Saturday, February 04, 2006

An Award For The Lynch Mob

Let's consider the continued separation of reality from myth in the Iraqi conflict.

The Associated Press has a story out on the wires talking about the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, which was given the Valorous Unit award last Friday (January 27).

Reading through the story, you get the impression that the Rangers got the award for the rescue of Jessica Lynch - they were one of the units that participated in that operation, after all, and most of the story talks about that particular event. But they never really say that, and the unit has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan seven times since September 2002.

But, in fact, if you try and research the story, some versions come right out and say it: "Army Unit Honored For Rescue of Lynch." Which is entirely the wrong reason to give anyone an award.

The story of Jessica Lynch is a heart-rending story of a real American hero persevering in the face of danger. When the convoy she was riding with took a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers, they fought back with everything they had. Surrounded by the corpses of fallen comrades, Jessica fought to the last, until finally, brutally stabbed and her body riddled with bullet wounds, she fell to the ground unconscious, both her legs broken by gunfire.

The Iraqi's held her in a hospital under guard, but a heroic Iraqi lawyer, visiting his wife in the hospital, saw her there being interrogated. He risked his life to alert the US military where she was being held, and in a stunning late-night raid, US forces entered the hospital under heavy fire and snatched the abused young woman from the clutches of her torturers.

They flew her to the US Army medical facility in Ramstein Air Base, Germany suffering from gunshot wounds and broken bones, and she was later awarded a Bronze Star for her heroism under fire. Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the lawyer who found her, was flown out of the country with his entire family, to prevent reprisals by the Iraqi government.

That's how it was reported. That's what her family was told. Unfortunately, it's a lie.

The convoy might have been ambushed: a lot of convoys were, both before and since. But Private Lynch was injured when her vehicle crashed, and her gun jammed before she could fire. The Iraqis took her to a hospital in Nassiriya, where she was given the only "specialist bed" in the hospital. Both the Iraqi doctors (and the American doctors in Germany) found no gunshot wounds, no stab wounds, just the standard injuries you'd expect for the victim of an auto accident. They gave her three liters of blood - because of shortages, two of those bottles had to be drawn directly from the arms of Iraqi hospital personnel.

When the commando raid rescued her, the Iraqi military had been gone for at least a day. There may have been scattered gunfire from insurgents outside, but there was no resistance inside the hospital. From a Guardian article about the incident:
"We heard the noise of helicopters," says Dr Anmar Uday. He says that they must have known there would be no resistance. "We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital.

"It was like a Hollywood film. 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." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Al-Houssona had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. "I told her I will try and help you escape to the American Army but I will do this very secretly because I could lose my life." He put her in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to the American checkpoint. When he was approaching it, the Americans opened fire. They fled just in time back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.
Private Lynch herself has criticized the military accounts of her rescue, saying that they exaggerated events and recast her ordeal as a patriotic fable.

Through all of this, the Iraqi lawyer came out of it the best, being flown out of a third-world country at war, his entire family taken to New York, asylum granted by the US government, and a $500,000 book deal (Because Each Life is Precious, HarperCollins, 2003).

But the US government was desperate for a hero who they could parade in front of the American people. So Jessica Lynch was awarded a Bronze Star by the US Army, for being in a car wreck and getting adequate care at an Iraqi hospital.

That's what we call "the power of myth."

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