Saving Private Lynch Take 2
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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. CNN also interviewed the BBC correspondent who reported the story over the weekend, which itself echoed earlier investigative articles in the Washington Post and the Toronto Star.
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.