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What really happened to Jessica Lynch


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A Broken Body, a Broken Story, Pieced Together

Investigation Reveals Lynch -- Still in Hospital After 67 Days -- Suffered Bone-Crushing Injuries in Crash During Ambush

By Dana Priest, William Booth and Susan Schmidt

Washington Post Staff Writers

Tuesday, June 17, 2003; Page A01

Jessica Lynch, the most famous soldier of the Iraq war, remains in a private room at the end of a hall on an upper floor of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, her door guarded by a military police officer.

To repair the fractures, a spinal injury and other injuries suffered during her ordeal, the 20-year-old private first class undergoes a daily round of physical therapy. But she does so alone, during the lunch hours, when other patients are not admitted.

Her father, Greg Lynch Sr., wearing a fresh T-shirt each day with a yellow ribbon pinned to his chest, rarely leaves her side, except to sleep at night. Lynch has been in the hospital now for 67 days. Her physical condition remains severe. But she also appears to suffer from wounds that cannot be seen -- and the story of her capture and rescue remains only partly told.

Her family says she doesn't remember anything about her capture. U.S. military sources say she is unable -- or unwilling -- to say much about anything that happened to her between the morning her Army unit was ambushed and when she became fully conscious sometime later at Saddam Hussein General Hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

As the world would remember, Lynch and her Army maintenance unit were ambushed in southern Iraq on the morning of March 23. Eleven of her fellow soldiers were killed; five others were taken captive and later freed. Blond and waiflike, Lynch was taken prisoner and held separately for nine days before a dramatic nighttime rescue from her hospital bed by a covert U.S. Special Operations unit, Task Force 20.

Initial news reports, including those in The Washington Post, which cited unnamed U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports, described Lynch emptying her M-16 into Iraqi soldiers. The intelligence reports from intercepts and Iraqi informants said that Lynch fought fiercely, was stabbed and shot multiple times, and that she killed several of her assailants.

"She was fighting to the death," one of the officials was quoted as saying. "She did not want to be taken alive."

It became the story of the war, boosting morale at home and among the troops. It was irresistible and cinematic, the maintenance clerk turned woman-warrior from the hollows of West Virginia who just wouldn't quit. Hollywood promised to make a movie and the media, too, were hungry for heroes.

Lynch's story is far more complex and different than those initial reports. Much of the story remains shrouded in mystery, in large part because of official Army secrecy, concerns for Lynch's privacy and her limited memory.

The Post's initial coverage attracted widespread criticism because many of the sources were unnamed and because the accounts were soon contradicted by other military officials. In an effort to document more fully what had actually happened to Lynch, The Post interviewed dozens of people, including associates of Lynch's family in West Virginia; Iraqi doctors, nurses and civilian witnesses in Nasiriyah; and U.S. intelligence and military officials in Washington, three of whom have knowledge of a weeks-long Army investigation into the matter.

The result is a second, more thorough but inconclusive cut at history. While much more is revealed about her ordeal, most U.S. officials still insisted that their names be withheld from this account.

Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed, according to military officials familiar with the Army investigation. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed, they said.

Lynch's unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed outside Nasiriyah after taking several wrong turns. Army investigators believe this happened in part because superiors never passed on word that the long 3rd Infantry Division column that the convoy was following had been rerouted. At times, the 507th was 12 hours behind the main column and frequently out of radio contact.

Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it plowed into a jackknifed U.S. truck. She suffered major injuries, including multiple fractures and compression to her spine, that knocked her unconscious, military sources said. The collision killed or gravely injured the Humvee's four other passengers.

Two U.S. officials with knowledge of the Army investigation said Lynch was mistreated by her captors. They would not elaborate.

Tipped that Lynch was inside Saddam Hussein General Hospital in Nasiriyah, the CIA, fearing a trap, sent an agent into the facility with a hidden camera to confirm she was there, intelligence sources said.

The Special Operations unit's full-scale rescue of the private, while justified given the uncertainty confronting U.S. forces as they entered the compound, ultimately was proven unnecessary. Iraqi combatants had left the hospital almost a day earlier, leaving Lynch in the hands of doctors and nurses who said they were eager to turn her over to Americans.

Neither the Pentagon nor the White House publicly dispelled the more romanticized initial version of her capture, helping to foster the myth surrounding Lynch and fuel accusations that the Bush administration stage-managed parts of Lynch's story.

Only Lynch is in position to know everything that happened to her -- and she may not ever be able to tell the story.

"The doctors are reasonably sure," said Army spokesman Kiki Bryant, "that she does not know what happened to her."

Falling Behind

On the western outskirts of Nasiriyah, just a few miles from the city's downtown, a middle-aged farmer named Sahib Khudher was worried and outside of his house when a large U.S. convoy -- a dozen or more trucks, trailers, wreckers and Humvees -- passed by on the road heading north a few hours before dawn, he said. It was March 23, the fourth day of the war, as U.S. troops poured into Iraq in a modern-day blitz.

The farmer waved at the Americans. "But they did not see me," he said.

A few hours later, trucks mysteriously returned. At first, Khudher thought they might be Iraqi army members or Republican Guards coming to fight. But he saw that the vehicles were American, and that they were being pursued in a wild, running gun battle with pickup trucks filled with what Khudher assumed were militia from Saddam's Fedayeen and Iraqi irregulars in civilian clothing. They were firing into the U.S. vehicles and at their tires.

"There was shooting, shooting everywhere," Khudher said. "There were accidents, too. Crash sounds. You could see and hear the vehicles hitting each other. And yelling. Screaming. I could hear English."

The 18 Humvees, trailers and tow trucks of Lynch's 507th Maintenance Company were the tail end of the 3rd Infantry Division's 8,000-vehicle convoy snaking its way from Kuwait to Baghdad. A Patriot missile maintenance crew by training, the members of the 507th based at Fort Bliss, Tex., were assigned to keep the Army's war machine moving.

The initial plan called for moving north on "Route Blue," Highway 8, until the southern outskirts of Nasiriyah, according to military officials. Because the city was still teeming with enemy fighters, commanders decided to reroute the column to "Route Jackson," Highway 1, which skirted around the town to the south and west.

But the 507th never got word of the change.

The miscommunication happened, in part, Army investigators believe, because a battalion commander in the 3rd Forward Support Battalion to which it was attached never made sure the 507th had received word of the route change.

"They didn't know about Route Jackson," said one senior military officer briefed on the investigators' findings. "We believe it would have never happened if the proper procedure had been followed." No disciplinary action is expected, said the official, who attributed the tragedy to the fog of war.

The unit fell behind as the enormous wrecking tractors and cargo trailers -- equipment to haul other giant Army vehicles and supplies -- tried to adjust to the division's changing pace.

But other mishaps contributed. Long before they reached Nasiriyah, two of the 507th's 5-ton trailers had broken down, forcing the back half of the unit -- 18 vehicles in all -- to fall farther behind the lead elements, where the company commander was riding.

Lynch was among the soldiers in that trailing half.

By the time the 507th reached Nasiriyah, some of the unit's soldiers and officers had gone without sleep for 60 hours. As one officer put it, they suffered "a fatigue that adversely affected their decision-making."

A 'Catastrophic' Crash

The commander of Lynch's company -- a captain whose identity could not be learned -- informed superiors up ahead that they had fallen as many as 12 hours behind. "He was advised the rest of the column has to move on time whether the rest of them get there or not," a defense official familiar with the Army's investigation said.

Navigating through unfamiliar streets, troops jury-rigged antennas to stay in touch with the lead elements of the battalion, since their radios had a range of only 10 miles. But the radios didn't always work.

It was about 6:30 a.m. when they entered the city, and few Iraqis were about. Those who were, including soldiers at checkpoints and armed men in SUVs, just waved at the Americans as they drove by, military officials said.

Using a navigational device, the company commander turned the convoy left and, minutes later, came to a T-intersection, where he ordered the vehicles to turn right again. Then the commander decided to turn around the column of huge, lumbering trailers and tractors.

They attempted to retrace their route, but missed a turn. Then one of the U.S. vehicles ran out of fuel.

Lynch at this point was riding on a 5-ton truck, officials believe, although they are still uncertain.

It was 7 a.m., and more Iraqis were appearing on the streets, military officials with knowledge of the Army investigation said. The company commander instructed his troops to lock and load their weapons. Each soldier had 210 rounds of ammunition. The senior noncommissioned officer, Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, took the rear position in the column, while the company commander went up front.

"We have to pick up speed, move faster!" Dowdy began yelling over the radio, according to the defense official, who has read the surviving soldiers' accounts.

As the convoy drove back into central Nasiriyah, it was met by Iraqi forces, some in civilian clothing, who fired at it from on foot, from vehicles and from stationary mortar positions. Soldiers interviewed by investigators said the Iraqis fired AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and mortar shells. The Iraqis fired from both sides of the road.

At least one Iraqi T-55 tank appeared, and the Iraqis positioned sandbags, debris and cars to block the convoy's path.

"A very harrowing, very intense" gun battle was how the senior military officer described it. The U.S. troops fired back.

"We don't know how many rounds she got off," the official said of Lynch, or whether she got off any shots at all. "Her weapon jammed severely."

At some point, Lynch's vehicle is believed to have broken down and she got into Dowdy's soft-top Humvee, which was driven by Pfc. Lori Piestewa, one of Lynch's close friends. They were joined by two other soldiers whose wrecker became disabled. Dowdy pulled them to safety at great risk to himself, the defense official said. They took the seats on either side of Lynch, who sat atop the transmission hump in the middle.

As his soldiers came under fire, Dowdy, now with four soldiers in his Humvee, sped along the road at speeds of 50 mph, encouraging his soldiers "to get into the fight, trying to get vehicles to move and getting soldiers out of one broken-down vehicle and into another," the senior military officer said.

The soldiers in Dowdy's Humvee "had their weapons at the ready and their seat belts off," said the senior officer, who was also briefed on the investigation. "We assume they were firing back."

There were other acts of bravery. One soldier, whose name could not be learned, bolted from his vehicle to try to rescue other soldiers from a disabled vehicle. He took cover behind a berm, not realizing at first that Iraqi soldiers were on the other side in a mortar pit. When he did, he killed a half-dozen of them with his weapons, the defense official said. Soon, though, he was surrounded by a couple of dozen armed Iraqis and is believed to have been killed on the spot.

"He didn't have a chance," said the official.

A U.S. tractor-trailer with a flatbed swerved around an Iraqi dump truck and jackknifed. As Dowdy's speeding Humvee approached the overturned tractor-trailer, it was hit on the driver's side by a rocket-propelled grenade. The driver, Piestewa, lost control of the Humvee, swerved right and struck the trailer.

The senior defense official described the collision as "catastrophic."

Dowdy, sitting in the passenger seat, was killed instantly. So, probably, were the two soldiers on either side of Lynch. Piestewa and Lynch were seriously injured, according to the senior officer's account.

Lynch's arm and legs were crushed by the compression, U.S. military doctors later concluded. Tiny bone fragments protruded through her skin.

Khudher, the Iraqi farmer, remembered seeing a Humvee crash into a truck. Later, when it was safe to approach the road, he saw "two American women, one dark-skinned, one light-skinned, pulled from the Humvee. I think the light one was dead. The dark-skinned one was hurt."

Khudher appears to have seen Lynch, who is white, unconscious, taken prisoner, as well as Piestewa, who was Native American, still alive.

In the hours after the ambush, Arabic-speaking interpreters at the National Security Agency, reviewing intercepted Iraqi communications from either hand-held radios or cellular phones, heard references to "an American female soldier with blond hair who was very brave and fought against them," according to a senior military officer who read the top-secret intelligence report when it came in. An intelligence source cited reports from Iraqis at the scene, saying she had fired all her ammunition.

Over the next hours and days, commanders at Central Command, which was running the war from Doha, Qatar, and CIA officers with them at headquarters were bombarded with military "sit reps" and agency Field Information Reports about the ambush, according to intelligence and military sources. The Iraqi reports included information about a female soldier. One said she died in battle. Some said she was wounded by shrapnel. Some said she had been shot in the arm and leg, and stabbed.

These reports were distributed only to generals, intelligence officers and policymakers in Washington who are cleared to read the most sensitive information the U.S. government possesses.

These intelligence reports, and the one bit of eavesdropping, created the story of the war.

'She Would Have Died'

Down a two-lane blacktop rolling through dry farmlands, just a mile or two from the ambush site, lies the Iraqi military hospital of Nasiriyah. It was where Lynch was first treated after her capture.

Today, the three-story structure is a gutted ruin, charred from fires. Mangled brown Iraqi military vehicles fill the parking lot.

On the morning of Lynch's capture, the military hospital was a beehive, with fleeing, fighting and wounded Iraqi troops coming and going as U.S. troops swept into Iraq from Kuwait.

Adnan Mushafafawi, a brigadier in the Iraqi army medical corps, a member of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and the director of the hospital, said a policeman brought in two female U.S. soldiers about 10 a.m.

"They were both unconscious," he said. They were severely wounded, he recalled, exhibiting symptoms of shock and trauma. He read their dog tags: They were Lynch and her friend Piestewa.

"Miss Lori," Mushafafawi said, "had bruises all over her face. She was bleeding from the eyes. A severe head wound." He said Piestewa died soon after arriving at the hospital.

Did either soldier display evidence she had been stabbed or shot? "No, no," he said. Pressed, he later answered, "Maybe Miss Lori, maybe shot."

Mushafafawi said he and his medical staff cut away Lynch's uniform and threw her clothes on the floor. She lay on a gurney, almost naked, as Iraqi military doctors and nurses worked on her, he said.

Lynch had multiple fractures, Mushafafawi said, a head injury that he described as minor. He said the staff sutured the wound. She was given blood and intravenous fluids, he said. The staff took X-rays, partly set her fractures and applied splints and plaster casts to them.

"If we had left her without treatment, she would have died," Mushafafawi said.

The military doctor said Lynch briefly regained consciousness at his hospital, but appeared disoriented. "She was very scared," he said. "We reassured her that she would be safe now."

But when Mushafafawi suggested to Lynch that he might attempt to better set her leg fracture, Lynch said "she didn't want us to do anything more," he recalled.

"She was here two, three hours," the doctor said, and then transferred by military ambulance to Nasiriyah's main civilian facility, Saddam Hussein General Hospital across town.

Mushafafawi said he assumed his military hospital probably would be attacked by U.S. forces, which two days later overran the compound. He said that it was his decision to transfer Lynch, and that no military or intelligence officers accompanied her. Piestewa's body also was transported to Saddam Hussein hospital.

Mushafafawi said he did not know what happened to Piestewa or Lynch between their capture shortly after 7 a.m. and their appearance at his hospital about three hours later.

Later that day, the Arab news network al-Jazeera broadcast graphic close-up film of bodies, believed to be from Lynch's unit, sprawled on a concrete floor at an undisclosed location. Two of the soldiers appeared to have been shot in the forehead, one between the eyes. A smiling Iraqi moved among the bodies, displaying them for the camera.

Four exhausted and shaken POWs from the 507th were shown in the same newscast, giving minimal answers to questions posed by their Iraqi captors who had transported them to Baghdad.

'Crying All the Time'

When Lynch arrived at Saddam Hussein hospital in a military ambulance that afternoon, the nurses and doctors who admitted her said they were surprised to find an American woman, almost naked, her limbs in plaster casts, beneath a sheet.

Interviewed recently about Lynch's stay at the hospital, staff members insisted that they gave her the best care they could, and that they did not believe it was possible for Iraqi agents to have abused her while she was there. Though Iraqi military, intelligence and Baath Party officials began using the hospital as a base of operations, they said they saw no one mistreat Lynch -- though a member of Iraq's intelligence service was posted outside her door.

As the doctors and nurses recalled, Lynch's condition was grave as they brought her into the emergency room. In addition to her multiple fractures, her extremities were cold, her blood pressure down, her heart rate accelerated. She was unconscious and in shock.

The hospital was operating, but stressed to its limits. Only a dozen doctors from a staff of 60 came to work; the nursing staff was skeletal as the roads were too dangerous to travel; the electricity was sporadic; the generators were failing; medical supplies spotty; and all the while, during Lynch's stay at the hospital, the hospital was receiving more than 200 casualties a day. One young intern said he was reduced to mopping up bloody floors himself.

"It was substandard care, by American standards, we know this, okay? But Jessica got the best we could offer," said Harith Hassona, one of two young resident physicians who assisted in her care.

After several days of treatment, Lynch's condition improved. She was moved from the emergency room to an empty cardiac care unit, where she had her own room, and was tended to by two female nurses.

But she was in pain, and given powerful drugs. She ate, sporadically, asking for juice and crackers. The staff said she was offered Iraqi hospital food, but refused. "She wanted to see things opened in front of her -- then she would eat," said Furat Hussein, one of her nurses.

Her mental state varied from hour to hour, according to the Iraqi nurses and doctors. "She would joke with us sometimes, and sometimes she would weep," Hussein said.

"She didn't want to be left alone and she didn't want strangers to care for her," said Anmar Uday, one of the two primary care physicians. "One time, she asked me, 'Why are you standing in front of me? Are you gong to hurt me?' We said no, we're here to help you."

"Crying all the time," recalled Khalida Shnan, a nurse who wept herself when describing how she tried to comfort Lynch by singing to her night and rubbing talc on her shoulders. Mahdi Khafaji, an orthopedic surgeon, said he knew that sooner or later U.S. troops would come for Lynch, and "we wanted to show the Americans that we are human beings."

Khafaji said treating Lynch well was in their self-interest: "She was more important at that moment than Saddam Hussein." He added, "You could not help but feeling sorry for her. A young girl. An American. A prisoner. We did our best. Believe me, she was the only orthopedic surgery I performed." Khafaji suggested that as he worked on Lynch, ordinary Iraqis went without treatment, and some may have died.

But Khafaji said that, without a doubt, the Iraqi leadership was also employing Lynch as a human shield.

If the hospital was chaotic and understaffed, it was also overrun with senior Iraqi officials, who were living and working out of the basement, clinics, and the doctors' residence halls and offices.

The staff said there were 50 to 100 Iraqi combatants in or around the hospital at any one time -- though the number shrank day by day as deserters fled at night and the Americans closed in.

The head of the municipal government, Younis Mohammad Thareb, was there, as was senior Baath Party officer Adel Abdallah Doori. There were military and special security officers also, as well as Iraqi militia and members of Saddam's Fedayeen.

"They were all here," Hassona said.

Someone in civilian clothing, whom Hassona said was a low-ranking employee of one of the Iraqi intelligence services, stood guard outside Lynch's door. Hassona and other hospital staff members said they kept a close eye on Lynch; they feared that Iraqi officials might try to move or harass or interrogate her. "But you have to understand that these guys knew the Americans were coming, and toward the end, they were most worried about saving themselves," Hassona said.

But there was still an atmosphere of fear.

"When she woke up once, she was saying she was scared and wanted someone to stay with her," Hassona recalled. "She said, 'I'm afraid of Saddam Hussein,' and I said, 'Shhhh. Don't say that name. You must keep quiet.' "

Soon after Lynch's arrival, Hassona and Khafaji said they were approached by an intelligence officer and asked how soon Lynch could be moved.

"I told him 72 hours, at least," Khafaji said.

Khafaji said that Lynch's wounds made him suspicious. The fractures were on both sides of her body, for example, and "if they all came from a car accident, there was no glass in her wounds, no lacerations or deep bruises."

U.S. military sources believe most if not all the fractures could have been caused by extreme compression during her vehicle accident. Khafaji said "maybe a car accident, or maybe they broke her bones with rifle butts or by stomping on her legs. I don't know. They know and Jessica knows. I can only guess."

A Lawyer's Story

Within a few days of her capture, U.S. military and intelligence agencies would learn from several Iraqis in Nasiriyah that one of the 507th soldiers was being held captive at Saddam Hussein hospital.

One of those Iraqis was Mohammed Odeh Rehaief, a 32-year-old lawyer who told U.S. authorities he learned about Lynch on March 27, when he went there to see his wife, Iman, a nurse in the kidney unit.

"In the hospital corridors, I observed a large number of Fedayeen Saddam," Rehaief recounted in a statement. "I knew they were Fedayeen because they were wearing their traditional black ninja-style uniforms that covered everything but their eyes. I also saw high army officials there."

Rehaief said a doctor friend told him about Lynch. He peered through a glass panel into her room, he said, and "saw a large man in black looming over a bed that contained a small bandaged woman with blond hair."

There were epaulets on the man's shirt, indicating he was a Fedayeen officer, Rahaief said. "He appeared to be questioning the woman through a translator. Then I saw him slap her -- first with the palm of his hand, then with the back of his hand."

When the Fedayeen officer left, Rehaief said, he crept into Lynch's room and told her he would help her. "Don't worry," he said. He then walked east across Nasiriyah, where he encountered a group of Marines and told them about Lynch.

The Marines -- who corroborated Rehaief's story that he assisted them -- sent him back to the hospital several times to map out access to the site and the route getting there, and to count the number of Iraqi troops inside.

The staff of the civilian hospital believes Rehaief did tell the Marines about Lynch, but some nurses and doctors disputed other parts of his story.

The head nurse of the hospital said there is no nurse named Iman employed by the facility, or any nurse married to a lawyer. "This is something we would know," she said.

"Never happened," Hassona said. Men in black slapping Lynch? "That's some Hollywood crap you'd tell the Americans." Hassona said he suspected the lawyer embellished his story.

After the rescue, Rehaief and his wife were transported by U.S. forces to a military camp in Kuwait. Rahaief, along with his wife and daughter, was granted political asylum in the United States. He is living in Northern Virginia, working on a book for HarperCollins and with NBC for a television movie on the rescue.

Rahaief and members of Lynch's family have not sought each other out.


Task Force 20, a covert U.S. Special Operations unit, worked on only the highest U.S. priorities in Iraq: hunting for weapons of mass destruction, weapons scientists and Baath Party leaders -- and rescuing Jessica Lynch.

Among the pre-mission briefings the group received before its move on the hospital was the fact that the hospital had been reportedly visited by Ali Hassan Majeed, otherwise known as "Chemical Ali," one of the most sought-after targets in the Iraqi leadership. Sources on the ground and imagery from Predator unmanned vehicles, which had been flying over the hospital for days, indicated it might serve as some kind of military command-and-control facility.

Militarily, "they knew they were going into an unknown situation," said one Special Operations officer. "They came armed for bear." Central Command was worried enough about the Iraqi military's response that it ordered a force of Marines, with tanks and armored personnel carriers, into Nasiriyah in a feint to draw attention away from the hospital.

About 1 a.m. on April 1, commandos in blacked-out Blackhawk helicopters and protected by low, slow-flying AC-130 gunships, swooped toward the hospital grounds. Marines fanned out as an exterior perimeter, while Army Rangers made a second protective shield just outside the hospital walls. These forces took light fire from adjacent buildings, according to military sources.

Commandos burst into the hospital, fired explosive charges meant to disorient anyone inside and headed for Lynch's room, according to U.S. accounts.

"We heard the helicopters and we decided we would go to the radiology unit," said Anmar Uday, a doctor, because the X-ray room was lined with lead.

The Iraqis heard shouts of "Go! Go! Go!" and soon the commandos were upon them. They said no shots were fired in the hospital and no one resisted, that there were only doctors and staff and a few hundred patients left. "It was like a 'Rambo' movie," Uday said. "But we were not Rambo. We just waited to be told what to do."

"There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were firefights outside of the building, getting in and out," Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks told reporters at Central Command in Qatar.

The commandos found Lynch in a private room, atop the hospital's only bed used to ease the pain of bedsores, a special sand-filled tub. She was accompanied by a male nurse in a white jacket.

"Jessica Lynch, we're the United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home," a Special Forces soldier called out, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., who briefed reporters three days later.

"I'm an American soldier, too," she answered from her hospital bed.

Troops found "ammunition, mortars, maps, a terrain model and other things that make it very clear that it was being used as a military command post," Brooks said.

Saad Abdul Razaq, the hospital's assistant administrator, said he was corralled with others in a corner. "They were pointing a gun at me and I thought, it's all over, I'm going to die," he said.

Razaq and the hospital staff said the last Iraqi military and civilian leaders had fled the morning of the raid; they stripped off their green uniforms, abandoned their vehicles in the parking lot and disappeared. None of the hospital staff was injured during the rescue.

The U.S. troops recovered two American bodies from the morgue. Staff members escorted the Americans to a grave site outside the building, by a soccer field, where the bodies of seven U.S. soldiers were buried. The hospital staff said the bodies -- all members of Lynch's convoy -- were put under the earth because the morgue's faltering refrigerators could not slow decomposition. Navy SEALs dug the bodies up with their hands, according to military officials.

A few hours after the last members of Task Force 20 flew away in helicopters, a contingent of U.S. tanks and trucks rolled up to the hospital's front door without firing a shot.

Central Command's public affairs office in Qatar geared up to make the most of the rescue.

"We wanted to make sure we got whatever visuals were available," said one public affairs officer involved. The task force had photographed the rescue. Special Forces had already provided exclusive, opening-day video to the news media of Iraqi border posts being destroy by nighttime raids. That had been a hit, public affairs officers believed.

"We let them know, if possible we wanted to get it, we'd like to have" the video, said Lt. Col. John Robinson, a Central Command public affairs officer. "We were hoping we would have good visuals. We knew it would be the hottest thing of the day. There was not an intent to talk it down or embellish it because we didn't need to. It was an awesome story."

For the U.S. military and the American public, Lynch's rescue came as a joyous moment in one of the darkest hours of the war, when U.S. troops looked like they were going to be bogged down on their way to Baghdad. But the rescue had gone off without a hitch.

"It took on a life of its own," said one colonel who tried to answer the barrage of media queries. "Reporters seem to be reporting on each other's information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept."

Making Progress

After her rescue, nowhere was the joy greater than in Lynch's home town of tiny Palestine, W.Va., where Greg and Deadra Lynch had struggled to stay hopeful as days slipped by without news of their missing daughter.

The family's elation was tempered when it discovered the true extent of Lynch's injuries upon reaching her bedside at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

At Walter Reed, Lynch's bones have been put back together with such a delicate and extensive network of rods and pins that it can take an hour for her to move from bed to wheelchair.

"She is still struggling with pain and her recovery will be slow," said family spokesman Randy Coleman. Her mother said, "It's amazing she can walk at all -- she is a body full of pins and screws," Coleman recounted.

Still, Lynch is making progress. She recently walked more than 100 steps using a walker. "She works hard at physical therapy. She doesn't sit around and complain. She is certainly determined to get well," said Walter Reed spokeswoman Beverly Chidel.

People who have seen her said she is psychologically traumatized, and appears somewhat dazed, though she is better now than in the early weeks. Recently she has talked on the phone to friends and sent e-mails from her laptop.

Booth reported from Nasiriyah, interviewing Iraqi doctors and nurses in the hospitals where Lynch was treated, and Iraqi citizens who witnessed elements of the initial capture. Priest and Schmidt reported from Washington, interviewing military and intelligence officials with detailed knowledge of Lynch's capture and rescue, as well as officials close to the Lynch family.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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It's not surprising that this happened on any number of levels, and this sounds like it's "more realistic". Unfortunately for Lynch, she's become a pawn in a PR war, and more of a symbol than a person, when all she is is a badly injured soldier who happened to find herself first in a vicious, running firefight, then captured in enemy hands, then rescued in a very public way. People need to leave her alone and stop treating her like a piece of meat.

And I still think after reading this, as I always have, that those who criticized the massive force used to go into the hospital to rescue her are absolute idiots.

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I'd also like to point out to those people who generalize in castigating Middle Eastern Muslims for their violent behavior that Jessica was given the benefit of scarce medical treatment which perhaps cost other Iraqis their lives.

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Your point's well taken, but my criticism at least has been directed towards militant extremists as well as the silent majority of moderate Muslims who do and say nothing in the face of the extremists' atrocities against innocent human life.

The Iraqi physicians who cared for Lynch (apparently) are to be commended for their humanity. But they were in a totalitarian secular state being rapidly dismantled by enemy forces. They even admit that there was some self-interest involved. I simply must believe that had Jessica been in the hands of the Taliban, or some other ideologically based religious group, the treatment would have been different.

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Note to self: recognize one instance of shared humanity against repeated murders of Israeli citizens, mass murders in Iraq/Iran, chop chop block in SA, Egyptian/Syrian/Morrocan/Algerian terrorist murders, etc..........generalizations appropriate.......foundation for radical change in foreign policy now in place

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I am certain that there are slivers of truth in all of the recounts. Unfortunately, Private Lynch is the only one who truly possesses the true story of what occured. And with mucho $$ in a future book deal, she will remain silent.

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Originally posted by fansince62

Note to self: recognize one instance of shared humanity against repeated murders of Israeli citizens, mass murders in Iraq/Iran, chop chop block in SA, Egyptian/Syrian/Morrocan/Algerian terrorist murders, etc..........generalizations appropriate.......foundation for radical change in foreign policy now in place

Here's another note to make to yourself. Everyday there are selfless acts of kindness perpetrated by people the world over. You more than likely will not hear or read about these acts. However because it creates viewership and readership, the media will place a priority, probably at the exclusion of most human interest stories, on violence.

Jot that down in your memo pad the next time you want to generalize Middle Eastern Muslims as mass murderers and terrorists.

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Guest Matt Kyriacou
Originally posted by redman

And I still think after reading this, as I always have, that those who criticized the massive force used to go into the hospital to rescue her are absolute idiots.

I'll raise a glass to that.


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It's funny. After all the claims of exaggeration about the initial reports, the only details that seem to have been wrong were 1) Lynch's personal involvement in the firefight by firing a weapon (it appears that she may not have fired at all due to a jammed rifle, rather than having fired until she ran out of ammo as was first reported); and 2) that Lynch's physical injuries appear to have been caused, at least mostly, by a tremendous automobile collision. Everything else amounts to clarification, or additional details that don't directly pertain to Lynch, such as the heroic actions of her commanding officers at the scene.

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