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Thursday, July 05, 2012

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Jessica Lynch

"Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen."
-General Vincent Brooks

Remember Jessica Lynch? The heroic female US Soldier who was caught in a combat situation, fought for her crew's life against Iraqi soldiers but was finally captured. Eventually she was freed and her story hit the headlines. "She was captured fighting" said the Washington Post, describing her combat against Iraqi forces and how she took bullet and knife wounds.

There were calls for her to be awarded various medals, there was controversy over a woman being in a combat situation, and the media had finally found a hero in the Iraq war; a woman! Only, almost everything that was reported about her turned out to be wrong.

Private Lynch was a 19-year-old clerk from Palestine, West Virginia in the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company that took a wrong turning near Nassiriya and was ambushed. Nine soldiers with her were killed, and she was captured. Iraqi soldiers took Lynch to the local hospital controlled by the Iraqi forces where he was held for eight days.

We were told that Lynch was slapped around and questioned at the hospital, and that a courageous Iraqi lawyer named Odeh al-Rehaief risked his life to alert US troops, who then rescued her.

And yet, the facts are a bit different, and the story was pretty hazy at the time. The Iraqi hospital officials claim she was treated like a beloved daughter. John Kampfner at the Guardian writes:
The doctors in Nassiriya say they provided the best treatment they could for Lynch in the midst of war. She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital, and one of only two nurses on the floor. "I was like a mother to her and she was like a daughter,"says Khalida Shinah.

"We gave her three bottles of blood, two of them from the medical staff because there was no blood at this time,"said Dr Harith al-Houssona, who looked after her throughout her ordeal. "I examined her, I saw she had a broken arm, a broken thigh and a dislocated ankle. Then I did another examination. There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only RTA, road traffic accident," he recalled. "They want to distort the picture. I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."
They claim they shielded her from Iraqi personnel. Of course, this was a Hussein-loyalist hospital full of Iraqi troops so its hard to take what this person says at face value. BBC News mentions a story where supposedly doctors tried to deliver Lynch to American troops in a hospital and their ambulance was shot at. While that's not impossible (if you don't obey their instructions or slow down when you approach a check point, soldiers will assume you're hostile and shoot, ambulance or not) it seems highly doubtful and there's no support for the story, but the BBC reports it as absolute fact (the only news organization who made this claim), and goes on to claim that the US deliberately falsified the rescue "'influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer." This is reported straight-faced without any shred of supporting evidence in a regular news report, not opinion piece.

Further, the doctors claim the Iraqi troops had fled the hospital the day before and that US troops charged the place firing blanks to put on a show. Again, difficult to trust their word, given their Hussein loyalist ideology.

However, it is certain that she was neither shot, nor stabbed. She sustained injuries when the vehicle she was traveling in crashed. Lynch testified before congress that her gun had jammed, that she never fired a single round, and that she was knocked unconscious when the vehicle crashed and has little memory of what took place in her hospital stay.

What appears to have happened is this: with little information, the Pentagon PR guys thought they had a huge winner and worked up a quick little 5 minute film for the press describing the details they had so far. The film told some bare details, doubtless in dry military style, of a captured female soldier who they understood sustained bullet and knife wounds fighting an ambush, then was rescued by troops from an Iraqi-controlled hospital.

And the press ate it up. NBC's Today Show announced the story as one of the "buzziest" stories out of Iraq.

The Washington Post claimed that "military sources" told them that Lynch had “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23.” One official was quoted anonymously as saying "She was fighting to the death. She did not want to be taken alive.” The Post story went on in dramatic termms “shot several enemy soldiers,” had herself been shot and stabbed, but had kept “firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition."

The Post's headline? "She Was Fighting To The Death."

Except the reporter who wrote that story, Vernon Loeb told the radio show Fresh Air in 2003:
I could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about those reports at all. I got indications that they had, in fact, received those intelligence reports [about Lynch], but the Pentagon was completely unwilling to comment on those reports at all.

They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch.

I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none. I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.
Later, in the New York Times, Loeb is quoted as saying “Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.” So where did these quotes come from? Why do people like John Kamfner and Joshua Kors at the Huffington Post claim the military made up this story and blew her up into a hero?

Perhaps this is a clue: the Washington Post has scrubbed the internet free stories containing all their erroneous reporting on Jessica Lynch. Four stories in total have been deleted, leaving only a stub with the headline and date. That's not standard policy, there are not only other stories from that time period, but earlier still available online to read.

The media got it wrong, and they want someone to blame. So they point fingers at the US Military, that evil force of all that is wrong. This story was too good to pass up; the first military rescue of a POW for decades, and the first ever of a girl. She was cute, she was a female soldier and thus PC, and the press believed she was a hero. It was perfect! That, combined with the military trying to get a positive story about combat in Iraq combined to create a confusing and misleading series of reports that the Washington Post at least wants to forget about.

This is part of the Common Knowledge series. Things we know that ain't so.

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