Rescuing The Facts About POW

U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch is carried on a stretcher to be loaded onto a C-17 military plane at Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany, April 12, 2003. AP

Most Americans know Jessica Lynch's name and that she was a prisoner of war.

But the truth of what happened to the young soldier during her capture and captivity in Iraq remains murky and clashes with previously reported information, says The Washington Post.

Lynch was captured on March 23rd when parts of her 507th Maintenance Company were overrun near Nasariyah in southern Iraq. She was rescued by special forces troops on April 1. She is now being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Maryland.

Aside from those facts, much about the Lynch story is in dispute: the circumstances of her capture, how she was hurt, the way she was treated while in Iraqi hands and the details of her rescue. Little has been reported about the extent of her injuries, which are very serious.

In a story based on interviews with people close to Lynch's family, staff at the Iraqi hospital where she is treated and military officials, The Post reveals that Lynch was likely hurt in a crash and not a gunfight, received good care at an Iraqi hospital but may have been mistreated by Iraqi agents there, and was rescued by a unit that used unnecessary firepower because it did not know what it would encounter.

According to The Post, Lynch's unit got in trouble when it fell as many as 12 hours behind the rest of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

One reason for the unit's lagging was that it was not informed of a switch in direction made by the rest of the column. The 507th was also hampered by some of its heavy vehicles breaking down and by problems with radios that had ranges of only 10 miles and frequently did not work.

The Post reports that as Lynch's unit passed through Nasariyah, it got into what one official called a "very harrowing, very intense" firefight. As the Humvee in which she was riding sped through the town, it slammed into a jackknifed flatbed truck.

The U.S. military believes she received her injuries in the crash. An Iraqi doctor says he suspects she might have been beaten afterwards because there was glass in her wound.

Contrary to initial reports, she was not shot or stabbed. She killed no one, because her gun jammed. The Post suggests that the initial reports may have been based on U.S. intercepts of Iraqi radio chatter, in which they referred to "an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them."

Lynch either does not remember or is not saying anything about her capture. Eleven members of her unit were killed. Five others were taken prisoner.

According to Iraqi doctors, Lynch and her friend and fellow soldier Lori Piestewa were brought to a nearby military hospital in serious condition. Piestewa died soon after arriving.

The head of the military hospital said his staff quickly moved Lynch to a different hospital because it was possible the military hospital would be attacked.

Staff at the civilian hospital say they gave Lynch excellent care and deny reports that she was mistreated. The lawyer who tipped American forces off to Lynch's location says she was abused by Iraqi intelligence officers. U.S. military officials told The Post that they believe she was mistreated but would not say how.

Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, told The Post that the care Lynch received meant other patients were given less attention. He also said Saddam was using her as a human shield. Early on in her captivity, Iraqi intelligence officers asked Khafaji when Lynch could be moved; he said no earlier than three days time.

The Post reports that once tipped off to Lynch's location, U.S. forces prepared for a raid expecting significant resistance. But they met no Iraqi forces at the hospital, prompting some to suspect the raid was staged for propaganda purposes.

Military public affairs officers emphasized the romantic aspects of the rescue, which came during a difficult part of the war. They showed film of the rescue mission and a still photograph of Lynch laying in the rescue helicopter with a folded American flag on her chest.

"There was not a fire fight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were fire fights outside of the building, getting in and getting out," a Central Command spokesman, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, said the morning after the rescue. "It was a classic joint operation done by some of our nation's finest warriors, who are dedicated to never leaving a comrade behind."

Less has been made public about Lynch's recovery efforts. She has made progress, taking 100 steps with her walker and calling and emailing friends, the Post reports, but her fractures were so severe that it can take an hour for her to get out of bed and into her wheelchair.
  • Jarrett Murphy

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