!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)
Page 4 of 6 (526 events (use filters to narrow search))previous
As Congress prepares to give the White House its requested $75 billion war supplement for Iraq, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) asks, “Why is there not a single dime for veterans’ health benefits in that $75 billion?” Kucinich also notes that the Bush administration’s cuts in veterans’ benefits will force an estimated 1.25 million veterans out of the system. Not only does the Bush administration not want to provide money for benefits, it attempts to charge veterans for health care. Congress will block the administration’s efforts to charge troops returning from Iraq a $250 fee to enroll in the VA medical plan. The administration also opposes a plan to expand health care for returning reservists and National Guard troops (the White House will drop its opposition after coming to a compromise with Congress). And the administration will implement a charge of $8 per day for each hospitalized soldier for his meals, until Congress votes to block the charge. [Carter, 2004, pp. 61-65]
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says during a House Subcommittee on National Security meeting that, according to the General Accounting Office, many US military units are selling their protective chem/bio suits (see Late 2002) on the Internet for three dollars “while other units [are] desperately clamoring for those critical items.” Congressional investigators will find that the Army has sold 429 of the $200 protective suits on eBay for three dollars apiece. The problem goes beyond a few hundred suits. One entire military wing has “only 25 percent of the protective masks required.” The Pentagon’s Inspector General has found that 420,000 protective suits listed on inventory and intended for distribution to troops bound for Iraq cannot be found. In February, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld refused to certify that US soldiers had the proper chem/bio equipment necessary for the invasion (see February 27, 2003). [Set-Aside Alert: Federal Contract News and Information, 9/6/2002; Carter, 2004, pp. 57-58]
Jan Mohammed re-enacts the alleged murder of his brother, Wakil. [Source: Crimes of War Project]Wakil Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, is shot to death by a US Special Forces soldier while being questioned about his possible role in a firefight. He was protesting that he and his brother—an eyewitness to the shooting—were merely returning home from afternoon prayers and had nothing to do with the fighting. (His brother will later tell the reporters that he and several others were detained and tortured, including having their heads held underwater in a form of waterboarding, and having their toenails torn out.) Mohammed’s death is not reported at all in the initial reports of the firefight. The death is later listed by the Army as a murder, but no charges have ever been filed in relation to the shooting. The team’s battalion commander will later claim that Mohammed’s death was never reported to him. One member of the Special Forces team involved in the murder will tell the Los Angeles Times that his unit held a meeting after the teen’s death in order to coordinate their stories should an investigation arise. “Everybody on the team had knowledge of it,” says the soldier. “You just don’t talk about that stuff in the Special Forces community. What happens downrange stays downrange… Nobody wants to get anybody in trouble. Just sit back, and hope it will go away.” The Times learns that the Special Forces unit in Gardez already is under heavy scrutiny by superior officers. One officer reported that the Gardez unit was “the most troubled” field team among nearly a dozen in Afghanistan. Another senior officer wrote that the team was gaining a reputation as “a rogue unit,” and a battalion commander characterizes the unit’s performance as “a Guard unit operating unprofessionally in a combat zone.” The Times will later report, “What distinguishes these two fatalities from scores of other questionable deaths in US custody (referring to the murder of both Mohammed and another detainee, Jamal Naseer—see March 16, 2003) is that they were successfully concealed—not just from the American public but from the military’s chain of command and legal authorities.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]
The US Senate confirms the nomination of Stephen Cambone as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a new Pentagon position that was created by the 2002 Defense Authorization Act (see December 2, 2002). [US Department of Defense, 4/15/2004] Cambone now oversees “assets that used to belong elsewhere, most notably a secret intelligence organization [code-named ‘Gray Fox’] that specializes in large-scale ‘deep penetration’ missions in foreign countries, especially tapping communications and laying the groundwork for overt military operations.” Asked by the Washington Post about the transfer of Gray Fox a few months later, Cambone responds, “We won’t talk about those things.” [Washington Post, 4/20/2003] He also sets the priorities for the Strategic Support Branch, a military unit running covert operations established shortly after 9/11 that Gray Fox is a part of (see October 2001-April 2002). [Washington Post, 1/23/2005] Cambone is not well-liked among the military and civilian intelligence bureaucrats in the Pentagon, “essentially because he [has] little experience in running intelligence programs,” New Yorker magazine will later report. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] In fact, Cambone will become so hated and feared inside the Pentagon as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s loyal “hatchet man” that one anonymous general will later tell the Army Times, “If I had one round left in my revolver, I’d take out Stephen Cambone”. [CounterPunch, 2/7/2006]
Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. [CBS News, 9/21/2004] Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006] Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. [Los Angeles Times, 9/25/2006]
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
Two days after a British Tornado fighter plane is shot down by a US Patriot anti-aircraft missile battery (see March 23-April 2, 2003), a US F-16 pilot is “painted” by what he believes is an enemy missile system. He fires his own missile in self-defense, destroying, not an Iraqi installation, but a Patriot battery. Former Congressional investigator Joseph Cironcione will say of the Tornado and F-16 incidents, “There was no way that Patriot system should have still been up and running, targeting aircraft. They should have stood down, knowing that they had a fatal problem on their hands.” [CBS News, 6/27/2004]
Stephen Cambone, the new Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, acquires control of all of the Pentagon’s special access programs (SAPs) related to the war on terrorism. SAPs, also known as “black” programs, are so secret that “some special access programs are never fully briefed to Congress.” SAPs were previously monitored by Kenneth deGraffenreid, who unlike Cambone (see February 4, 2003), had experience in counter-intelligence programs. DeGraffenreid quits a short time later. Cambone is considered very close to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
According to multiple sources, the Defense Department’s head of intelligence, Stephen Cambone, dispatches a quasi-military team to Iraq in the weeks after the invasion. Cambone’s “off-the-books” team, consisting of four or five men, operates under the auspices of Defense Department official Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). The team is tasked to secure the following, in order of priority: downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher, Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, and Saddam Hussein. The sources, who speak to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna in 2006 on the condition of anonymity, include three US intelligence sources and a person with close ties to the United Nations Security Council. Speicher, classified as “killed in action” (KIA) after being shot down in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, was touted by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996, November 6-8, 2001, December 20, 2001, and February 2002) as alive and held as a prisoner of war as part of Chalabi’s push for the US invasion of Iraq. Chalabi also told Bush administration officials of enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD throughout Iraq (see Summer 2002, Fall 2002, and Early 2003). Cambone’s team operates outside the auspices of other officially sanctioned groups such as Task Force 20 and other units operating in Iraq before the invasion itself, though the team may be comprised of TF20 personnel. The team is not tasked with actually finding and destroying any WMD stockpiles so much as it is ordered to find such a stockpile and thereby solve what the UN Security Council source calls the administration’s “political WMD” problem. “They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source later says. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our president is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’” [Raw Story, 1/5/2006]
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).
Ten days after a Patriot anti-missile battery destroys a British fighter plane (see March 23-April 2, 2003), and eight days after a US pilot is forced to destroy another Patriot battery that targeted his plane (see March 25, 2003), US Navy pilot Lieutenant Nathan White, flying his 14th mission of the war, is killed by Patriot missile fire. White is returning to his aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, after a completed mission. [CBS News, 6/27/2004]
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]
General John P. Abizaid, successor to General Tommy Franks as commander
of US Central Command, says during a satellite video conference that a three
division interim Iraqi military made up of former units of the old
Iraqi military in addition to members of anti-Saddam opposition groups will
be assembled by the US in order to stabilize Iraq. Potential members of
the new force will be vetted at processing centers and assigned to
minor tasks such as guarding government buildings and securing the border.
Abizaid believes that armies in Arab countries are important, not only from
a military standpoint, but from a social standpoint as well
because they provide jobs and help to keep Arab societies together. His
plan would have attempted to field the divisions within three months. [Gordon and Trainor, 3/14/2006, pp. 480]
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]
In late April 2003, the first civilian cargo planes begin arriving in Baghdad, Iraq, after US-led forces took over the city. As many as sixty civilian flights and seventy military flights arrive at Baghdad International Airport, all of them filled with supplies to replenish the US military effort and for Iraq’s reconstruction. The US military officers in charge of the airport, such as US Air National Guard Major Christopher Walker have no idea how private supply contracts were made or with whom, but they note that most of the pilots appear to be from Russia and various Eastern European countries, flying rugged Russian-made aircraft. On May 17, 2004, the Financial Times reports that many of the planes delivering supplies to US troops in Iraq are actually owned by a Russian named Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer. The United Nations has placed a ban on all dealings with Bout, due to his links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and many other militant and rebel groups around the world. Walker has never heard of Bout, but he is tasked to look into the allegations by his superiors. He quickly concludes that many of the planes flying into Baghdad daily are owned by Bout’s front companies, and that such Bout flights have been taking place over since the US reopened the airport. Bout’s companies have contracts flying in tents, food, and other supplies for US firms working for the US military in Iraq, including a large contract to fly supplies for Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company once run by Vice President Cheney. Bout’s companies also fly for US Air Mobility Command. Walker is reluctant to stop the flow of vital supplies, and leaves the issue to US military contracting officials to hire planes not linked to Bout. [Financial Times, 5/17/2004; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 214-224] However, the US military does not stop hiring and using Bout’s planes until about 2007 (see Late April 2003-2007). Walker will later speculate, “If the government really wanted him bad they could have come up with a pretext and seized his planes. But I guess they looked at Victor Bout and figured this guy’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole, so let’s keep him in business.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 251]
US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11. [Source: PBS]On April 30, 2003, the US announces that it is withdrawing most of its troops from Saudi Arabia. About 10,000 US soldiers have been stationed there since the first Gulf War (see August 5, 1990 and After and March 1991). The withdrawal is completed by the end of August 2003. About several hundred US military personnel remain in the country to train Saudi forces and tend to military sales. The US moves the rest of its troops to new bases in Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries, as well as building new bases in Iraq, conquered just a month before the announcement. [Agence France-Presse, 8/26/2003] The withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia has been bin Laden’s most persistent demand since the troops entered the country in 1990. For instance, in his 1996 fatwa (see August 1996), he said, “The latest and greatest of these aggressions incurred by Muslims since the death of the Prophet… is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places… by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/30/2003] One senior US military official says the decision to leave was made partly to help relieve internal political pressure on the royal family: “The Saudis will be happy when we leave. But they’re concerned that it not look as if it’s precipitous, because it will look like bin Laden won.” [Washington Post, 4/30/2003] One unnamed senior Saudi prince who participated in high-level debates about the withdrawal says, “We are fighting for our lives, and we are going to do what is necessary to save our behinds.” [New York Times, 4/30/2003]
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]
In a CIA-arranged meeting at the Abu Ghraib palace, US officials meet with a former high-ranking Iraqi military officer named Faris Naima. He proposes that the US set up three military divisions in northern, central, and southern Iraq. Soldiers would be stationed in every major town to support the police. Claiming that there is a large number of possible military leaders who are not orthodox Baathists, he says the US should start at the top by forming an Iraqi Ministry of Defense and work their way down, all officers would be mandated to repudiate the Baathist Party. Naima also stresses the importance of paying the salaries of civil servants and declaring a plan for exiting the country so that Iraqis will not begin to view them as occupiers. [Gordon and Trainor, 3/14/2006, pp. 480]
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]
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]
Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the UN’s top humanitarian official in Iraq, criticizes the US for allowing “ideology” to guide its rebuilding efforts. He points out that the mass lay-off of Iraqi soldiers without any sort of reemployment could become a destabilizing factor and create additional anti-American sentiment. He also criticizes De-Baathification, saying that “Many bureaucrats who have important experience that would help the new government were only Ba’ath party members on paper.” [The Guardian, 5/26/2003]
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.”
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]
Pentagon officials indicate that they will not ask Congress to renew a temporary increase in monthly Imminent-Danger Pay (IDP) (from $150 to $225) and Family-Separation Allowance (FSA) (from $100 to $250) to US soldiers stationed in combat zones. The temporary IDP and FSA increases, which were put into effect retroactively in April, are set to expire on September 30. In August, when a journalist asks the White House about its views on the plan not to renew the pay increases, a spokesperson refers the reporter to a June Pentagon budget report which warned that the Defense Department budget can’t sustain the higher payments. [Army Times, 6/30/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/14/2003] But after the planned rollback of the benefits becomes a public controversy, the Pentagon issues a statement on August 14 saying that it intends to ensure that those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan “continue to receive this compensation at least at the current levels.” The statement says nothing about troops deployed on dangerous missions in other regions. [US Department of Defense, 8/14/2003]
Donald Rumsfeld selects retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker as the Army’s chief of staff, bypassing several highly qualified active generals. Schoomaker is the general who failed to locate bin Laden during the Clinton administration (see December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999). Senior defense officials tell the Associated Press that Rumsfeld’s decision to bypass senior active-duty generals in favor of a retired officer is highly unusual and likely to raise eyebrows. [Associated Press, 6/10/2003]
The White House complains that certain pay-and-benefits incentives for US soldiers that Congress added to the 2004 defense budget are wasteful and unnecessary—including a proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to the families of soldiers who are killed in action. [Army Times, 6/30/2003]
KBR procurement managers Stephen Seamans and Jeff Mazon, who have between them already executed logistics subcontracts for the US military in Iraq worth $321 million, put together yet another deal for their business crony Shabbir Khan, of the Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co (see October 2005, October 2002, and April 2003). However, this deal puts US soldiers at risk. According to KBR’s enormous LOGCAP contract with the Army, KBR is required to medically screen the thousands of kitchen workers subcontractors such as Tamimi import from poor villages in countries like Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Instead of performing the required medical screenings, Khan gives falsified files on 550 Tamimi kitchen workers to the US Defense Department. KBR retests those 550 workers at a Kuwait City clinic and finds that 172 test positive for exposure to the hepatitis A virus. Khan tries to suppress the test results, telling the clinic that Tamimi would do no more business with his clinic if it informs KBR about the results. Further retests show that none of the 172 have contagious hepatitis A, and Khan’s attorneys will claim during a subsequent investigation (see October 2006 and Beyond) that no soldiers caught any diseases from any of Tamimi’s workers. Other firms besides Tamimi show similar problems, causing KBR to begin vaccinating the employees for a variety of diseases at the job sites. [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
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]
A few months after being publicly, and humiliatingly, contradicted by his top civilian Pentagon bosses Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003), Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki retires. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attend Shinseki’s retirement ceremony, a choice which many see as another public snubbing of the retiring general. Shinseki spends 20 minutes listing the people who had helped the Army during his tenure as Army chief of staff; Rumsfeld’s name is conspicuously absent from the listing. And in a veiled jab at his former boss, Shinseki says that “arrogance of power” is the worst substitute for true leadership. In another unusual move, Rumsfeld had already named Shinseki’s replacement, General Peter Schoomaker, nearly a year before Shinseki’s retirement. [Honolulu Advertiser, 6/13/2003; US News and World Report, 6/15/2003]
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]
The destruction of a British Tornado fighter plane by a US Patriot anti-missile battery (see March 23-April 2, 2003) and other similar incidents (see March 25, 2003 and April 2, 2003) prompt former Congressional investigator Joseph Cironcione to tell reporters that the Army has known of the problems with the Patriot since at least 1991, when Congress tapped him to lead an investigation of the Patriot’s performance (see Mid-1991). But, Cirincione will observe, the media impact of Patriot footage was apparently more important than its actual performance. “I saw the pictures. I thought this is amazing. This system is exceeding expectations,” Cirincione will recall of the Gulf War footage broadcast on CNN and other television networks. “And all during the war, that’s what I thought. This was what all the newscasters said it was—a Scud buster, a miracle weapon. … A lot of money started flowing into the Patriot right after the Gulf War, because everybody thought it was a success.” Cirincione discovered that the Patriot had a dismal record: “The best evidence that we found supports between two and four intercepts out of 44. About a 10 percent success rate.” In 2001, the Army finally admitted that the Patriot was not the ringing success it had claimed. And by that time, the new problem—targeting friendly aircraft as enemies—was becoming evident. A 1996 Pentagon report found that the Patriot had “very high fratricide levels.” Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Philip Coyle, who oversaw Patriot testing from 1994 through 2001, says the Army should have been aware of the problem. “I believe they were,” he will recall in 2004. “But the focus was on hitting a target. Other issues, such as friendly fire, didn’t get the same—either spending, or priority, as the first priority of hitting a target.” Cirincione agrees. “There’s a tendency in all our weapons systems to try to play up the good news and get it through its performance evaluations, and then try to fix the problems later on.… They think that it’s a problem with the system that they can fix down the line.” Those problems were never addressed, but the Army deployed Patriot batteries in Iraq anyway. Cirincione will add, “What’s so disheartening about this is the very things we warned about came to pass in this war. It’s clear that the failure to correct some of the problems that we’ve known about for 10, 12 years led to soldiers dying needlessly. To flyers, dying needlessly.” As of mid-2004, the Army had produced no reports explaining the friendly fire incidents. [Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]
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]
Paul Bremer asks the Pentagon to send about 50,000 more soldiers to Iraq, the equivalent of more than two divisions. The request is discussed at a National Security Council meeting but the White House is reluctant to satisfy the request. One source tells the Seattle Times that the “White House is aware that Bremer wants them. They’re not happy about it. They don’t want a formal request because then, politically, there’s fallout.” Rumsfeld denies that the Department of Defense has been asked to provide “anything that has not been supplied.” [Seattle Times, 7/2/2003]
The Pentagon announces that the Office of Special Plans will revert to its previous name, the “Northern Gulf Affairs Office,” explaining that this name more accurately reflects the activities and mission of that office. [Tom Paine (.com), 8/27/2003]
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 Bush administration installs L. Jean Lewis as the Defense Department’s inspector general. Her office investigates fraud and audits Pentagon contracts, including the billion-dollar arrangements with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. While the post is traditionally non-partisan, Lewis is a strongly partisan Republican. Lewis is best remembered as the driving force behind the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC)‘s relentless investigation of then-President Bill Clinton over a parcel of land called Whitewater. FBI investigators refused to pursue Lewis’s work, calling it sloppy, biased, and incompetent. Lewis repeatedly lied under oath during the Whitewater investigation before bringing the questioning to a halt by suddenly “fainting.” Her partisanship was on display throughout her career with the RTC, having once proposed selling coffee cups and T-shirts with the slogan “Presidential B_TCH” emblazoned under a photo of Hillary Clinton out of the RTC offices, and calling President Clinton a “lying b_stard.” (Lewis claimed under oath that neither instance indicated any bias she might have towards the Clintons or towards Democrats.) She now has the prime responsibility for ensuring that billions of tax dollars are spent wisely by the government and its private contractors. Lewis says that, although her employers are well aware of her background, “I would prefer to think it was my ability and skills they were interested in.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 71; New York Observer, 3/18/2007]
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).
Private Alyssa Peterson. [Source: Arizona Daily Sun]Private Alyssa Peterson, deployed as an Arabic-speaking interrogator in Iraq, commits suicide rather than participate in torturing Iraqi prisoners. Peterson, from Flagstaff, Arizona, serves with the 311th Military Intelligence Unit, a part of the 101st Airborne, at an American air base in Tal Afar. Her death is initially cited as an accident resulting from a “non-hostile weapons discharge,” a not uncommon citation. Shortly after her death, Army officials tell the Arizona Republic that “a number of possible scenarios are being considered, including Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian.” In 2005, reporter Kevin Elston will probe more deeply into Peterson’s death; documents released under the Freedom of Information Act will show that, according to Elston’s report for radio station KNAU: “Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.” Official records show that Peterson had been “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for the prisoners. The report of her death states, “She said that she did not know how to be two people; she… could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.” She was reassigned to gate duty, and sent to suicide prevention training, but, the report reads, “[O]n the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.” A notebook is found next to her body, but its contents are entirely redacted. Peterson also leaves a suicide note, which Elston will be unable to obtain. After reviewing the records documenting the circumstances of her death, Elston will say: “The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were.” Peterson’s parents will not be told of their daughter’s suicide for three years, but are told merely that she died as a result of an accident. [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009] In 2009, reporter and author Greg Mitchell will interview former Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter who served briefly with Peterson at Tal Afar. Williams, like Peterson, objected to abusive techniques being used on prisoners, and is eventually transferred to different duties (see Late September 2003). Williams will note that there are probably more factors involved in Peterson’s suicide than her revulsion to torture. “It’s always a bunch of things coming together to the point you feel so overwhelmed that there’s no way out,” Williams will say. “I witnessed abuse, I felt uncomfortable with it, but I didn’t kill myself, because I could see the bigger context. I felt a lot of angst about whether I had an obligation to report it, and had any way to report it. Was it classified? Who should I turn to?… It also made me think, what are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation.” Mitchell will write, “Such an experience might have been truly shattering to the deeply religious Peterson.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]
Department of Defense officials ask Congress not to renew a temporary increase in the Family Separation Allowance (FSA) and Imminent Danger Pay (IDP) for deployed forces that had been enacted in April. Instead, Defense suggests raising the Hardship Duty Pay for troops deployed only in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Chu, the department’s top personnel official, says that the April raises were like “using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail.” The Pentagon’s intent to rollback the FSA and IDP reignites a controversy that had sprung up during the summer (see Summer 2003) when it was first revealed that the White House supported the Defense Department’s plan to save money by cutting back on the two programs. [Stars and Stripes, 10/4/2003] The final National Defense Authorization bill, which is passed by Congress in November, rejects the Pentagon’s recommendations and renews the pay increases. [Sun Herald (Biloxi), 11/8/2003]
Kayla Williams. [Source: Bowling Green State University]Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter, witnesses prisoners being abused while being detained in Mosul. Williams is troubled by the death of an acquaintance, Private Alyssa Peterson, who actually committed suicide rather than take part in the torture of prisoners (see September 15, 2003 and After). Williams witnesses an incident that closely parallels the kind of interrogation Peterson objected to. She is taken into a special holding area called “the cage,” where she sees US soldiers punching a naked detainee in the face and burning him with lit cigarettes. There is no interrogation, just the brutalization of a prisoner. Williams will later write: “It’s one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That’s one thing. But flicking lit cigarettes at somebody—like burning him—that’s illegal.” She will later write that soldiers will soon tell her that “the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war.” In 2005, Williams will recall the incident on CNN: “I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes. They stripped prisoners naked and then removed their blindfolds so that I was the first thing they saw. And then we were supposed to mock them and degrade their manhood. And it really didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn’t know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren’t behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave.” After that session and several others that same day, she tells a superior officer that she will not take part in future interrogations. “I sat through it at the time,” she will recall. “But after it was over I did approach the non-commissioned officer in charge and told him I think you may be violating the Geneva Conventions.… He said he knew and I said I wouldn’t participate again and he respected that, but I was really, really stunned.” In 2009, Williams will say: “In general, interrogation is not fun, even if you follow the rules. And I didn’t see any good intelligence being gained. The other problem is that, in situations like that, you have people that are not terrorists being picked up, and being questioned. And, if you treat an innocent person like that, they walk out a terrorist.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]
Approximately 600 sick or injured members of the US Army Reserves and National Guard are in “medical hold” at Fort Stewart where they are kept “in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field” while doctors review their cases to determine how sick or disabled they are and whether or not they are eligible to receive benefits. Many of the soldiers in medical hold complain that they have been languishing there for “months” and that the conditions are “substandard.” Some soldiers also claim that the Army is trying to refuse them benefits on grounds that their injuries and illnesses are due to a pre-existing condition. Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company, explains to a reporter how he feels about the Army’s treatment of the soldiers: “Now my whole idea about the US Army has changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen.” [United Press International, 10/17/2003; CNN, 10/19/2003; United Press International, 10/20/2003; Coastal Courier, 10/22/2003]
Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]
Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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).
Cher talks with a wounded soldier at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. [Source: Todd Goodman / US Army]Cher, the celebrity singer and actress, calls in to a morning C-SPAN talk show broadcast. She calls anonymously to discuss her recent visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she visited with soldiers wounded in Iraq. She praises the courage and resilience of the soldiers, many of whom have suffered horrific wounds. After she admits to being an entertainer who has worked with the USO, C-SPAN host Peter Slen realizes who she is, and asks, “Is this Cher?” She replies, “Yeah,” and continues to discuss the troops and their “unbelievable courage.” Shortly thereafter, she says: “I wonder why [Dick] Cheney, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Paul] Bremer, the president—why aren’t they taking pictures with all these guys?… Talking about the dead and wounded, that’s two different things. But these wounded are so devastatingly wounded.… It’s unbelievable. You know, if you’re going to send these people to war, then don’t hide them.… Have some news coverage where people are sitting and talking to these guys and seeing how they are and seeing their spirit. It’s just—I think it’s a crime.” [Village Voice, 11/5/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 65-66] Shortly after the Walter Reed visit, Cher will become heavily involved in working with wounded veterans through organizations such as Operation Helmet and the Intrepid Fund. She will say of her activism: “I don’t have to be for this war to support the troops because these men and women do what they think is right. They do what they’re told to do. They do it with a really good heart. They do the best they can. They don’t ask for anything.… I can’t speak for everyone, but everyone seems to be against the war but not realizing that that’s not good enough. You’ve got to do something besides just be against it. You’ve got to do some helping as well.” [Stars and Stripes, 7/16/2006]
The commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, says the week of unprecedented violence in Iraq is nothing more than “a strategically and operationally insignificant surge of attacks.” Less than 24 hours later, the US will suffer its biggest single loss of troops since the invasion began (see November 2, 2003). [Knight Ridder, 11/2/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 108]
A Chinook helicopter similar to the one shot down near Fallujah. [Source: Associated Press]Iraqi insurgents shoot down a US Army Chinook helicopter near Fallujah, killing 16 US soldiers and wounding 21. (Initial reports put the figures at 13 dead and 20 wounded. Subsequent deaths of soldiers mortally wounded in the attack push the death toll to 16.) [CBS News, 11/3/2003; American Forces Press Service, 11/3/2003] The shootdown is the deadliest single attack on American forces since the invasion began. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the incident a national tragedy for Americans. “Clearly it is a tragic day,” Rumsfeld says. “In a long hard war, we are going to have tragic days. But they are necessary. They are part of a war that is difficult and complicated.” The Chinook, transporting over 50 troops from Habbaniyah Air Base to the Baghdad airport, where they were to depart Iraq for leave time, is shot down by insurgents wielding a Soviet-made SA-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM). (US officials have long warned that hundreds of SAMs remain unaccounted for, and many are undoubtedly in the hands of insurgents.) Another Chinook, accompanying the downed craft, fires a flare to divert a second missile. Within minutes, US Black Hawk helicopters arrive in large numbers. The dead and wounded are rushed to a nearby hospital. At the same time, soldiers secure the site, in the process ordering journalists on the scene to turn over any film they may have shot of the crash and forcing them to leave. Villagers and nearby farmers celebrate the attack by waving pieces of the smoking wreckage. The attack caps an eight-day surge in violence that has left 27 US soldiers dead. Fallujah is a Sunni stronghold and the center of intense resistance to the US occupation. A slogan painted on a wall in the town reads, “Fallujah will always be a cemetery for the Americans.” [CBS News, 11/3/2003; CounterPunch, 11/3/2003]
Bob Schieffer. [Source: Brightcove (.tv)]Discussing the Chinook helicopter shot down just hours before over Fallujah (see November 2, 2003), CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer asks with real anguish in his voice, “If this is winning, you have to ask the question: How much of this winning can we stand?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 109]
An editorial in Britain’s Guardian notes that the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003) is likely to have “a disproportionate psychological impact on US military operations in Iraq and on US public opinion.” The editorial observes that “[t]he perception, in America itself and abroad, is that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating, rather than improving as President George Bush claims. US-led coalition forces are now being subjected to an average of over 30 attacks daily. Hardly a day passes without news of one or more US fatalities. Far from being accepted as routine, this toll appears to be convincing more and more ordinary Americans that Mr Bush and his officials are not in control of a situation that they, uniquely, created.” Violence in Iraq is escalating on a daily, and deadly, basis, with “soft targets” such as Red Cross and other civilian relief organizations being targeted along with military personnel. Whether foreign terror organizations such as al-Qaeda or native insurgents are responsible for the wave of violence, “[t]he bottom line is relentless violence and mayhem and a US leadership that appears powerless to stop it. This perception that Mr Bush’s Iraq campaign lacks direction and is one over which he is losing control is exemplified, even symbolized, by the dramatic loss of the Chinook. This sense of rudderlessness may prove to be even more damaging to him in the long run than the many controversies that still surround his decision to go to war in the first place.” [Guardian, 11/3/2003]
William F. Buckley. [Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters]In his weekly column “On the Right,” syndicated columnist William F. Buckley writes of the recent shootdown of an American Chinook helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003). Buckley writes that although the losses are undoubtedly devastating to the families of the slain soldiers, “one does endure such losses. Consider Jackie Kennedy [widow of the assassinated President Kennedy]. She survived it; so will the mothers, fathers and spouses of the victims of the Fallujah missile. What is one shade less than absolutely predictable is whether our foreign policy will survive that anti-helicopter missile.” Buckley compares the Fallujah attacks to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, a military offensive mounted by the North Vietnamese that was a military failure but a public relations success that pushed the US irrevocably towards what Buckley calls “the retreat of 1972 and the surrender of 1975.” The US cannot let such attacks drive them precipitously from Iraq, Buckley writes. “[T]he idea is that US aircraft should be safe wherever they fly, and we are in Iraq because of its infestation.” Iraq still reels from the effects of what Buckley calls “a Stalinist dictatorship,” and is still plagued by insurgents and rebels who want to reintroduce some form of post-Hussein dictatorship. Besides, Buckley writes, one must consider the losses in Iraq in perspective. “Our casualties since the beginning of the war have reached 400. Last year, 16,000 Americans were murdered within the boundaries of the United States. That same year, 43,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents.” He concludes: “If all surveillance of the Iraqi theater were to end today, and begin again when Iraq is a settled state, governed by its own people making their way toward freedom, it is inconceivable that the losses sustained during the hiatus would appear to Americans as disproportionate to the ends achieved. What’s needed is to nurture that moral perspective that the idiot children of Fallujah were deprived of.” [Universal Press Syndicate, 11/4/2003]
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]
The Army issues “stop-loss” orders forbidding thousands of its 110,000 troops from returning to the US once their tours of duty are completed. Instead, the troops will remain deployed for a minimum of three additional months. The orders affect troops currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, as well as soldiers preparing for deployment. [USA Today, 1/5/2004]
The Bush administration allocates $1.6 million for a feasibility study for a proposal to close 58 schools the government runs on military bases. The Defense Department runs 69 such schools, educating about 33,000 students for $363 million a year. [Carter, 2004, pp. 65]
Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture. [Source: BBC]Saddam Hussein is captured by US forces, in an operation given the title of “Red Dawn.” Hussein is hiding in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse in Adwar, a village south of his hometown of Tikrit. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer announces Hussein’s capture to a group of journalists by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.… The tyrant is a prisoner.” According to soldiers present at the capture, Hussein put up no resistance. Iraqi Governing Council head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim says a DNA test proves the man in custody is indeed Saddam Hussein.
Reactions from Western Leaders - US President George W. Bush calls Hussein’s capture “good news,” and White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “The Iraqi people can finally be assured that Saddam Hussein will not be coming back—they can see it for themselves.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Hussein’s capture “removes the shadow” hanging over Iraq. “Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq.”
Tip from Clan Member Leads to Capture - US military spokesman Major General Raymond Odierno says Hussein was captured within 24 hours of US forces receiving a tip as to Hussein’s whereabouts from a member of his clan. “He was caught like a rat,” says Odierno. “It was ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from the great palaces he built using all the money he robbed from the Iraqi people.” Of the tip, Odierno says: “Over the last 10 days we brought in about five to 10 members of these families, and finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.… This was not something that happened overnight. Since we have been [in Iraq] we have collected a lot of intelligence. We always knew that he was relying on family and tribal ties.” It is not known whether that clan member will receive the $25 million offered by the US for information leading to Hussein’s capture. Odierno describes Hussein as “very much bewildered,” and notes that when Hussein was captured, he said “hardly anything at first.” He is described by US officials as polite and cooperative in his captivity.
'Spider Hole' - Hussein’s hiding place, characterized by some US spokesmen as a “spider hole,” was a small hut with two rooms: a bedroom cluttered with clothes, and a kitchen with running water. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] The hut contains some $750,000 in US money. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/2003] The cellar where Hussein is found is a tiny, rough-dug hiding place, with a styrofoam cover and a tube to allow air in.
Iraqis Celebrate - In the northern Kurdish town of Kirkuk, people celebrate the news of Hussein’s capture and arrest by blowing their automobile horns and firing guns into the air. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] “We are celebrating like it’s a wedding,” says one Kirkuk resident. “We are finally rid of that criminal.”
Council Members: Hussein Will Stand Trial; Capture Will Bring End to Terrorism in Iraq - Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says Hussein will be put on trial. “Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes,” Chalabi says. Fellow council member Jalal Talabani says that with Hussein’s capture, terrorism in Iraq will cease: “With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq.” [Fox News, 12/14/2003]
The US Army announces that it is once again issuing what it calls “stop-loss” orders that will prevent thousands of soldiers from leaving the service once their tours of duty are up in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other active-duty deployments (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). They will now be forced to remain until the end of their overseas deployments, and will remain available for further deployment for up to 90 days after they return home. The Army estimates that the new orders will affect about 7,000 soldiers. Colonel Elton Manske, chief of the Army’s Enlisted Division, explains, “This decision is really being driven by the readiness of units and the absolute intent to keep the units themselves intact down to as low as the squad and crew level, so we are assured of putting the best fighting force on the battlefield.” The commander of the Army’s Accessions Command, Lieutenant General Dennis Cavin, tells a CNN reporter that the stop-loss program is designed “to provide continuity and consistency” for deployed units and to enhance their ability “to execute their mission to the highest degree of their effectiveness.” The Army is also offering re-enlistment bonuses of up to $10,000 for soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute says, “The use of stop-loss is often an indication of a shortfall of available personnel.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/2/2004; USA Today, 1/5/2004]
The Department of Veterans Affairs announces that it is immediately cutting health care benefits to Category 8 veterans. The agency says that the decision to cut the benefits, which will affect an estimated 164,000 US veterans, is made because there is a growing backlog of veterans still waiting to receive their first treatment from a VA health care facility. Veterans classified as Category 8 are veterans who do not suffer from military service-related disabilities or health problems and who make $30,000 to $35,000 or more per year. [Washington Post, 1/17/2003]
Compounding effect of multiple tiers of subcontractors [Source: News Observer] (click image to enlarge)Despite the fact that the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract explicitly prohibits Halliburton and its subcontractors from subcontracting security services, Halliburton subcontractor ESS hires the firm Blackwater USA to provide security through Regency Hotel, another subcontractor. Each of the subcontractors involved in this arrangement will charge a substantial mark-up for the security personnel. Blackwater pays its security guards $600 per day and charges Regency $815 per day plus overhead costs, while Regency charges ESS between $1200 and $1500 per day for each security guard. It is not known what ESS charges Halliburton or what the final bill is for the taxpayer. Halliburton refuses to disclose this information to Congress. Congressman Henry Waxman, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, will suggest that Halliburton’s invoice to the US government for these services was not legal and should not have been paid. [Regency Hotel & Hospital Company, 3/12/2004 ; News & Observer, 10/24/2004; News & Observer, 10/28/2006; US Congress, 12/7/2006 ]
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)‘s Private Security Company Working Group, an internal agency within the CPA that handles the hiring and deployment of private security firms in Iraq, notes: “We are creating a private army on an unpricidented [sic] scale. This will be the largest private security force ever assembled. It will be larger than Coalition Forces and will represent a force for good or harm depending on our insistance [sic] on the rule of law.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 128]
The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate. [Source: NoGW.com]Four employees of the private security firm Blackwater, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, are killed by small arms fire while driving through Fallujah. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007] Their bodies are then taken out of their convoy and mutilated by an angry mob. Images of two corpses of the contractors hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River are sent all over the world. The families of the four slain men later file a lawsuit against Blackwater claiming that the company broke their contract by cutting corners on security costs in order to make a greater profit. The convoy that the Blackwater employees were driving lacked both armor for protection and a rear gunner, making it extremely easy for a few Iraqi gunmen to kill them. There also was an alternate path around Fallujah the men could have taken but did not know about because Blackwater did not conduct a “risk assessment,” which they were contractually obligated to do. [Nation, 5/8/2006] In July 2007, memos from another Blackwater team published in the media blame Blackwater’s Baghdad manager, Tom Powell, for sending the two teams into Fallujah undermanned, underarmed, and without maps (see June 8, 2007).
Spc. Casey Sheehan. [Source: Associated Press]Specialist Casey Sheehan, an Eagle Scout, church group leader, and honor student who enlisted in the Army in 2000, dies during an ambush in Sadr City, Baghdad. Sheehan had been in Iraq for only two weeks. His death will drive his mother, Cindy Sheehan, to become a noted peace activist (see August 6, 2005 and After). Specialist Sheehan and six other American soldiers die during a rescue mission in Sadr City. Sheehan and his compatriots are left to fend for themselves by their Iraqi cohorts, newly trained militiamen who flee when fighters for Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army attack their position. Sheehan’s death will become a powerful counterargument against claims by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials that “over 200,000 Iraqis… have been trained and equipped” and are “out on the front line taking the brunt of the violence.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will write that given the wildly inflated claims by Rumsfeld and others about the size and effectiveness of the Iraqi soldiers, and the increasing power wielded by al-Sadr, “[i]t is hard to see what Cindy Sheehan’s young son had died for.” [US Department of Defense, 4/7/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 193-194] Mrs. Sheehan, as part of a group of bereaved family members who suffered their own losses in Iraq, will meet with President Bush soon after her son’s death, and come away dissatisfied and angry. Recalling the meeting, she will say: “We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn’t. He changed the subject every time we tried. He wouldn’t say Casey’s name, called him, ‘your loved one.’” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
A 27-year-old Iraqi male dies during his interrogation by US Navy SEALs in Mosul. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later find (see October 24, 2005) that during his confinement, “he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived, and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood.” The cause of death is officially “undetermined,” though the autopsy speculates that the prisoner may have died from hypothermia and/or related conditions. Notes from his interrogators say that he “struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
A military photo of a flag-draped casket. [Source: The Memory Hole]Russ Kick, an author and owner of “The Memory Hole,” a Web site dedicated to presenting information it thinks the government does not want revealed, receives a CD from the US military containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins returning to the US from overseas postings—mostly Iraq—through Dover Air Force Base. Kick had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October 2003 for photos of coffins at the base, had been rejected, and had appealed. He is surprised to actually receive the photos. None of the photos contain personally identifying information, and most depict row after row of coffins strapped down in the holds of transport planes. Kick immediately posts the photographs on his Web site, writing, “Score one for freedom of information and the public’s right to know.” The Bush administration immediately orders the Pentagon to conceal such photographs in the future, citing the soldiers’ families’ right to privacy, even though the photographs reveal no personal information about the soldiers. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), a former Navy officer, says: “This is not about privacy. This is about trying to keep the country from facing the reality of war.” [Russ Kick, 4/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 105-106] In 2004, a contractor will be fired for releasing a photo of flag-draped coffins to the press (see April 18, 2004 and After). In 2009, the Obama administration will reverse the Pentagon policy and allow photographs to be published (see February 26, 2009).
One of Tami Silicio’s photos of flag-draped coffins on a transport plane in Kuwait. [Source: Tami Silicio / Seattle Times]The Seattle Times publishes several photographs of flag-draped coffins bearing US troops killed in Iraq. The Times is the first newspaper to defy the Pentagon’s ban on such photos appearing in the news media. The photos were taken on April 7 by Tami Silicio, a contract cargo loader for Maytag Aircraft. The photos show caskets being loaded onto a transport plane in Kuwait. “The way everyone salutes with such emotion and intensity and respect,” she says in the Times article accompanying the photo. “The families would be proud to see their sons and daughters saluted like that.… So far this month, almost every night we send them home.… It’s tough. Very tough.” The photo publication provokes a round of criticism from White House officials, who claim the ban is to protect the sensibilities of the families of the fallen, as well as supportive statements from, among others, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Fired over Photos - Days later, both Silicio and her husband, David Landry, another contract worker for Maytag, are fired over the photo controversy. Concurrently, a Web site called the Memory Hole publishes over 300 such photos, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request [Seattle Times, 4/18/2004; Deseret News, 4/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 123] , and provoking more government protests (see April 14, 2004 and After). Many of the Memory Hole photographs were taken at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. [Voice of America, 4/23/2007]
Silicio's Photographs to Honor War Dead, Not to Make Political Statement - Silicio’s friends describe her as not particularly involved in politics; Silicio herself says of one particularly stark photo she took: “The picture is about them, not me, about how they served their country, paid the price for our freedom, and the respect they receive on their way home from our military personnel at our air terminal.… I guess my feelings were so built up—my heart was so full of grief. And it came out in the picture.” Of the war, she says: “Our sons and daughters are over there now—and we need to support them. On the other hand, I think we should try to find a solution to the conflict other than killing each other.” [Seattle Times, 4/26/2004] She describes herself as feeling “like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out” over being fired. “It wasn’t my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything,” she says. [Seattle Times, 4/22/2004]
'Don't Look' - Shortly after the photos are published, columnist Ellen Goodman writes: “We have shown images of concentration camps and killing fields. The media are full of violence. The recurring question—often unanswered—is how to show that war is hell without the hellishness. Is it wrong to be restrained? Is it invasive, exploitive or honest to show war as horrific? In such a context, how on earth can there be any doubt about showing a sanitized, symbolic array of 20 coffins in a plane or dozens in an aircraft hangar during a month when a hundred Americans are lost? Has our government flunked the confidence test? The disconnect between home front and war front is still enormous. This is a war that demands little sacrifice from civilians. Now those who have made what everyone knows is the ultimate sacrifice are coming home through Dover. And we are asked only one thing: Don’t look.” [Deseret News, 4/30/2004]
An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2004; Newsweek, 5/13/2004; Boehlert, 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 160]
NATO adopts an official policy document mandating “zero-tolerance” for the trafficking in human beings by NATO forces and staff. The document is a result of discussions that began at NATO in the fall of 2003. The document says that NATO will increase cooperation among countries in order to combat the problem of human trafficking. Specific strategies outlined in the document include reviewing current legislation of member countries, encouraging member countries to approve the UN Convention Against Organized Crime, providing support to local authorities in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, imposing penalties on contractors who engage in human trafficking, and evaluating the implementation of the efforts of those involved. [NATO, 6/29/2004]
A lawsuit, Doe v. Rumsfeld, is filed on behalf of an Army recruit who is being forcibly redeployed to Iraq after nine years of active duty under the Army’s “stop-loss” program (see November 2002). The plaintiff, a reservist in the California National Guard who uses the pseudonym “John Doe” in the lawsuit, claims that since he signed up for only one year of duty, the stop-loss deployment could force him “to return to Iraq for up to two years, and possible continued military service beyond that time.” [PBS, 9/17/2004] Doe is a married father of two and an eight-year Army veteran who served in combat during the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After). Doe enlisted in the National Guard in May 2003 under the so-called “Try One” program, which allows active-duty veterans to sign up for a year before deciding to make a longer commitment. Doe renewed in February 2004, making his new expiration date May 2, 2005. In July 2004, Doe’s unit was deployed for a 545-day tour of duty, which extended Doe’s time in service by about a year. He says he was told that if he did not re-enlist voluntarily for the extra time, he would be retained under the Army’s stop-loss policy. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006] In January 2006, Doe will lose the case on appeal (see January 14, 2006).
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues a report on the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” program (see November 2002). The GAO report says that the Pentagon’s “implementation of a key mobilization authority to involuntarily call up reserve component members and personnel policies greatly affects the numbers of reserve members available to fill requirements.” [PBS, 9/17/2004] Over 335,000 Guardsmen and Army reservists have been “involuntarily called to active duty since September 11, 2001,” the report finds, with no sign that such involuntary deployments will decrease any time soon. The GAO finds that such widespread forcible deployments were done with little consideration of the costs to the reservists and Guard personnel in their private lives—damage to jobs, families, and other aspects—as well as the negative impact such involuntary deployments are having on the military’s ability to recruit new personnel for Guard and reserve berths. [Government Accountability Office, 9/15/2004]
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2004] Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, releases a statement condemning the allegations of the abuse and torture of Iraqi and Afghan detainees; the statement coincides with a letter Leahy sends to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. [Pyes, 9/20/2004] In the statement, Leahy says that committee chairman Sen. John Warner’s efforts to investigate the scandals "remain… hampered by the leadership of his own party and an Administration that does not want the full truth revealed.… Despite calls from a small handful of us who want to find the truth, Congress and this Administration have failed to seriously investigate acts that bring dishonor upon our great Nation and endanger our soldiers overseas.… The Bush Administration circled the wagons long ago and has continually maintained that the abuses were the work of ‘a few bad apples.’ I have long said that somewhere in the upper reaches of the executive branch a process was set in motion that rolled forward until it produced this scandal. Even without a truly independent investigation, we now know that the responsibility for abuse runs high up into the chain of command." He accuses the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate as a whole, of falling “short in its oversight responsibilities.” He calls for a truly independent investigation into the torture allegations, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. He also calls for the US to once again begin following the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions. [US Senate, 10/1/2004] Sen. Warner’s office will later admit that Warner was pressured by unnamed Bush administration officials to “back off” investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses (see May 2004).
Six US soldiers are charged with manslaughter in the killing of Iraqi prisoners. Two soldiers, First Lieutenant Jack Saville and Sergeant First Class Tracy Perkins, are charged with forcing an Iraqi man, Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, and Hassoun’s cousin to leap from a bridge into the Tigris River near Samarra. Hassoun drowned. Another prisoner death is also being investigated (see January 9, 2004), and may result in further charges against the six. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 10/5/2004]
Four US soldiers are charged with murdering an Iraqi major general in their custody. Almost a year ago, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush died during an interrogation at a base near Qaim, in western Iraq. Mowhoush was smothered to death (see November 26, 2003). The four soldiers are Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., Sergeant First Class William J. Sommer, and Specialist Jerry L. Loper. All are charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Williams, Welshofer, and Sommer were members of the 66th Military Company, a unit of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Loper was a member of the regiment’s Support Squadron, and assigned to helicopter maintenance. Only Welshofer has training in interrogation practices. Mowhoush, allegedly a high-ranking member of the anti-American insurgency, surrendered to US forces two weeks before his death. The Pentagon initially reported his death as due to “natural causes,” but now admits Mowhoush was tortured to death. “General Mowhoush was allegedly placed in a sleeping bag and then bound to prevent his movement,” a Pentagon report says. “One of the warrant officers [Welshofer] reportedly sat on his chest and continued the interrogation. General Mowhoush was then rolled over, and the warrant officer sat on his back.” Mowhoush died in that position. A medical examination proved that he had died of asphyxiation. Other documents later show that Mowhoush had a bag pulled over his head, the bag was wrapped tightly with electrical cords, and he was beaten and kicked by a crowd of interrogators and officials (see January 19, 2006). Regiment commander Colonel David Teeples says of the charges, “There is no evidence, there is no proof.” Much of the evidence presented in the case is classified and may not ever be made public. “If there are witnesses or documents that would disclose classified information, the trial is closed for those portions,” says retired Air Force Colonel Skip Morgan, a former military judge. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 10/5/2004] The murder charge against Sommer will later be dropped. Williams and Loper will make plea agreements in return for their testimony against Welshofer. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
A roadside bomb detonates on an Iraqi highway. [Source: Representational Pictures]Upon being released from Fort Hood, Texas, 27-year-old Spc. Robert Loria is presented with a $1,768.81 bill from the US Army. [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] Loria was seriously injured on February 9, when the Humvee in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21/2004] The explosion “tore Loria’s left hand and forearm off, split his femur in two and shot shrapnel through the left side of his body.” [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] After four months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he was sent to Fort Hood where he stayed several more months. When he is finally ready to leave, instead of receiving a check for the $4,486 he thought was owed to him, he receives a huge bill. The Army says he owes $2,408.33 for 10 months of family separation pay that the Army mistakenly paid him, $2,204.25 in travel expenses from Fort Hood back to Walter Reed for a follow-up visit, and $310 for unreturned equipment that Loria says was damaged or destroyed when his Humvee was attacked. Including taxes, the total amount Lori owes the Army is $6,255.50, almost $2,000 more than the amount he thought was owed to him. After a local newspaper runs a story on his situation and causes a public uproar, the Army waives most of Loria’s debts. [Seattle Times, 10/11/2004; Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/11/2004]
Page 4 of 6 (526 events (use filters to narrow search))previous
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.