SAVING PRIVATE LYNCH: TAKE 2
By Robert ScheerAlterNet
[Editors' note: Since this column's publication in the Los Angeles Times and on AlterNet on Tuesday, controversy has erupted over its subject matter, with right-wing Fox News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly complaining Scheer and the BBC are "anti-American" and not to be believed (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,87456,00.html). CNN also interviewed the BBC correspondent who reported the story over the weekend (http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/05/19/cnna.kampener.lynch/index.html), which itself echoed earlier investigative articles in the Washington Post (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2948.htm) and the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Arti cle_Type1&c=Article&cid=1051643375850&call_pageid=968332188492&col=968793972 154).]
In the 1998 film "Wag the Dog," political operatives employ special editing techniques to create phony footage that will engender public sympathy for a manufactured war. Now we find that in 2003 the real-life Pentagon's ability and willingness to manipulate the facts make Hollywood's story lines look tame.
After a thorough investigation, the British Broadcasting Corp. has presented a shocking dissection of the "heroic" rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, as reported by the U.S. military and a breathless American press.
"Her story is one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived," the BBC concluded -- the polite British way of saying "liar, liar, pants on fire."
Though the Bush administration's shamelessly trumped-up claims about Iraq's alleged ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 and its weapons of mass destruction take the cake for deceitful propaganda -- grand strategic lies that allow the United States' seizure of Iraq's oil to appear to be an act of liberation -- the sad case of Lynch's exploitation at the hands of military spinners illustrates that the truth once again was a casualty of war.
Lynch, who says she has no memory of the events in question, has suffered enough in the line of duty without being reduced to a propaganda pawn.
Sadly, almost nothing fed to reporters about either Lynch's original capture by Iraqi forces or her "rescue" by U.S. forces turns out to be true. Consider the April 3 Washington Post story on her capture headlined "She Was Fighting to the Death," which reported, based on unnamed military sources, that Lynch "continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds," adding that she was also stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in.
It has since emerged that Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, but rather suffered accident injuries when her vehicle overturned. A medical checkup by U.S. doctors confirmed the account of the Iraqi doctors, who said they had carefully tended her injuries, a broken arm and thigh and a dislocated ankle, in contrast to U.S. media reports that doctors had ignored Lynch.
Another report spread by news organizations nationwide claimed Lynch was slapped by an Iraqi security guard, and the U.S. military later insisted that an Iraqi lawyer witnessed this incident and informed them of Lynch's whereabouts. His credibility as a source, however, is difficult to verify because he and his family were whisked to the U.S., where he was immediately granted political asylum and has refused all interview requests. His future was assured, with a job with a lobbying firm run by former Republican Rep. Bob Livingstone that represents the defense industry, and a $500,000 book contract with HarperCollins, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch's story, as it did the rest of the war.
But where the manipulation of this saga really gets ugly is in the premeditated manufacture of the rescue itself, which stains those who have performed real acts of bravery, whether in war or peacetime.
Eight days after her capture, American media trumpeted the military's story that Lynch was saved by Special Forces that stormed the hospital and, in the face of heavy hostile fire, managed to scoop her up and helicopter her out.
However, according to the BBC, which interviewed the hospital's staff, the truth appears to be that not only had Iraqi forces abandoned the area before the rescue effort but that the hospital's staff had informed the U.S. of this and made arrangements two days before the raid to turn Lynch over to the Americans. "But as the ambulance, with Pvt. Lynch inside, approached the checkpoint, American troops opened fire, forcing it to flee back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch," the BBC reported.
"We were surprised," Dr. Anmar Uday told the BBC about the supposed rescue. "There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital. It was like a Hollywood film. [The U.S. forces] cried 'Go, go, go,' with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions," Uday said. "They made a show for the American attack on the hospital - [like] action movies [starring] Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."
The footage from the raid, shot not by journalists but by soldiers with night-vision cameras, was fed in real time to the central command in Qatar. The video was artfully edited by the Pentagon and released as proof that a battle to free Lynch had occurred when it had not.
This fabrication has already been celebrated by an A&E special and will soon be an NBC movie. The Lynch rescue story -- a made-for-TV bit of official propaganda -- will probably survive as the war's most heroic moment, despite proving as fictitious as the stated rationales for the invasion itself.
If the movies, books and other renditions of "saving Private Lynch" were to be honestly presented, it would expose this caper as merely one in a series of egregious lies marketed to us by the Bush administration.
BBC CORRESPONDENT DEFENDS LYNCH DOCUMENTARY
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
(CNN) -- The U.S. military has denied misrepresenting the facts surrounding the rescue of Pfc Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital April 1 to make the mission appear more dramatic, as alleged in a BBC documentary. CNN anchor Leon Harris talked to John Kampfner, the veteran BBC correspondent behind the documentary, about the allegations.
HARRIS: Is it your belief right now based upon your investigation that this rescue of Lynch was in any way a staged event and not real?
KAMPFNER: No. First things first. Credit where it is due. The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated.
So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible.
Where we took issue with the official version as put out by Central Command, in Doha, [Qatar], to the world's press, was the way the Americans did it. They went in, all guns blazing, helicopters, a great, heroic rescue mission.
The contention of the Iraqi doctors we spoke to was, well, actually they didn't need to do that, they could have come and got her. And in fact, one of the doctors said the day before the Americans conducted this very elaborate rescue mission, they had actually tried to get Lynch to the Americans, by putting her in an ambulance, taking her to the front line. In the course of that journey, according to the doctors, that ambulance came under fire from American forces, and they had to take her back to the hospital.
HARRIS: Our own reporters have reported that story. John Vause, our reporter who was over there embedded for a while there with the troops, filed a report on that incident with the ambulance. And we've also seen that report elsewhere, as well. We've also gone to the Pentagon to get a response to your documentary last night. They're saying they're sticking by the information [Central Command] provided.
What I'm very interested in is a couple of things that were in your report. You got a quote here from some of the doctors that were there at the hospital. I'm going to read the transcript of it. "It says like a film in Hollywood, they cried go, go, go. They shot with guns, and blanks with bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions, and break the door. We were very scared." Are you saying that you believe [the] Iraqi doctor's assessment that the U.S. troops there were using blanks?
KAMPFNER: Well, that is his contention. What we did, what I did when I went to the Pentagon and spoke to its No. 2 there, Brian Whitman, we said, OK, we have one story, two different versions. Let's cross-check the information that the Iraqi doctors have given against the official U.S. version.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued in a commando raid.
For example, what kind of injuries did Lynch sustain in the hospital? Was it true that she received bullet and stab wounds as a result of the Iraqis? He said, well, the truth will come out at some point in the future. In other words, he didn't engage in that.
Second question was, did the Americans come under fire from the Iraqis during the rescue mission? Again, that's the kind of holding answer we got from him.
The main point we said to them was, OK, there are two versions. There are several different allegations, several different interpretations of this story.
Instead of all of us relying on your five-minute, very professional, very carefully edited film, which was immediately transmitted from Central Command to the world's broadcasters, why don't you give everybody what's known in the profession as "the rushes"? Give everybody all the unedited film, the real-time film, as shot by the U.S. military cameraman who was with the rescue mission, and that will put everybody out of all questions of doubt. They declined to do that.
HARRIS: Let me ask you something else. You spoke with a number of British authorities and officials there, who were raising questions of their own about the way the U.S. briefings actually presented information there. What have you learned, if anything at all, from the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair about what he thinks happened during this incident? Is there any concern in British officialdom whether or not what we saw was something that was not necessarily what [happened]?
KAMPFNER: Well, I mean, it must be said the British are no more angels than the Americans when it comes to putting out certain messages in the war. The British were worried about the Lynch episode, but they saw this more in general terms. They were worried about the entire U.S. media operation.
The man behind the scene sent a long a letter to Blair's head of strategy, Alex Campbell, setting out in quite considerable detail his misgivings about the way the Americans conducted the whole media operation from Doha.
At the same time, in our film, the British military spokesman, who figured very much in BBC, CNN and all international broadcasters' coverage of the war, told us on camera that he was deeply unhappy with the American media handling, and he said to us, there were two different styles of media management. There was the American one and the British one, and I was pleased to be part of the British one.
And that to me, that's a pretty damning indictment.
HARRIS: It remains to be seen whether it will be seen that way here on this side of the pond. John Kampfner, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.