Hollywood writers could not have imagined a more gripping and rousing story as that of the Iraqi capture of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the dramatic Special Ops rescue caught on videotape and instigated by an Iraqi lawyer who reportedly put his life on the line for hers. But some question whether elements of the saga are more hype than fact, created to spin the POW’s experience to
serve political purposes.
An avalanche of movie and book offers reportedly flooded the Lynch family days after her April 1 rescue amid a Washington Post report of her defiant stand against the Iraqi soldiers that ambushed her
convoy in Nasiriyah on March 23. According to the Post, Lynch “sustained multiple gunshot wounds” and also was stabbed while she “fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers … firing
her weapon until she ran out of ammunition.” The paper cited an unnamed U.S. military official as
saying “she was fighting to the death.”
The front-page story was picked up by news outlets all over the world.
But hours after it hit the newsstands, Col. David Rubenstein, commander of the Army hospital in Germany where Lynch was taken, told reporters medical evidence did “not suggest that any of
her wounds were caused by either gunshots or stabbing.” Lynch’s father echoed that report the following day, telling reporters that Army doctors told him Jessica hadn’t been shot, but suffered arm and leg fractures.
Three days later, an Associated Press report from Germany quoted a medical staff statement as saying: “There is a possibility [her wounds] were caused by a low-velocity, small-caliber weapon.”
Nearly two weeks after its initial report, the Post quoted a physician at the Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah as saying Lynch had sustained a head injury and arm and leg fractures, but “there were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.”
The Toronto Star quotes a physician who treated Lynch at the Nasiriya hospital as describing her injuries as “blunt in nature,” possibly stemming from a fall from her vehicle.
“She was in pretty bad shape. There was blunt trauma, resulting in compound fractures of the left femur [upper leg] and the right humerus [upper arm.] And also a deep laceration on her head,” said Dr. Harith Houssona.
More recent reports indicate Lynch suffered a head wound, spinal injury and fractures to her right arm, both legs and her right foot and ankle. She is undergoing occupational and physical
therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Lynch during her rescue from Iraqi captivity
The Post writers couched their report with a cautionary paragraph, which stated that Pentagon officials said they had heard “rumors” of Lynch’s heroics but had no confirmation. It said the
account was based on “battlefield intelligence” and information from Iraqi sources “whose reliability has yet to be assessed.”
In response to critical feedback on the article, Post ombudsman Michael Getler concluded “what really happened is still not clear.” He questioned the “thin sourcing” used in the article and suggested portions of it were overblown.
“I smell an agenda,” he quoted one reader as writing. The reader suggested the Post account of the ambush amounted to wartime “propaganda.”
The dramatic footage of the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs swarming the Nasiriyah hospital and carrying Lynch out on a stretcher provided a proud moment for the military and America. The
subsequent surge of patriotism muted the catcalls of the anti-war naysayers.
Military advocate Elaine Donnelly sees another political agenda behind the Post’s apparent misinformation.
“I think someone in the Army – probably a woman – leaked the story to the Washington Post to spin it,” she told WorldNetDaily. “If you plant the story first, it’s almost impossible to turn.”
Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, is a longtime opponent of allowing women to serve in combat positions. Donnelly suspects “Pentagon feminists,” who she says have actively pursued the advancement of women in the military
beyond the dictates of common sense and at the cost of military effectiveness, are behind the unsubstantiated report of Lynch’s valor and erroneous report of her injuries. She suspects the information given to the Post was part of an attempt to tip the long-simmering debate about women in combat in proponents’ favor and possibly dampen the potential public outrage over any future reports of torture.
Recent editorials indicate Lynch’s ordeal is critical to the debate. A commentator writing in USA Today argued it proves “the time is right to blast through the armored ceiling that keeps women second-class citizens in the military.” Another columnist wrote in the Orlando Sentinel that Lynch’s story offers conclusive evidence that “women can be as fierce as men.”
“I would like to know what happened to those men who were shot right away,” Donnelly continued, in reference to the nine members of Lynch’s unit recovered from a makeshift morgue at the Iraqi hospital. Gruesome footage of the bodies broadcast by the Arab television station Al Jazeera sparked reports the soldiers were shot in the head, execution style.
Donnelly suspects the men may have been trying to protect the women in the company. She bases her hunch on interviews of military servicemen and other research she conducted for a presidential commission studying the impact of women in the armed forces in 1992.
“Why is nobody asking any questions?” she said. “Something fishy is going on here.”
Lynch in Sept. 2000 family photo
For its part, the Pentagon says it will not release the full account of what happened to the 507th Maintenance Company until debriefings are completed with Lynch and five other company
members held captive for three weeks before U.S. Marines rescued them south of Tikrit. Officials are also interviewing soldiers who escaped the ambush.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ducked a question about Lynch’s condition.
“I believe that’s a matter for her doctors and her family and not for us to talk about,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Whatever happened when Lynch’s convoy took a wrong turn in the Iraqi desert, most would agree that Lynch is an American hero for answering the call to duty and putting her life on the line in service to her country.
But legend precedes reality even for Lynch. The Associated Press reported she told debriefers in Washington she doesn’t remember anything between the time she said her vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and when she regained consciousness at an Iraqi hospital.
Fox News reports her amnesia extends through the duration of her ten days in captivity, and that she has no memory of the brutality U.S. military officials believe she endured.
“She basically has amnesia, and has mentally blocked out the horrible things we strongly believe she went through,” one official told Fox.
“These things usually take months – sometimes years – but usually months to eventually clear up,” and the patient recovers, Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld said.
Fox reports the military may have the surviving soldiers from her unit visit her to help refresh her memory. Officials say she “has to be brought back to reality,” since she may be the last living witness to war crimes in Iraq – crimes possibly committed against her unit members and herself.
Torture or VIP treatment?
In addition to the issue of how the 20-year-old Army supply clerk was taken prisoner by Iraqi soldiers, reporting discrepancies raise questions about Lynch’s treatment in captivity and her rescue.
The Iraqi lawyer, Mohammed Odeh Rehaief, who also became an American hero for alerting U.S. military forces to Lynch’s presence at the hospital, conducting surveillance of the facility and relaying the information back to coalition troops, reportedly put her safety before his after seeing her being slapped on the face by an Iraqi security officer. The 32-year-old, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter were granted political asylum in the U.S. as reward for his courage.
NBC News reported coalition forces were told an American soldier was being tortured at the hospital.
But the treating physicians at the Iraqi public hospital dispute the claims.
The medical team interviewed by the Toronto Star said the Iraqi intelligence officers took no interest in her.
As they describe, Lynch was given VIP care, which included extra juice and cookies and the attention of the hospital’s “most nurturing” nurse.
“We all became friends with her, we liked her so much,” Houssona said. “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.”
The Nasiriya doctors offer up inconsistent details on Lynch’s condition, however, which leaves room for doubt about the accuracy of their accounts.
While Houssona told The Star that Lynch required a transfusion of two pints of blood, her colleague Haitham Gizzy told the Charleston Daily Mail – the local paper in Lynch’s hometown of Palestine, W. Va. – that Lynch lost “not a drop of blood.”
Gizzy also said Lynch was first treated at an Iraqi military hospital before being transferred to the public hospital in Nasiriya.
There are no reports regarding what happened to Lynch at that military facility, nor is there confirmation the “hospital” was in fact a hospital. It has been widely reported that many of Iraq’s torture chambers were disguised as innocent buildings such as hotels and sports centers.
Human rights organizations report torture was systematically used by Saddam Hussein’s regime against political detainees. Beatings with canes, whips, hose pipes and metal rods were common, especially on the soles of victims’ feets. Raping female political prisoners was also part of the regime’s policy.
The rescued POWs told The Post and the Miami Herald they were kicked and beaten when captured, and were taunted and interrogated by their captors and some feared they were going to die.
One of the POWs, Army Sgt. James Riley, described the experience as “sheer terror” on ABC’s “Good Morning America” this morning.
The ‘big show’
The Star reports the three Nasiriya doctors, two nurses, one hospital administrator and local residents also ridiculed the U.S. military for its clandestine, midnight raid of the hospital to rescue Lynch. They claim Iraqi soldiers and commanders left the hospital two days earlier.
“The night they left, a few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back,” said Houssona. “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.’”
The next night, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital’s upper floors drove staff into the windowless X-ray department, according to the physicians’ account. As the rescue unfolded, the power was cut and the U.S. soldiers blasted through locked doors.
“We were pretty frightened,” Dr. Anmar Uday told the paper. “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.”
“They made a big show,” Gizzy told the Daily Mail. “It was just a drama. A big, dramatic show.”
Gizzy and other doctors told the paper most of the Saddam’s Fedayeen fighters and the entire Baath Party leadership had come to the hospital earlier in the day, changed into civilian clothes and fled barefoot.
“They brought their civilian wear with them,” said Mokhdad Abd Hassan, pointing to green army uniforms piled on the lawn. “They all ran away, the same day.”
Were the Fedayeen soldiers long gone from the hospital, or did they flee just hours before the raid?
The conflicting doctors’ reports leave one WorldNetDaily reader suspecting the Iraqi doctors have an agenda.
“I am very concerned that this young
woman will be more traumatized by the
media and critics (who will try and blame her for these inconsistencies) following her recovery,” the reader, who does not wish to be named, wrote. “In other words we need a second ‘Saving Private Lynch’… this one saving her from the media.”