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Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Spin behind Jessica Lynch story?
Discrepancies in reports of POW's capture, rescue raise questions

Posted: May 6, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern

By Diana Lynne


Hollywood writers could not have imagined a more gripping and rousing story as that of the 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.

Jessica Lynch

An avalanche of movie and book offers 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 dramatic front-page story was picked up 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.

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 Bethesda, Md.

Lynch during her rescue from Iraqi captivity

The Toronto Star quotes a physician who treated Lynch at the Iraqi 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.

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."

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, in response to critical feedback.

"I smell an agenda," one reader wrote suspecting the Post account 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 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," whom 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 Post story was 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 added, in reference to the nine members of Lynch's unit recovered from a makeshift morgue at the Iraqi hospital with apparent gunshot wounds to their heads.

Donnelly suspects the men may have been trying to protect the women in the company, based on interviews of military servicemen she conducted for a presidential commission in 1992.

"Why is nobody asking any questions?" she continues. "Something fishy is going on here."

Lynch in Sept. 2000 family photo

For its part, the Pentagon says it will not release an 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.

Legend precedes reality even for Lynch. The Associated Press reported she told debriefers in Washington she doesn't remember anything between the time 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 the Army supply clerk 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.

In addition to the issue of how the 20-year-old 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 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 Star reports 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 metres, 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 sent staff scurrying for the x-ray department, the only windowless area in the complex. As the rescue unfolded, the power was cut and the forces 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," Haitham Gizzy, another physician told the Charleston Daily Mail, the local paper from Lynch's hometown of Palestine, W. Va. "It was just a drama. A big, dramatic show."

Gizzy and other doctors said 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.

"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."

Diana Lynne is a news editor for

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