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'Next rescue: Uncovering the truth about Jessica Lynch'

by Ellis Henican Monday, May. 19, 2003 at 11:19 PM

The day before the American forces burst into the hospital with guns blazing and helicopters swirling overhead, Kampfner found, the Iraqi military had fled. The hospital was completely unguarded. "We were surprised," said another doctor, Anmar Uday. "Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital."

Ellis Henican: 'Next rescue: Uncovering the truth about Jessica Lynch'

Date: Sunday, May 18 @ 09:57:22 EDT

Topic: War & Terrorism

By Ellis Henican, Newsday

No wonder Jessica Lynch has amnesia.

The story of her dramatic capture and rescue has just gotten a whole lot weirder, even for a 19-year-old Army private who says she can't remember a thing.

And she may not be the only one with memory problems about the war in Iraq. The Pentagon is also having trouble recalling what happened over there.

Was Jessica shot?

Was she stabbed?

Was she slapped around by brutal Iraqi interrogators?

Was she freed in a daring rescue by Army Rangers and Navy Seals, who braved enemy fire as they stormed a heavily guarded hospital in Nasiriyah and choppered young Jessica away?

That's the way Pentagon officials told the story back in early April, an account that turned a sweet-faced clerk from Palestine, W. Va., into America's plucky poster girl for the war with Iraq. The story made front-page news across America and the cover of Newsweek. No war-obsessed TV producer could resist night-vision video of the American commando raid, conveniently supplied by Central Command.

But now, some uncomfortable questions are being asked about what really happened to Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

Clearly, she was captured and hurt. But in what order? And how? And how exactly was she freed?

The gripping narrative provided six weeks ago by the Pentagon is suddenly looking about as solid as Saddam's Republican Guard. And a deeper issue now has to be raised: Was this another manufactured moment in America's first made-for-TV war?

"Her rescue will go down as one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived," said John Kampfner, a British journalist who has taken a hard second look at the case for the BBC and the Guardian newspaper. His documentary, "Saving Private Jessica: Fact or Fiction?" airs in Britain on Sunday night.

This comes as the White House has been working hard to bring Hollywood-style production values to politics and war, sometimes to troubling effect. Administration officials have already been trying to explain why President Bush needed that jump-suited, top-gun landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Could future campaign commercials be involved?

The presidential carrier landing was obviously a stunt. But we were supposed to believe the story of Jessica Lynch.

She is now being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and said to be doing better. Which is great. She has no recollection of her capture or rescue, the Army doctors say.

So she won't be providing key details.

But Harith al-Houssona, the doctor who treated her in Iraq, said she wasn't shot or stabbed at all, as American officials claimed. Her only injuries appeared to be the result of a vehicle accident - after her convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed.

"I examined her," the Iraqi doctor told Kampfner. "I saw she had a broken arm, a broken thigh and a dislocated ankle. Then I did another examination. There was no shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only RTA, road traffic accident ... I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."

As for the daring U.S. commando raid, the evidence on the ground suggests it wasn't quite as daring as it sounded.

The day before the American forces burst into the hospital with guns blazing and helicopters swirling overhead, Kampfner found, the Iraqi military had fled. The hospital was completely unguarded.

"We were surprised," said another doctor, Anmar Uday. "Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital."

Could the American commandos have been playing for the cameras? "It was like a Hollywood film," Dr. Uday said. "They cried, 'Go, go, go,' with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors."

And there was one final surprise in Jessica Lynch, take-two. Two days before the American rescuers arrived, al-Houssona said, he had tried to deliver his young patient back to her American comrades.

The doctor said he put his patient in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to the American checkpoint. While on the way, he said, American troops opened fire on the Iraqi ambulance, nearly killing the young private they were soon to retrieve. Facing heavy fire, the ambulance turned back to the hospital.

In the days to come, Pentagon officials will certainly try to discredit this British reporting. So far, it seems to be holding up.

One contention, at least, should be easy enough to prove.

Was she stabbed? Was she shot? Or were Private Lynch's injuries more consistent with a road accident?

Either way, she seems like a lovely young woman.

Too bad she can't step forward and speak for herself.

Email: henican@newsday.com

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

Reprinted from Newsday:

http://www.newsday.com/news/opinion/columnists/

ny-nyhen183290941may18,0,1314275.column

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