Robert Scheer replies to his critics:
It is one thing when the talk-show bullies who shamelessly smeared the last president, even as he attacked the training camps of Al Qaeda, now term it anti-American or even treasonous to dare criticize the Bush administration. When our Pentagon, however — a $400-billion- a-year juggernaut — savages individual journalists for questioning its version of events, it is worth noting.
Especially if you’re that journalist.
Last week, this column reported the findings of a British Broadcasting Corp. special report that accused the U.S. military and media of inaccurately and manipulatively hyping the story of U.S. Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her rescue from an Iraq hospital. The column was also informed by similar and independently reported articles and statements in the Toronto Star, the Washington Post and other reputable publications.
What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for — and supplied their own blood to — a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used — if not abused — Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.
The Chicago Tribune story he references:
The final story has not been told, and no one contests Lynch’s bravery during a horrifying ordeal. But the Iraqi doctors who treated her tell a less Hollywood-ready version of her rescue: They say they worked hard to save her life, they deny reports that she was slapped by an Iraqi officer and they say there was no resistance when U.S. forces raided the building.
Let’s go to the issues raised.
As far as I can see, there are four:
1) Did Lynch battle fiercely before being captured?
2) Was she mistreated when captured?
3) Did the hospital staff give her exemplary treatment and try and return her to U.S. lines?
4) Was the dramatic ‘dynamic entry’ into the hospital necessary?
[Update: Check out Bill Herbert’s detailed history of the media wars on this over at cointelprotool…]
As I read it, the core of Scheer’s critique is that the entire event was ‘stage managed’, and that we could have simply driven a Humvee and a couple of corpsmen up to the hospital and picked her up. Everything else…the tale of her heroism, mistreatment, and the ‘daring’ of the Iraqi who told us where she was…was simply a ‘wag the dog’ staged for the benefit of wartime propaganda.
Sadly, I think the Scheer is so blinded by his need to prove the Bush administration mendacious in all things, and by his conviction that the war was – charitably – an evil enterprise that he would take this attitude toward almost any positive news that came out of the war at all.
I’ll note here that my own biases tend me to the opposite tack, but that I’m cynical enough about both sides of the argument for Scheer and myself.
Here is my take on the four points:
1. Did she fight fiercely before being captured? Advantage, Scheer. Importance: low. When I read this, my first take was “How do they know? If it’s just from interrogating her, a) she’s probably not in the best shape to remember, and b) she’s probably not experienced enough to judge what fierce battle looks like.” One Iraqi private shooting at me with a machine gun would sure as hell feel like fierce battle in my eyes. My immediate reaction was that this was harmless spin, designed to make our soldiers out as heroic.
2) Was she mistreated when captured? The hospital staff says “No.” Advantage: none. Importance: high. Tough call; on one hand, the Iraqi’s don’t have a sterling reputation in the human-rights arenas; on the other, when Trent blogged about her probable treatment here, I thought it a bit over-the-top. This is somewhat solvable; she either shows the signs of good medical treatment, or the signs of mistreatment. Legitimate concerns about her privacy will probably keep this answer from ever being public.
3) Did the hospital staff take good care of her? Advantage: none. Importance: low. As above, there are some provable facts that will probably never come to light. But I’m equally cynical about two things: on one hand, hospital workers have a bias toward taking care of people, regardless of who they are – that’s why they’re health care workers in the first place. And on the other, if I knew the Americans were coming, I’d sure be nice to any of them that I had handy as a relationship builder for the group that next walked through the door. And, sadly, other than the facts written on Lynch’s body, there is really only the self-serving word of the hospital staff to support this position.
4) Was the ‘raid’ necessary? Advantage: Pentagon. Importance: Critical. In my mind, this is the core of Scheer’s argument, that the entire rescue was unnecessary and a ‘staged event’. In his own words: “…U.S. military and media of inaccurately and manipulatively hyping the story of U.S. Pvt. Jessica Lynch and her rescue from an Iraq hospital.”
Here’s something I know a little bit about. I’ve had pretty extensive tactical training, at Gunsite as well as some of the other leading schools that teach police officers and members of the military ‘low-intensity’ tactics (it’s a different thing from full-on military tactics, but similar to what a small squad or group of SWAT officers would use). I’ve done force-on-force training, using ‘Simunitions’ against other people who were trying to shoot me, and training with live ammunition against targets in tactical environments (inside buildings designed for the purpose).
I say this because it is important to realize just how risky it is for the average police officer to walk into a house with one hostage-taker – a house in the middle of a peaceful suburb here in the U.S. There is a reason why the ‘dynamic entry’ tactics – which are badly overused, as Instapundit notes – are designed the way they are. The kind of overwhelming force applied in a dynamic entry maximizes the odds that – even in the face of an armed and hostile opponent – deadly force will not have to be used, and if it is, that the good guys will all get to go home. It does this at a substantial cost – not every warrant served is worthy of it, the entry teams don’t always get the correct address, and sometimes just plain tragic and bad things happen when lots of adrenaline-charged people are running around with loaded guns.
I can only project how much riskier it would be – and how much more force I would want – to enter a large building in the middle of a hostile city in wartime with the intent of rescuing a hostage.
The notion that the U.S. forces ‘overdramatized’ the rescue by using flash-bang grenades, and relatively standard tactics for moving through a potentially hostile building is just absurd. As is the notion that we should have waited for her to be released, and not acted as promptly as possible once we had clear intelligence on her likely position.
Scheer and the hospital staff may see it as a bunch of ‘cowboys’ acting out with weapons, but – having shot more than a few friendly targets myself in the course of training – I’ll point to the quality of our troops with pride given the fact that the hospital staff is alive today to tell the tale.
Go watch Rashomon. Lots of overlapping stories are believable and have some element of truth.
But I’ll stand firmly behind the Pentagon in their choice of how to go collect her. The optimist in me hopes that the hospital staff’s story is true, and that they treated her as well as they claim. But it seems to me that any reasonable person can contain both ideas – that the hospital staff treated her as well as they could, and that, given the information and situation, the U.S. military was absolutely right to go in in force to collect her.
And if doing so was good P.R. can someone please explain why they shouldn’t have used it?