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Saving the Private Jessica Story
May 28, 2003
By Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

In a recent website post I mentioned that the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch was staged. My sources for this allegation were numerous news reports from foreign sources, which I urge you to read (they are listed and linked at the end of this article). Not surprisingly, except for a few liberal columnists, those reports are virtually absent from the mainstream American media.

That comment prompted this brief and terse reply in my e-mail:

"I assure you that Pfc. Lynch's rescue was most certainly NOT staged. I was there, and it was the most difficult mission I've done during either my deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq."

Now what is a poor writer supposed to do with a message like that? It puts me in a most awkward dilemma: Either that message is 100% correct, in which case I am an ungrateful SOB and my correspondent is a hero - along with Pfc. Lynch. On the other hand, perhaps the message has no foundation in fact, in which case the correspondent is a lying scoundrel. I don't wish to disparage worthy and courageous members of our military. But I also do not want to be taken for a sucker.

Do I take this totally anonymous person at his word? Would you? As I ponder this predicament, I am reminded of Congressman Douglas Stringfellow, (R-Utah).

When I was a youngster, Rep. Stringfellow was renowned as an inspirational speaker, as he spoke to numerous civic and church audiences about his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He was a spellbinder, and I can remember to this day the time I sat and heard him tell of how his faith in God and love of country sustained him through the tortures he had to endure. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, and his tale was punctuated by sobbing in the audience.

Then some insensitive cynic took it upon himself to check out Stringfellow's military file at the Veterans' Administration. Turns out, he was never a POW. It was all made up. Stringfellow 'fessed up and resigned in disgrace from Congress.

This is hardly a unique event. There was a similar case a few years ago involving a certain Congressman from the Northwest. He also resigned in disgrace. Senator Joe McCarthy, who never saw action in World War II, broke his ankle during some "grab-assing" horse play on board a troop ship. During his political campaigning, he took on the name "Tail-Gunner Joe," and attributed his limp to a battle wound. Ronald Reagan, who narrated some Army films about the liberation of the Nazi death camps, later claimed that he was there in person. (It wouldn't surprise me if he believed it; Reagan often had difficulty differentiating movies from reality).

Finally, and most significantly for our time, George Bush and his Administration have so successfully linked Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden, that now two-thirds of the American public believes that Saddam was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks, notwithstanding the fact that US and world intelligence agencies have failed to find a scrap of evidence to support this claim.

Can anonymous e-mailers lie? Of course. Even Congressmen and Presidents lie. But that's not news.

None of this proves that my correspondent's claim about his personal involvement in the Jessica Lynch episode is false. At the same time, he supplies no evidence whatever that might lead me to believe him. So was this a "difficult mission" as he claims? All that we have to go on is the evidence that has been reported to us, and some critical reflection as to its likely veracity.

I will concede this much to my correspondent: as I have further read the reports, I have come to regret and hereby withdraw the word "staged." The operation was probably not rehearsed and choreographed to produce a spectacle for the State-side audience. Ergo, not "staged." (Even so, the media nonetheless has given us that spectacle). However, two versions of the event seem to have emerged: the State-side version, much inflated and celebrated by our media, is of a daring commando raid, carried out with precision and gung-ho bravado. The foreign version is of a reckless and hugely overdone operation against an undefended and unresisting hospital, staffed by the authentic heroes of the episode - the Iraqi doctors and nurses.

Though still undecided, my inclination is to believe the foreign press reports. To wit: a) the raid on the hospital took place a day or two after the Iraqi Army and Fedayeen had left the city; b) the day before the raid, the medical staff at the hospital attempted to return Pfc. Lynch to the American troops, but were turned back when their ambulance was fired upon; c) the hospital staff gave Jessica Lynch the very best medical care that they could, under very difficult conditions. That care included blood donations from the staff; d) Lynch was treated with great kindness and compassion by the Iraqi doctors and staff; e) the "rescuers" caused considerable and, of course, quite unnecessary damage to the hospital.

This version we have on the testimony of the hospital staff, as collected and reported by British and Canadian journalists. (See below)

Early US media reports, as we well know, were of a "Raid on Entebbe" type of commando operation. Newsweek (April 14) reports:

"[Lynch] was hiding in her bed just after midnight when the Special Ops team found her... The operation had launched less than an hour before. As helicopters carrying the Special Ops forces landed outside the hospital, Predator drones circled overhead, sending pictures back to intelligence officers, who briefed commanders in the supersecure Joint Operations Center. One detachment of Marines made a diversionary attack on another part of the city, while the main force landed at the hospital and began searching for Lynch."

She was, says Newsweek's Jerry Adler, "the first US prisoner to be rescued from behind enemy lines since World War II." (My emphasis).

The mysterious lawyer, "Mohammed," who reported to the US forces that Lynch was at the hospital, claimed that Lynch had been "slapped," and another unidentified Iraqi told NBC reporter Terry Sanders that "she's being tortured."

Physical evidence is scanty. However, the April 3 Washington Post report of "Jessica-as-John- Wayne-at-the-Alamo," - holding off an advancing enemy until the ammo ran out, sustaining bullet and knife wounds in the process - all this was dropped from subsequent accounts. The Iraqi medical staff reported no bullet or stab wounds, and that report was confirmed by the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. And yet later that day there were conflicting reports that she had been shot. Go figure!

A close reading of the Newsweek account yields some significant omissions. Nowhere is there any indication that any member of the hospital staff was interviewed, and yet their accounts are the substance of the British-Canadian reports. And nowhere in the Newsweek account is there any mention of shots fired from the hospital, nor of any Iraqi military or irregulars encountered near or within the hospital. Interestingly, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, confirms that "the US military never claimed that the troops came under fire when they burst into the hospital."

The best witness, of course, would be Jessica Lynch herself. But after several weeks of total isolation from the media, we are now told that she remembers nothing of the rescue. Curious! Newsweek reports, to the contrary, that Lynch "did say that she survived for part of her time in the hospital on nothing but orange juice and crackers" (as reported, coincidentally, by the Iraqi doctors). Sadly, after several weeks incommunicado in Army custody, poor Jessica seems to have lost her memory of events that she is reported to have clearly recalled immediately after her rescue.

Strange as it may seem, the two accounts, foreign and domestic, may be essentially consistent - especially so if we dismiss the third-hand-hearsay reports of torture. There was, no doubt, a razzle-dazzle storming of the hospital, albeit to the astonishment and chagrin of the hospital staff. "Mohammed" may indeed have informed the Army of Jessica's whereabouts. And Jessica may have been treated quite as skillfully and compassionately as the Iraqi doctors reported. The accounts diverge as a result of omissions and of false inferences that leak in to fill out the picture. Thus the Rambo aspect of the heroic rescue is somewhat deflated by the additional information that the enemy had departed the scene a couple of days earlier and thus that the commandos encountered no resistance, and furthermore that Pfc. Lynch was rescued from a team of skillful, concerned and compassionate medical professionals, working under very difficult conditions. So all this was missing from the Newsweek account.

On the other hand, we should give the Army its due. If the Iraqi doctors' account is correct, then an unarmed US Army medical team could have simply walked into the hospital, thanked the staff, and taken Jessica back with them. But if they had done so, they would have been unforgivably reckless. While the hospital may have been undefended, the Army team had no way of knowing this for certain, and so it was far better to play it safe. That said, it seems that the raid was overdone. Contact could have been made with the staff inside, the safe condition ascertained, and a benign occupation could have followed without the mayhem and destruction which reportedly followed.. Beyond this I am not competent to speculate, since I am without information available on site at the time, and am totally innocent of military expertise. Suffice to say that I don't believe that the US military has a "one size fits all" mode of advancement - "overwhelming force" the same for an unarmed hospital as for Omaha Beach.

And yet, my correspondent tells me that this was "the most difficult mission I've done during either my deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq."

Well, if this is so, I eagerly seek the evidence that will support this claim - independent evidence. Co-signed names of unknown individuals will not do. Are there accounts of returned fire? Were there captured defenders, or warm bodies, of "defenders" of the hospital? Indeed, are there any reports to contradict the claim that the Iraqi defenders had departed the area a day or two before the raid? If the defenders did depart, were the US forces at all aware of this fact? If the foreign reports are erroneous, then where are the rebutting eyewitness accounts from the soldiers that were involved? (The Defense Department's rebuttal to the BBC story is astonishingly tame and in fact corroborates much of the BBC report). Have any alleged torturers been captured and have they confessed? Does Pfc. Lynch carry any physical evidence of torture? The best testimony of torture would be from Pfc. Lynch herself, but alas, we are told, she is suffering from late-onset amnesia. Is this amnesia suspiciously convenient? I report, you decide.

Show me such evidence and, if convincing on its merits and sufficient to rebut the benign account from foreign sources, I will publicly apologize to my correspondent, to Pfc. Lynch, and to courageous and resourceful Special Ops forces that rescued her.

In the numerous recent reports that I have read, I have seen no such evidence. In fact, the apparent absence of rebuttal by the US media to the foreign reports of the incident has been startling, to say the least. (I can only sample the reports. Google returns a quarter-million hits for "Jessica Lynch," and over a thousand for "Jessica Lynch and rebuttal.") For when we seek an official reply to the Iraqi Doctors' version of the rescue, we get a response reminiscent of the GOP and media replies to the damning reports of election fraud and manipulation in the Florida 2000 election: "Let's move on," "Get over it!" Suspiciously unresponsive. If the Special Ops over-reacted, that ain't nothin' compared what to the US media and Hollywood have made of the "Saving Private Jessica" operation. They were eager for a Rambo moment and, if Operation Iraqi Freedom didn't supply one, then by gum, they'd invent one. But why should we give more credence to the BBC, the Guardian and Independent of London, or the Toronto Star, and other foreign sources, than we do to our domestic media? Simply because the US media has squandered its credibility, while the foreign press displays the quality of responsible journalism that we once enjoyed at home and now have lost.

Remember, the US media told us, endlessly, that Al Gore claimed to have "invented" the internet, to have "discovered" Love Canal, to have shaken-down the Buddhist monks, etc. - all of these slanders demonstrably false - and on the basis of such falsehoods, labeled Gore a "habitual liar." At the same time, the media had virtually nothing to tell us about Bush's AWOL from the National Guard, his substance abuse, his violation of securities laws, etc. Consider the following LexisNexis statistics from Paul Begala's office:

There were exactly 704 stories in the campaign about this flap of Gore inventing the Internet. There were only 13 stories about Bush failing to show up for his National Guard duty for a year. There were well over 1,000 stories - Nexis stopped at 1,000 - about Gore and the Buddhist temple. Only 12 about Bush being accused of insider trading at Harken Energy. There were 347 about Al Gore wearing earth tones, but only 10 about the fact that Dick Cheney did business with Iran and Iraq and Libya……

Furthermore, the media takes no great pains to disabuse the American public of the distortions, evasions, and flat-out lies issuing from the White House - in particular, the aforementioned misperception that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Finally, even that most respectable of American newspapers, the New York Times - "the newspaper of historical record" - has been seriously tarnished. The eight-year-long, $50 million Whitewater non-scandal (eventually found to be totally groundless) originated with the New York Times, as did the unfounded prosecution of physicist Wen Ho Lee.

If the US establishment media are discredited, as they should be, then they have done it to themselves. If "inquiring minds want to know," they'd better look elsewhere.

Finally, there is the intriguing question of what the entertainment industry plans to do with the Jessica Lynch saga. It is reported that NBC is proceeding with work on a TV movie about "Saving Private Lynch." Which version will they portray? Will the Iraqi doctors and staff receive the favorable portrayal that they apparently deserve? Will the audience be told that there was no resistance, and that the defenders had exited the scene well before the raid? In short, if truthful, will it be a tale worth telling?

On the other hand, if it is in the tradition of "The Guns of Navarone" or "The Dirty Dozen," it will likely - to be blunt - be a damnable lie. Boffo box office, but a lie nonetheless. But then, Hollywood has long been captive to the rule, "never let the truth get in the way of a good story." If there is an ounce of journalistic integrity left in NBC, they will either abandon the project, or tell it like it is. And why not? It is still a fine human-interest story, even if it has the "wrong" heroes.

If, on the other hand, we get "Rambo meets Mohammed," our national reputation will be further besmirched in the eyes of the civilized world.

Does NBC care?

Do you?


References:

Jerry Adler: Jessica's Liberation, Newsweek, April 14, 2003. (Available online at a fee).

BBC News: US Rejects BBC Lynch Report, May 20, 2003

The Guardian, The Truth about Jessica, May 15, 2003

Ellis Hennican, Next Rescue: Uncovering the Truth, Newsday, May 18, 2003

John Kampfner: Saving Private Lynch story "flawed", BBC News, May 15, 2003 (BBC program transcript).

Barry Lando: Saving Pvt. Lynch: The made-for-TV movie, Salon, May 16, 2003

Richard Lloyd Parry: So who really did save Private Jessica?, London Times, April 16, 2003

Mitch Potter: The real 'Saving Private Lynch:' Was it really an heroic rescue?, Toronto Star, May 4, 2003

Robert Scheer, Saving Private Lynch: Take 2, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2003


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the fields of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes the website, The Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The Crisis Papers.

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