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Jessica Lynch Criticizes U.S. Accounts of Her Ordeal


Published: November 7, 2003

n her first public statements since her rescue in Iraq, Jessica Lynch criticized the military for exaggerating accounts of her rescue and re-casting her ordeal as a patriotic fable.

Asked by the ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer if the military's portrayal of the rescue bothered her, Ms. Lynch said: "Yeah, it does. It does that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. Yeah, it's wrong," according to a partial transcript of the interview to be broadcast on Tuesday.

After months of retreating from the news media, Ms. Lynch will be a ubiquitous presence next week. In addition to her appearance on ABC, she will be on the cover of Time magazine, and NBC will broadcast a movie based on an Iraqi's account of her ordeal. On Tuesday, the book publisher Knopf will release an account of her experience, "I Am a Soldier, Too," written with her cooperation by a former reporter for The New York Times, Rick Bragg.

The book and the movie are unrelated and tell different versions of Ms. Lynch's story, but the publisher has timed the book to capitalize on publicity from the television movie.

The book has already added another, lurid indignity to the public accounts of her capture. It reports that Ms. Lynch's military doctors found injuries consistent with sexual assault and unlikely to have resulted from the Humvee crash that caused her other wounds, suggesting that she was raped after her capture. Ms. Lynch, who was unconscious immediately after the crash, does not remember any such assault, according to people who have talked to her and read the book. Those details of the book's contents were reported yesterday in The New York Daily News.

In the book and in the interviews, Ms. Lynch says others' accounts of her heroism often left her feeling hurt and ashamed because of what she says was overstatement.

At first, a military spokesman in Iraq told journalists that American soldiers had exchanged fire with Iraqis during the rescue, without adding that resistance was minimal. Then the military released a dramatic, green-tinted, night-vision video of the mission. Soon news organizations were repeating reports, attributed to anonymous American officials, that Ms. Lynch had heroically resisted her capture, emptying her weapon at her attackers.

But subsequent investigations determined that Ms. Lynch was injured by the crash of her vehicle, her weapon jammed before she could fire, the Iraqi doctors treated her kindly, and the hospital was already in friendly hands when her rescuers arrived.

Asked how she felt about the reports of her heroism, Ms. Lynch told Ms. Sawyer, "It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about. Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren't here to tell the story. So I would have been the only one able to say, yeah, I went down shooting. But I didn't."

And asked about reports that the military exaggerated the danger of the rescue mission, Ms. Lynch said, "Yeah, I don't think it happened quite like that," although she added that in that context anybody would have approached the hospital well-armed. She continued: "I don't know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they, you know, all I know was that I was in that hospital hurting. I needed help."

Lt. Col. Rivers Johnson, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, declined to comment on Ms. Lynch's views. But he said, "Essentially, the mission to rescue Jessica Lynch demonstrated America's resolve to account for all of its missing service members." He added that the rescue had been conducted under the appropriate procedures for a fluid situation like the war in Iraq. "You always plan for the worst."

Ms. Lynch also disputed statements by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer, that he saw her captors slap her.

"From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing," Ms. Lynch told Diane Sawyer, adding, "I'm so thankful for those people, because that's why I'm alive today."

Jeff Coplon, who helped Mr. Rehaief write his book, "Because Each Life is Precious," said it was possible that both he and Ms. Lynch were telling the truth in their divergent accounts.

"One of the questions that could arise in the wake of this kind of trauma is that someone could believe they remember everything and their memory could still be incomplete," Mr. Coplon said.

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Iraqi doctors who treated former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch dismissed on Friday claims made in her biography that she was raped by her Iraqi captors.

Although Lynch said she has no memory of the sexual assault, medical records cited in "I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story" indicate that she was raped and sodomized by her Iraqi captors, according to U.S. media who said they had advance copies.

The book -- due to be released Tuesday -- covers Lynch's experience between March 23 when her 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah and April 1 when she was evacuated from a hospital by U.S. commandos. It was unclear if the book cites American or Iraqi records.

A family spokesman, Stephen Goodwin, confirmed the book alleges Lynch was raped.

Lynch suffered broken bones to her right arm, right leg and thighs and ankle and received a head injury when her Humvee utility vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another vehicle. Eleven soldiers were killed in the attack.

Dr. Mahdi Khafazji, an orthopedic surgeon at Nasiriyah's main hospital performed surgery on Lynch to repair a fractured femur and said he found no signs that she was raped or sodomized.

Khafazji, speaking at his private clinic in Nasiriyah, said he examined her extensively and would have detected signs of sexual assault. He said the examination turned up no trace of semen.

Dr. Khafazji said Lynch was taken first to the Military Hospital, a few hundred yards from the ambush site at around 8 a.m., about an hour after the attack. A few hours later, she was brought to his hospital.

"She was injured at about 7 in the morning," he said. "What kind of animal would do it to a person suffering from multiple injuries?"

Dr. Jamal al-Saeidi, a brigadier general and head of the orthopedic department at the now disbanded Military Hospital, remembers seeing Jessica's motionless body on a bed in the crowded lobby of his hospital. He said a police van parked outside appeared to have brought her to the hospital.

"When she was brought there she was fighting for her life," said Dr. al-Saeidi at his private clinic. "She was in shock because of the s*****ty of her injury."

He said Lynch was fully clothed with her field jacket buttoned up. "Her clothes were not torn, buttons had not come off, her pants were zipped up," al-Saeidi said.

Al-Saeidi said he found no signs of rape during an examination although he acknowledged he was not looking for signs of sexual assault.

Lynch had lost more than half of her blood because of a 10- to 15-centimeter long wound on the left side of her head, as well as broken limbs that caused internal bleeding, al-Saeidi said.

"We had a few minutes, golden minutes to save her," he said. He rushed her to the operating room, away from the crowded lobby, and gave her intravenous fluid and blood and stitched her head wound.

Another U.S. soldier, Lori Piestewa, died half an hour after arriving at the hospital with Lynch of severe head injuries, doctors said.

Half an hour after surgery on Lynch, al-Saeidi assured her that she was in good hands.

He told her that she had to undergo surgery in a couple of days, but Lynch said: "'No, I want to be in the States."'

Soon afterward, military intelligence officers came to the hospital to take Lynch away. Dr. al-Saeidi told them if she did not get medical attention she would die. They took her to the Saddam Hospital, where she stayed nine days until Iraqi soldiers left the hospital.

Several hours later American commandos raided the hospital and evacuated her.

"Why are they saying such things?" a bitter Dr. Khodheir al-Hazbar, the hospital's deputy director, said. "We were good to her."

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