliability of that. They thought it was pretty good, although still initial. Same with the stabbing and wounding. You were getting a lot of eyewitnesses on the ground as well. Some of them we quoted in our story, too, her bones had been so badly shattered in some cases that they were actually protruding out of the skin, and so there were some blood marks on her skin that you would have been able to see if you had gotten up close. And perhaps that’s why some people thought she was shot, but it could be other reasons as well.” Priest says “the fog of war and the fog of reporting during war” often causes inaccurate reporting. She does not believe that the initial reporting “was somehow staged and managed by the Pentagon… ”
Filming of Rescue Routine - As for the filming of the rescue by the covert commando unit, Task Force 20, that entered the hospital and took Lynch out, Priest says that all such units “carry cameras with them wherever they go, in part to learn lessons for themselves, but in this case they made some of that footage available. And as one public relations officer from Central Command told me, they were eager to get that film. It was edited when it came to them. When they saw it they thought it told a certain part of the story. And then, as he said, it was such an awesome story that we didn’t need to embellish it, which it was.”
Pentagon Allowed Inaccurate Media Stories to Spread - Priest says that she believes the Pentagon did not correct the story once it was reported because “it was such a positive story for them, and it was the media’s mistake, if you want to read it that way, for going with unreliable information, or information that turned out to be unreliable. So they may not have wanted to really correct the record in that regard. They did say some things that should have indicated to us that not everything was quite as we reported, but they usually said them on background. They never officially came out.” [National Public Radio, 6/17/2003]
Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman writes that the propagandizing of Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003) has obscured Lynch’s real heroism—that of a survivor putting herself back together after severe physical and emotional trauma. “There is something terrible about the alchemy that tries to turn a human into a symbol,” Goodman writes, calling Lynch’s mythologized saga “fool’s gold.” The story went from what one reporter calls “the first feel-good story of the war” to a sobering examination of truth, lies, fiction, and legend. “[E]verything about this war seems to be up for revision,” Goodman writes, “from the way it began, with declarations of weapons of mass destruction, to the way it hasn’t ended. So Lynch has now become a redefining story of the war, with skeptics asking whether the Pentagon spun the media or the media hyped the story.” She says that the original presentation of Lynch was a “cartoon-like… warrior and prisoner of war… both Rambette and Damsel in Distress. For a military wrestling with women in its ranks, she was the woman fighting ferociously—‘She did not want to be taken alive’—and the slight, blond teenager who needed to be rescued. For the media, she was a human interest story in the world of tanks. She was news—the woman in combat fatigues—and the crossover star who might attract women viewers.” Lynch’s story was strong enough to stand on its own, Goodman says, without embellishment or mythologizing. “The not-so-secret is that media and military and citizens live in a world where war only interrupts our regular programming,” Goodman explains. “We are expected to digest simple story lines about both the reasons for conflict and its heroism. It’s also a world in which a Jessica Lynch is fit into an empty slot between [murder victim] Laci Peterson and [TV personality] Martha Stewart. But to turn a human into a symbol, you have to take away the humanity. In the pursuit of fool’s gold, you burn away the metal. By making Jessica into a cartoon hero, we may have missed the bravery of the young soldier now recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Pfc. Jessica Lynch didn’t empty an M-16 into the enemy. But she has learned how to take a hundred steps with a walker, one step at a time. That’s heroism enough for one lifetime.” [Boston Globe, 6/21/2003]
Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler writes another mea culpa admitting the Post’s central role in promoting the Pentagon’s propaganda story of the Jessica Lynch capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003 and May 25, 2003). Getler writes that the issue is not Lynch, whose courage is unquestionable, but how the Post and other news providers are systematically manipulated by outside sources with their own agendas, and how these news outlets sometimes enthusiastically cooperate with such manipulation. The Lynch story as originally reported in the Post has been supplanted by a second, more thorough piece (see June 17, 2003) that Getler calls “a corrective to the initial reporting.” Getler notes that the “corrective” account does not address the more fundamental questions of why that first story “remain[ed] unchallenged for so long,” who provided the false information that generated that story, and why reporters simply accepted that account as fact instead of doing their own investigations. “The story had an odor to it almost from the beginning,” Getler writes, “and other news organizations blew holes in it well before the Post did, though not as authoritatively,” apparently referring to articles such as a May 4 piece by the Toronto Star (see May 4, 2003). Was the first version a government attempt to manipulate the news media? Getler asks. He also wants to know why Lynch’s fellow soldiers, including those captured and held as POWs (see October 24, 2003), have not spoken about Lynch. “Certainly, Lynch’s privacy about her ordeal needs to be protected,” he writes. “But the official curtain of silence has extended to everything about the incident from the start. Why?” Getler concludes: “This was the single most memorable story of the war, and it had huge propaganda value. It was false, but it didn’t get knocked down until it didn’t matter quite so much.” [Washington Post, 6/29/2003]
The Army releases the results of its investigation into the events surrounding the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003) and the capture and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003). The report concludes that Lynch did not empty her weapons at her attackers, as reported by many media outlets, nor was she shot and stabbed during her capture (see April 3, 2003). Lynch and fellow soldier Private Lori Piestewa suffered “horrific injuries” when their Humvee crashed into a jackknifed truck. Piestewa was not killed by Iraqis at the scene, as some reports alleged, but died of her injuries at a Nasiriyah hospital. Lynch, the report says, “survived principally because of the medical attention she received from the Iraqis.” A Pentagon source says of the convoy’s reaction to being ambushed: “This was a fight. They got popped at different locations. There were battles. They were fighting back.” The report was written by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, and is largely based on an extensive commander’s investigation, called a 15-6 for the Army regulation that authorizes investigations of major incidents. The 15-6 report itself will not be released to the public. [Washington Times, 7/10/2003]
Jessica Lynch receives one of three medals awarded to her for her service in Iraq. [Source: US Department of Defense]Army Private Jessica Lynch, captured during an ambush in Iraq (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003), is awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious combat service, the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat, and the POW Medal for being captured by the enemy. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
NBC announces plans to make a movie of Army Private Jessica Lynch’s capture and rescue (see June 17, 2003). The network announces its choice to play Lynch: Canadian actress Laura Regan, whose most recent role was in a B-list horror movie. People magazine initially reports that Lynch, through her family and representatives, is close to signing a deal with NBC that would allow her at least some input into the movie script, but the family refuses to participate, saying they would rather see Lynch’s story told in book form. The film is based on the dubious accounts by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who alerted Marines to Lynch’s captivity and assisted in her rescue (see April 10, 2003 and After). The film, entitled Saving Jessica Lynch in an apparent attempt to connect it with the award-winning 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, is already in production. NBC plans to air it during the so-called “sweeps” period in November, when viewership is measured and network ratings are determined. More to the family’s liking, a biography of Lynch, perhaps to be authored by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, is also in the works. [People, 8/7/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 8/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
The liberal news publication CounterPunch profiles the “Rumsfeld Group,” a government public relations group put together after the 9/11 attacks to manipulate the media’s reporting of the Bush administration’s war on terror (see Late May 2001). One noteworthy aspect of the profile is the success the “Rumsfeld Group” has had in working with the press to spread its message.
Benador Associates - One of the most effective “perception managers” for the Bush administration is Elena Benador, the media placement expert who runs Benador Associates. She oversees the Middle East Forum, an organization CounterPunch reporter Jeffrey St. Clair calls “a fanatically pro-Zionist paper mill,” and has close connections with some of Washington’s most influential hardliners and neoconservatives, including Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander Haig, Max Boot, Daniel Pipes, Richard Perle, and Judith Miller. Benador is given the task of getting these pro-war hawks on the air and in the press as often as possible. She does an excellent job in both getting the placements and crafting the message to ensure that they all make the same points. “There are some things, you just have to state them in a different way, in a slightly different way,” Benador explains. “If not, people get scared.”
Washington Post Particularly Compliant - Many press and television news outlets help promulgate the Pentagon’s story, but, St. Clair will note, few are as reliable or as enthusiastic as the Washington Post. He mentions the example of Private Jessica Lynch, whose story was fed for weeks by an over-the-top report from the Post that was fueled entirely by PR flacks from the Pentagon’s Combat Camera operation (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003). In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Post’s op-eds ran 3 to 1 in favor of attacking Iraq. St. Clair notes that in 1988, the Post shrugged off reports of Saddam Hussein gassing Iranians and his own Iraqis as “a quirk of war”; at that point, the US wanted close relations with the Hussein regime, and wanted to play down Hussein’s depredations. The Post echoed the government’s lack of interest.
Firing of Donahue - St. Clair points to MSNBC’s firing of liberal talk show host Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq invasion (see February 25, 2003) as another example of the Pentagon’s reach into the mainstream US media. At the behest of the Pentagon’s PR officials, MSNBC fired Donahue and replaced him with a pro-war broadcast called Countdown: Iraq. While MSNBC blamed “poor ratings” on the firing, in reality Donahue’s ratings were MSNBC’s highest. Instead, the network did not like what it called Donahue’s propensity to have “anti-war, anti-Bush” voices on his show. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Jeffrey St. Clair, Elena Benador, Daniel Pipes, CounterPunch, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Jessica Lynch, Max Boot, Judith Miller, Washington Post, Middle East Forum, MSNBC, Richard Perle, Phil Donahue
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Rick Bragg and Jessica Lynch discuss Lynch’s biography on the ‘Today Show,’ November 12, 2003. [Source: Peter Morgan / Reuters / Corbis]Army Private Jessica Lynch, captured during an ambush in Iraq (see March 23, 2003) and rescued from an Iraqi hospital nine days later (see June 17, 2003), signs a $1 million book deal with publisher Alfred A. Knopf to tell the story of her ordeal. She intends to allow former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg to actually write the book, to be titled I Am a Soldier, Too. “I feel a kinship with Jessica and her family,” Bragg says. Lynch says of the book, “It will be a story about growing up in America.” Knopf’s publicity director, Paul Bogaards, says Lynch’s memory is intact, and “The book will… answer any lingering questions about her injuries.” [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003] The book will allege that Lynch was raped by her captors, a charge Lynch will later dispute (see November 11, 2003).
Cover of Because Each Life Is Precious. [Source: Ozon (.ru)]The book Because Each Life is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Risked Everything for Private Jessica Lynch, is published by HarperCollins. It is co-written by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who provided US forces with information necessary for the rescue of Lynch (see June 17, 2003). Al-Rehaief was rewarded for his contributions with political asylum in the US, a job with a Republican-owned lobbying firm, and a $300,000 book contract (see April 10, 2003 and After). The book was promoted by former US Information Agency official Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who in 1990 worked for public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. While at that firm, Fitz-Pegado helped run the propaganda campaign that alleged Iraqi forces had broken into a Kuwaiti infirmary, thrown Kuwaiti babies to the floor, and stolen their incubators. The story was catapulted into the headlines by the gripping testimony of a 15-year old girl, “Nayirah,” who testified before Congress that she had witnessed the atrocities (see October 10, 1990). The girl was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and had been coached on what to say by Fitz-Pegado. Like Naiyrah’s, al-Rehaief’s story is riddled with apparent falsehoods, including the now well-known story of Lynch being slapped by a black-clad Iraqi Fedayeen, a tale disputed by the doctors and nurses at the hospital in which Lynch was receiving care. Executives of the Livingston Group, the lobbying firm which now employs al-Rehaief, say that his life is in danger from “terrorists,” though they give no details of the alleged threats; interestingly, the firm canceled an appearance by al-Rehaief at the National Press Club shortly before the book’s release, thus denying reporters a chance to question al-Rehaief about his version of events. In the book, al-Rehaief writes, “I cannot say how I had pictured this American POW but I never imagined her as quite so small or quite so young.” When he saw her being slapped, he writes: “In that moment I felt compelled to help that person in the hospital bed. I had no idea of what I could do, but I knew that I had to do something.” Independent reporter Andrew Buncombe calls the book an example of “the murky world where myth, reality and disinformation merge…” [Independent, 10/19/2003; United Press International, 10/23/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
A frightened Shoshana Johnson, photographed by her captors an hour after she was shot and captured by Iraqi fighters. [Source: Al-Jazeera / CNN]Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, captured in the same Iraqi assault that ended in the captivity and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), has faced a very different ordeal than her more famous comrade. Johnson was held captive for 22 days before being released. During her captivity, she was shot in both legs. She still suffers from severe physical and emotional trauma. She has not spoken out while Lynch became the focus of so much media attention, but she now feels she must: the Army has informed her that she will receive only a 30 percent disability benefit for her injuries. Lynch will receive an 80 percent disability benefit. Johnson is African American; Lynch is Caucasian. The difference amounts to between $600-$700 per month, a significant amount for Johnson, who is raising a three-year-old daughter. Johnson’s family has enlisted the help of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to help make their case in the national press. Jackson says the discrepancy implies that a racial double standard is at work in the two women’s cases. “Here’s a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal,” Jackson says. “Yet there’s an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases.” Philadelphia radio host Mary Mason says more bluntly: “Shoshana is getting the shaft, and people are outraged about it. It’s ridiculous, and complete racism.” Some have speculated that the difference in race and appearance—Lynch, a winsome, tiny blonde, is acknowledged to be quite photogenic, while Johnson is darker and heavier-featured—may have played a role in the selection of Lynch over Johnson to gain such heavy media coverage. Johnson’s father Claude, an Army veteran, says neither Shoshana nor the family begrudge Lynch her disability. They just believe that the benefits should be more equal. Lynch says she and Johnson are friends, and she hopes Johnson receives every benefit due her. The Army denies any bias, and says its decision on benefits is made according to a soldier’s injuries. Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, an African American, says she won’t watch the NBC movie about Lynch’s ordeal (see November 10, 2003). “Jessica’s story is a compelling story, but so is Shoshana’s,” she says. “My reason for not tuning in is simple: I am tired of the double standard.” [Black Entertainment Television, 10/24/2003; Boston Globe, 11/9/2003] Johnson’s benefits will later be revised upwards (see March 18, 2008).
Time magazine does a cover story on the recovering Private Jessica Lynch, who is the subject of a biography (see November 11, 2003) and a television movie (see November 10, 2003). The article profiles Lynch as she recovers from her wounds at her home in West Virginia. She says she had no idea that within hours of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003), she had become an instant celebrity (see April 3, 2003). “I didn’t think that anyone out there even knew I existed, let alone write me a letter,” she says. “I was asking my mom, ‘Did I make the hometown Journal?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, you made it, plus all these world papers.’” Her father Greg recalls that she and the family were excited when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came to their home to visit. “That was rewarding,” he says. “Not every day that you meet the big boys.” President Bush has not called the Lynch home, but, according to her father, she does not expect him to call. “He’s got a job to do,” her father says. Her physical recovery is a slow, unsteady process, but she is improving, her parents and physical therapist say. [Time, 11/9/2003]
Image from the ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’ poster. [Source: Satellite Imaging Corporation]NBC’s television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch (see August 5-8, 2003), airs, attracting mediocre ratings. The film is based on the dubious account by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief as published in his book Because Every Life is Precious, and actually makes al-Rehaief, not Lynch, the central figure. Lynch and her family refused to take part in the movie’s production; Lynch even refused to meet with al-Rehaief when he journeyed to her hometown in West Virginia. Days before its airing, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker, after previewing it, lambasted it as “odious,” slammed its “assiduously bland storytelling,” and said that it “represents everything that’s wrong with this genre,” a subdivision of TV docudramas that he calls the “so-called women-in-jeopardy telefilm.” The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley calls it a “shameless attempt [by NBC] to capitalize on [a] real-life horror stor[y].” A later Times review will note, “An inordinate amount of poetic license is taken with the events surrounding Jessica’s rescue, with a plethora of ridiculous coincidences and serial-like thrills and chills thrown in to pep up the story.” [New York Times, 11/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; New York Times, 2008] (NBC airs a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “This motion picture is based on a true story. However, some names have been changed and some characters, scenes and events in whole or part have been created for dramatic purpose.”) [Salon, 11/13/2003] In a review for the Deseret News, Scott Pierce writes, “If I thought NBC executives were capable of feeling shame, I’d suggest that they should be ashamed of themselves for foisting Saving Jessica Lynch off on viewers.” He calls the movie “a simple case of a network investing itself and its money in a project designed to grab ratings without pausing to find out what the real story was. And then not really worrying too much about getting its facts straight.… Never mind that the original story Americans were told about the rescue turned out to be largely bogus. Never mind that independent news organizations have called into question al-Rehaief’s version of events. This was ‘created for dramatic purposes.‘… [W]hat makes the telefilm nothing short of reprehensible is that, disclaimer or not, it presents fiction as fact and exploits the facts for ratings. I can’t help but think of how the families of the soldiers who died must feel about this.” [Deseret News, 11/8/2003]
Cover of I Am a Soldier, Too. [Source: Entertainment Weekly]Rick Bragg’s biography of Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003) is released under the title I Am a Soldier, Too (see September 2, 2003). Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan says the book is straightforward, and shows Lynch as a humble young woman refusing to take credit for things she did not do: “I didn’t kill nobody,” Lynch says. Her memory of the hours after her injuries in the initial ambush are gone, and her story of her nine days under the care of Iraqi doctors parallels the story as told by other media sources after the initial propaganda blitz from the US military and media outlets such as the Washington Post (see April 1, 2003) had run its course. (The initial propaganda onslaught had an effect: a Marine interviewed for the book recalls: “I took it right to heart. I have a sister. She’s 19.… I thought of the people who would do that. I wanted to kill them. I killed 34 of them.”
Three-Part Structure - Bragg divides the book into three parts: the first a retelling of Lynch’s life before joining the Army, as another young woman in an impoverished West Virginia hamlet who, like her brother and so many other young people of the area, joined the military in hopes to build a future for herself. The second part of the book focuses on the March 23 ambush and capture (see March 23, 2003), and her nine days as a patient in an Iraqi hospital (see May 4, 2003). The third and last part of the book chronicles Lynch’s attempt to set her story straight. She never attempted to claim any undue credit for herself, consistently refusing to embrace the myth of her “heroism” in which the military and the media attempted to cloak her (see April 3, 2003).
Allegation of Rape - Jordan writes that “Bragg manages to suppress his penchant for overblown prose to give the straight story on Lynch’s remarkable ordeal.” New York Times reviewer David Lipsky is less forgiving, noting numerous infelicitously written passages and concluding that the book suffered from being written under a tight deadline. But amidst the sober retelling of facts, Bragg heads off in a controversial direction: alleging a sexual assault that Lynch does not recall suffering. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 12/14/2003] Lynch herself says she read the book but skipped the parts that were too hard for her to relive, the parts, she says, that made her parents cry. As for the allegation that Lynch was raped, Bragg says it was her parents that wanted that included in the book: “because if we didn’t put it in, the story wouldn’t be compete. It would be a lie.” [Time, 11/9/2003] But a Philadelphia Inquirer book reviewer notes angrily: “[The] revelation that she was sexually assaulted during those lost three hours, timed specifically to promote this book and her appearances, is repugnant, virtually unparalleled in the rancid history of publicity. It’s rape as a marketing tool.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
No Extra Copies - One Connecticut bookstore owner is asked if her store will order extra copies of Lynch’s biography; she guffaws: “You must be kidding! Who cares? This story has been told to the nth degree.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
Diane Sawyer and Jessica Lynch. [Source: ABC News / CNN]ABC airs an interview with Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003); the press reports elements from the interview four days in advance, from ABC press releases. In the interview, conducted by Diane Sawyer, Lynch says that the US military overdramatized the story of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, a charge denied by US military officials, who blame the news media for reporting the story with incomplete information. Asked if the military exaggerated the danger of her rescue by US Special Forces commandos, Lynch replies, “Yeah, I don’t think it happened quite like that.” However, she says, it would have been foolish for her rescuers to go in less prepared. Any such unit “in that kind of situation would obviously go in with force, not knowing who was on the other side of the door.” The way the US military publicized her rescue (see April 1, 2003) upsets Lynch. “It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” she says. “It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they [say], you know.… All I know was that I was in that hospital hurting.… I needed help. I wanted out of there. It didn’t matter to me if they would have come in shirts and blank guns; it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I wanted out of there.” She has nothing but praise for her rescuers: “I’m so thankful that they did what they did. They risked their lives.”
Disputes Rape, Abuse Allegations in Biography - An upcoming book about her captivity (see September 2, 2003) alleges that she was raped by her Iraqi captors, a charge Lynch says she cannot confirm. The charge, placed in the book by author Rick Bragg, is based on what Bragg calls a medical report that shows Lynch was sexually assaulted. Lynch has no memory of any such assault, and says “even just the thinking about that, that’s too painful.” From what she remembers, she was well treated during her stay in the Iraqi hospital. One of the Iraqi doctors who treated her, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, says he found no evidence of any such sexual assault. She also says that the story of her being slapped by an Iraqi paramilitary officer, as retold in a recent movie of her ordeal (see November 10, 2003), is untrue. “From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing,” she says.
Feared Permanent Paralysis - Lynch recalls that while lying in the Iraqi hospital, she “seriously thought I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt that much pain in my whole entire life. It was, you know, from my foot to my other foot to my legs to my arms to my back, my head.” She does not consider herself a hero, she says: “I was just there in that spot, you know, the wrong place, the wrong time.”
Refuses to Take Credit for Fighting - Lynch confirms that when she and her fellow soldiers were attacked, she did not fire a single shot. Her weapon jammed when she tried to fire on her assailants. “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing,” she says. “I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.” She says it hurt her to learn that initial news accounts portrayed her as emptying her weapon into her assailants, and finally falling due to multiple gunshot and knife wounds. Her injuries were all due to the crash of her vehicle. “It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about,” she says. “Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren’t here to tell that story. So I would have been the only one able to say… I went down shooting. But I didn’t.” Lynch believes one of her fellow soldiers, Private Lori Piestewa, may have been the one who went down fighting. “That may have been her, but it wasn’t me, and I’m not taking credit for it,” Lynch says. Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit, was mortally wounded during the gunfight.
Wants to Teach Kindergarten - When she recovers, she says, she wants to teach kindergarten children. But she has to complete her physical therapy and fully recover from her injuries. She still has no feeling in her left foot, walks with crutches, and suffers from chronic kidney and bowel problems due to the injury to her spine. “I just want to keep adding, you know, just steps every day, just so eventually I can throw away the crutches and… just start walking on my own,” she says. “That’s my goal. I just want to be able to walk again.” [CNN, 11/7/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003; New York Times, 11/7/2003; Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
'Tough Interview' - Salon’s Eric Boehlert writes admiringly that “[t]he petite, tight-lipped Lynch is one tough interview.” She weathers Sawyer’s interview well, never losing her composure even after Sawyer, whom Boehlert says is notorious for “elicit[ing] on-camera tears,” surprised her with a photograph of the Iraqi hospital room Lynch had been held in. Boehlert writes: “The camera zoomed in on Lynch for a reaction. Yes, she calmly replied, that was the room she stayed in.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
National Public Radio (NPR) host Mike Pesca interviews New York media critic Michael Wolff regarding the storm of media hype and controversy surrounding the story of Private Jessica Lynch, particularly the recent television movie (see November 10, 2003) and biography (see November 11, 2003). Pesca notes: “[H]ere’s our sources on the Jessica Lynch story: an Iraqi doctor, Lynch herself, who has no memory of the ordeal, unnamed Pentagon sources, a TV movie of the week, and Rick Bragg, who left the New York Times for journalistic malfeasance. It’s like a multimedia Rashomon” (referring to the iconic Japanese film that retells a murder from multiple viewpoints, with no one version being completely factual). Wolff says there is reason to doubt virtually all of those sources: “[T]here is at this point reason to distrust and doubt everybody, because the heroine of this story also disputes everything that’s been said.” Wolff calls the story “a symbol of the Iraq war, [and] the Iraq war may be the symbol of the current media age.… [F]rom the very first moment it was clear that this story was going to be retailed essentially for political purposes, and it hasn’t moved off of that, although it has moved now into commercial purposes. We’ve gone from the Pentagon propaganda machine into the multimedia cross-platform propaganda machine.… I mean, everybody knows that this is not a real story. Nevertheless, we’re selling it all over the place.… I mean, the person right at the center of this story disputes every characterization of herself and of the events that took place. Nonetheless, we roll on. She gets her book deals. It’s as though there’s a parallel reality going here. Yeah, we know that the truth is over there, and that’s different from the stories that were being told, but we enjoy the stories that are being told so let’s forget about the truth.” Wolff is careful not to blame Lynch herself for the media frenzy surrounding her story: As a matter of fact, not only does she seem not to deserve the blame here, but every time she speaks, she says, ‘Oh, no, it didn’t happen that way.’ And no one seems to care.” [National Public Radio, 11/13/2003]
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]
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Michael DeLong. [Source: PBS]Retired Marine Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the author of A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes of his involvement with the Jessica Lynch case (see March 23, 2003), and his decision not to award her the Medal of Honor. DeLong was the deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar from 2001 through 2003. In his words, “I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya[h] in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.” DeLong writes to refute allegations that the military deliberately distorted the story of Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and April 3, 2003) for its own purposes. Instead, he says, the story became distorted because of what he calls “overzealous politicians and a frenzied press.” According to DeLong, CENTCOM told the press exactly what it had learned of Lynch’s capture within hours of the incident. He writes, “The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic.” Shortly after her rescue, when the media was still telling stories of her heroism under fire and her wounding by gunfire (see April 7, 2003), politicians from her home state of West Virginia began calling for the military to award Lynch the Medal of Honor. DeLong writes that he halted that process, aware that “initial combat reports are often wrong” and that all such stories must be “thoroughly investigate[d].” Lynch herself was still suffering from “combat shock and loss of memory,” forcing the military to look to “other sources” for all the facts. DeLong recalls “many heated discussions” with the politicians’ Congressional liaison, who pressured DeLong to give Lynch the medal before all the evidence had been collected. He writes, “The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.” Indeed, he writes, the initial reports were wrong (see June 17, 2003). “Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic. (It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week (see April 24, 2007), the ‘story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting’ was not true.)” DeLong writes: “None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period.” He claims that Task Force 20, who executed the rescue mission, “decided to film it on their own.” He is glad they made the film of the rescue “not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.” DeLong concludes: “A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself os not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts.” [New York Times, 4/27/2007]
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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