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Profile: Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief
Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief was a participant or observer in the following events:
A barely conscious Lynch lies on a stretcher. An American flag is draped over her chest. This will become one of the iconic photos of the Lynch saga. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Washington Post prints a story purporting to detail the trials and tribulations of Private Jessica Lynch, captured in a recent ambush by Iraqi fighters (see March 23, 2003). The Post headline: “She Was Fighting to the Death.” According to the story, Lynch fought valiantly to defend her injured and killed comrades, herself killing several of her attackers and suffering repeated gunshot and stab wounds. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003]
'Talk about Spunk!' - According to the tale, provided to Post reporters by unnamed US officials, Lynch continued firing until she ran out of ammunition, and even after suffering “multiple gunshot wounds.” An official says: “She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.” One military official, senior military spokesman Captain Frank Thorp, tells reporters from the Military Times that Lynch “waged quite a battle prior to her capture. We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily. Reports are that she fired her [M-16 rifle] until she had no more ammunition.” (This is not true, but Thorp will later deny that any deliberate deception occurred—see April 2007 and March 18, 2008.) Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) is fulsome with his praise of Lynch after being briefed by Pentagon officials: “Talk about spunk! She just persevered. It takes that and a tremendous faith that your country is going to come and get you.” Initial reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death at the scene, but those reports were incorrect. Officials warn that “the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed.” Pentagon officials say they have heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroism, but as yet have no confirmation from either Lynch or other survivors. Eleven bodies were found at the hospital during her rescue; at least some of those bodies are believed to be those of US servicemen. Seven soldiers from Lynch’s 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company are still listed as missing in action; five others were captured after the attack. Iraqi broadcasts have shown video footage of the five, along with pictures of at least four US soldiers killed during the attack. Because of debriefing and counseling, it may be some time before Lynch is reunited with her family in West Virginia. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003; US News and World Report, 3/18/2008; Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008] Other media stories add to the Post’s account. The New York Daily News reports: “Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch—and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation.… Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. ‘It’s awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,’ Yarsinske said.” The Daily News is almost certainly referring to Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi who told US forces about Lynch being at an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003). The Los Angeles Times reports Lynch was “flown to a US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she was reported to be in stable condition, recovering from injuries said to include broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003]
Discrepancies in Story - An Iraqi pharmacist who was at the hospital during Lynch’s captivity says as far as he knew, Lynch only suffered leg wounds. He recalls her crying about wanting to go home. “She said every time, about wanting to go home,” the pharmacist recalls. “She knew that the American Army and the British were on the other side of the [Euphrates] river in Nasiriyah city.… She said, ‘Maybe this minute the American Army [will] come and get me.’” [Washington Post, 4/3/2003]
Story Almost Pure Fiction - According to subsequent investigations by reporters, the Pentagon tale as reported by the Post is almost pure fiction (see May 4, 2003 and June 17, 2003). Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that at this point in the narrative, “Jessica Lynch herself, unable to speak, was reduced to a mere pawn, an innocent bystander in the production of her own big-budget action-packed biopic.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 82]
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]
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]
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]
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
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]
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]
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]
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