Freeing Jessica Lynch

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?

14 thoughts on “Freeing Jessica Lynch”

  1. I wondered at the time how they knew she “fought fiercely,” but one of the news articles said it was based on enemy chatter. There does still seem to be a tremendous lack of public knowledge about this entire story, with no effort on the part of the Pentagon to rectify that situation. The Lynch family has said that they’re under restrictions as to what they can and cannot talk about.

    Which is not, of course, to defend Bob Scheer in any way…

  2. Sorry; IMHO you’re missing the target, and so, disingenuously or maliciously, did Scheer, the Star, and the BBC.

    It’s the Pentagon that’s being accused, but what did the official briefings, and the (dull) released video say? Here is some video of a rescue of a POW; we rescue our own when we can; good news! No firing inside the hospital, but had been used for military purposes. Unforthcoming about much that was rumored and asked by the press, citing both privacy policy and lack of knowledge.

    It was the media that hyped this, on unconfirmed and unattributed rumors. The ultra anti fringe hated the story and the joy some took in it, whatever the details. So why point the finger at the Pentagon, which was very cautious in its statements?

    Was there media hype? Yes. Was the official tale as told at briefings consistent with the “staged event” “big lie” theory? On the contrary, at almost every point, Brooks cooled things down. So take the overexcited fog-of-war coverage, and blame the Pentagon! Yeah, right.

  3. Alene, I’m puzzled…where did I blame the Pentagon? I think it’s pretty clear that there was spinning going on, but that’s a world away from a ‘staged for TV event’ which is what Scheer and the Beeb certainly seemed to me claiming the rescue to be.

    A.L.

  4. A.L.

    Alene is referring to the context you set, Scheer vs. the Pentagon. In particular for items (2) and (3), what evidence is there that the Pentagon made such claims? By making the accuracy of such claims determine advantage to or against the Pentagon you associate (“blame”) the Pentagon for those stories. If the Pentagon didn’t start or support such tales, then even if the stories are total fabrications it doesn’t advantage Scheer against the Pentagon. In fact, one might argue “advantage: Pentagon” on the basis that Scheer is attacking the wrong target.

  5. A.O.G. –

    I’ve probably spent too much time with politicians; I tend to listen for the spinner behind each news story. You’re right that that’s my assumption, and that I should chalk more up to the ‘fog of press deadlines’…

    A.L.

  6. One recent report suggests that it was Pfc Lynch’s roommate, killed in the ambush, who actually “battled fiercely.” Apparently she was in the cab of the truck and Lynch was in the back. Sigint that a female had returned fire could easily have gotten linked to Lynch’s name in the excitement over her rescue.

  7. This is good analysis, but I take vehement exception to your first point, giving the advantage to Scheer. Although Vernon Loeb and Susan Schmidt apparently got their hands on some raw intel that they should not have had access to, there is no evidence whatsoever that the pentagon was trying to put this false story out there. The Loeb/Schmidt story did include a paragraph noting that official other than their anonymous source had warned against putting too much faith in that report, which was unconfirmed battlefield intel.

    An Army doc at Landstuhl set the record straight on her injuries immediately thereafter, long before the Washington Post/Toronto Star/Telegraph stories on which the BBC documentary and Scheer’s drivel were based.

    Moreover, Scheer makes the utterly baseless contention that the pentagon “had to have known” that the information was false when it was given to Loeb and Schmidt, and that they did nothing to challenge it. Both these allegations are preposterous.

    I don’t think Alene was accusing YOU of blaming the Pentagon, but you gave the advantage to Scheer on this point, and he clearly did blame them.

    Contrast this whole mess with the BS stories about looting in the Baghdad museum. When it turned out the initial claims of over 17,000 stolen artifacts had been wildly inflated (if that’s not understating it too much), the media pretty much said “oops, our bad.” But no one is accusing them of anything more than sloppy reporting.

    Why then, is the pentagon immediately accused of a deliberate disinformation campaign (“one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever”) when their own statements have to be revised, however mildly?

    There’s a fundamental hypocrisy in the expectations of the military in these situations. Whenever a plane crashes, a sub collides with a fishing boat, or a sex scandal is uncovered at a service academy, the initial response from the military is to be very tightlipped, until all the facts are in, and then be very deliberate in its release of information. For this, they receive a steady stream of abuse, being accused of “stonewalling” and far worse.

    But then, when some reporter gets his hands on info that hasn’t been evaluated or confirmed, and decides to run with it despite warnings from the Pentagon Spin Machine, it’s the military’s fault???

    Give me a break.

    BTW, triticale: where did you read that info?

  8. For what it is worth, a recent issue of Army Times had a short report on J. Lynch’s brother visiting her. The story says she cannot remember anything of the ambush after an RPG hit the vehicle she was riding in.
    I understand the Army is trying to recreate the events of the ambush to figure out what did happen for “lesson’s learned” purposes.

  9. Sir,
    Kindly send me the e-mail as well as the postal address of Jessica Lynch.
    With regards.
    AYAZ PARWEZ
    Senior Copy Re-writer
    Foreign News Desk
    The Hindustan Times
    PATNA-800 001.
    INDIA.
    Dated: November 10′ 2003.

  10. Man, it must be hard standing up straight after this rant a year later and looking someone in the eye and still defending the propaganda that was so effortlessly swallowed by the more militaristic of you yahoos. Especially after Ms. Lynch comes out and says, oh yeah, that BBC thing, that Scheer,thing, they were right. The assholes in our military were the liars.

    Here’s a link to wrap your skull around.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/990040.asp

    Suck it up. The pentagon lies. It’s a lesson you could have easily learned from Vietnam, but you chose not to. Your ideology blinded you. Try a different approach next time: like assuming the military will lie about anything and everything to achieve whatever their callous minds assume the objective to be. That will get you closer to the ‘reality’ zone then the generous assumptions you grant our military now.

    Think about it, this is an institution that carpet bombed a third world country without blinking an eye…You think they care about lying to the public, American or otherwise? Ha,ha, ha, ha, ha…

  11. Man, it must be hard standing up straight after this rant a year later and looking someone in the eye and still defending the propaganda that was so effortlessly swallowed by the more militaristic of you yahoos. Especially after Ms. Lynch comes out and says, oh yeah, that BBC thing, that Scheer,thing, they were right. The assholes in our military were the liars.

    Here’s a link to wrap your skull around.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/990040.asp

    Suck it up. The pentagon lies. It’s a lesson you could have easily learned from Vietnam, but you chose not to. Your ideology blinded you. Try a different approach next time: like assuming the military will lie about anything and everything to achieve whatever their callous minds assume the objective to be. That will get you closer to the ‘reality’ zone then the generous assumptions you grant our military now.

    Think about it, this is an institution that carpet bombed a third world country without blinking an eye…You think they care about lying to the public, American or otherwise? Ha,ha, ha, ha, ha…

  12. Delicate:

    Hmmm…

    1) Pfc Lynch wasn’t in a firefight;
    2) The doctors were good to her
    3) The team that rescued her met no resistance in the hospital…

    …which one of those is news? As far as I know, all three were covered in this blog, at the time.

    So if you’re gonna shock me, can you shock me with something I don’t already know?

    A.L.

  13. Jessica Lynch : You are truly courageous to be so honest and refuse the legendary portrayal of ‘little girl rambo’ handed to you on a silver platter; along with other benefits which would have accompanied it. It shows real strength of character. This is what makes you a “true hero”. May the Almighty bless you.

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