More than 10 weeks after publishing a sensational article about Pfc. Jessica Lynch “fighting to the death” against Iraqi assailants and suffering stabbing and bullet wounds in the process, the Washington Post now admits the account was wrong, and has gone back to the drawing board to flush out new details about the Iraqi ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company and Lynch’s subsequent POW experience.
As WorldNetDaily reported, The Post reported 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, with access to intelligence reports, as saying “she was fighting to the death.”
The front-page March 23 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.”
“The Post’s initial coverage attracted widespread criticism because many of the sources were unnamed and because the accounts were soon contradicted by other military officials,” the paper reports today. “Lynch’s story is far more complex and different than those initial reports.”
The Post explains its initial report stemmed in part from National Security Agency intercepts of Iraqi communications from either hand-held radios or cellular phones which referenced “an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them.”
Confirming earlier reports by other news outlets, The Post now reports that Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed, she did not kill any Iraqis and she was neither shot nor stabbed.
Citing civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah and U.S. intelligence and military officials with knowledge of an Army investigation into the incident, the paper describes how Lynch’s company was at the tail end of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 8,000-vehicle convoy making its way from Kuwait to Baghdad when it was sent in the wrong direction by commanders.
ABC News cites the still-classified Army report as concluding vehicles from the 507th were accidentally sent in the wrong direction at a checkpoint.
“When I look back on that day, I can see the trouble we were headed for from miles away. Minute by minute, hour by hour, it was obvious it would end that way,” one soldier who was part of the convoy told ABC News.
According to the Army report, the 5-ton truck that then-19-year-old Lynch was driving broke down, she was picked up by the company first sergeant’s Humvee, driven by Pfc. Lori Piestewa.
An Iraqi farmer named Sahib Khudher who lives on the western outskirts of Nasiriyah told the paper he saw U.S. trucks being pursued in a “wild, running gun battle” with pickup trucks filled with Iraqi fighters in civilian clothing.
“There was shooting, shooting everywhere,” Khudher told The Post. “There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English.”
Military officials said the Humvee carrying Piestewa and Lynch plowed into another jackknifed U.S. truck, after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Lynch suffered major injuries, including multiple fractures and compression to her spine, that knocked her unconscious.
According to ABC News, the Army report details how one of the captured members of the 507th, Sgt. James Riley, later confided to another soldier that he had watched in horror as the Humvee driven by Piestewa weaved frantically along the road, desperately trying to escape the hail of gunfire, before it plowed under the trailer of the truck and came to a stop crushed into the “bobtail” hitch of the giant semi-tractor.
Citing sources, ABC News reports Riley and Pfc. Patrick Miller ran to the crash scene, screaming into the vehicle: “Is anyone alive?” Amid a barrage of gunfire, Miller single-handedly attacked several Iraqi soldiers he spotted setting up a mortar position and killed them, firing his M-16 until he exhausted all his ammunition. Witnesses reported Miller’s rifle jammed and he began “slamming rounds into the chamber one at a time” and firing them before he was eventually captured.
The Army preliminary report calls for Miller to be decorated with the Silver Star, one of the Army’s highest honors.
Khudher told The Post he saw the unconscious Lynch taken prisoner, as well as Piestewa, whom he described as being still alive. Military officials reported her killed in the ambush.
“Two U.S. officials with knowledge of the Army investigation said Lynch was mistreated by her captors. They would not elaborate,” reports The Post.
The paper repeats earlier reports that Lynch has no memory of what happened to her after the accident but, as WorldNetDaily reported, the Lynch family dispelled any notion Jessica suffered amnesia and suggested they were under a gag order of sorts not to divulge any details.
“There really wasn’t no amnesia problem,” Greg Lynch, Jessica’s father, told reporters at a press conference outside the Palestine, W. Va., family home. “Her memory is as good as it was when she was at home.”
But when asked to elaborate on what his daughter remembers happening, Lynch said, “We’re really not supposed to talk about that subject. It’s still under investigation.”
The Post repeats earlier reports that Lynch was first taken to an Iraqi military hospital in Nasiriyah before being transferred to the civilian hospital from which Special Ops forces rescued her nine days later.
Citing the director of the military hospital, Adnan Mushafafawi, a brigadier in the Iraqi army medical corps and a member of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, The Post reports the unconscious Lynch and Piestewa were brought to his facility three hours after the ambush. Piestewa had bruises all over her face, a severe head wound and was bleeding from the eyes.
Mushafafawi told the paper Lynch had multiple fractures and a minor head injury. He said his medical staff cut away her uniform and she lay nearly naked on a gurney, while military doctors and nurses worked on her. At one point she regained consciousness and said “she didn’t want us to do anything more.”
According to Mushafafawi, Piestewa died shortly after arrival at the military hospital and Lynch was transferred to the public hospital after three hours of treatment.
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’ feet. Raping female political prisoners was also part of the regime’s policy.
The other 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.
The treating physicians at the public hospital maintain Lynch was given the best care they could provide and that she wasn’t mistreated. But Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, suggests the mistreatment came before she arrived. He told The Post he was suspicious of her wounds.
“Maybe a car accident, or maybe they 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,” he told the paper.
The Post interviews with the hospital staff offer insight into Lynch’s mental state.
“She didn’t want to be left alone and she didn’t want strangers to care for her,” Anmar Uday, one of the two primary care physicians, told the paper. “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.”
Nurses described Lynch as “crying all the time.”
Lynch during her rescue from Iraqi captivity
The medical staff has been widely quoted as accusing the U.S. of staging Lynch’s rescue. The dramatic night-vision footage of the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs swarming the 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.
“We were pretty frightened,” Uday told the Toronto Star. “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.”
A British Broadcasting Corporation documentary described the story of the rescue as “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.” It claimed the U.S. military knew there were no Iraqi forces guarding the Nasiriya hospital, and quoted Uday saying that the troops used blank rounds to “make a show” of the operation.
“It was like a Hollywood film. They cried ‘go, go, go’, with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions,” said Uday. “They made a show for the American attack on the hospital – action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.”
The Pentagon derided the allegations as “void of all facts and absolutely ridiculous.” Officials said no blanks were used and that troops followed standard procedures employed when there is a threat of encountering hostile forces.
The Post reports there were 50 to 100 Iraqi combatants in or around the hospital, including a senior Baath Party officer and sources on the ground and imagery from Predator unmanned vehicles, indicated the hospital might serve as some kind of military command-and-control facility.
“They knew they were going into an unknown situation,” one Special Operations officer said of the commandos who performed the rescue mission. “They came armed for bear.”