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Jessica Lynch

An undated photo of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch (DoD photo)

Jessica Lynch (born April 26, 1983), of Palestine, West Virginia, as a private first class in the United States Army, was a prisoner of war of the Iraqi military in the 2003 invasion of Iraq who was rescued by United States forces on April 1, 2003.

Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company (based in Fort Bliss, Texas), was injured and captured by Iraqi forces after her group was ambushed on March 23, 2003 near Nasiriyah, a major crossing point over the Euphrates River northwest of Basra. She was initially listed as missing in action (MIA). Eleven other soldiers in the company were killed in the ambush.

Accounts of the events in between Lynch's capture and her rescue were incomplete and contradictary, and Lynch herself has no recollection of this period. Dr. Greg Argyros, assistant chief of the Department of Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where Lynch was treated, stated that, "Anytime anybody goes through a traumatic event of any kind, there is the risk that they may have a period that they don't remember what happened."

Differing Accounts

Some time after Lynch's rescue, several sources alleged the story of Lynch's rescue was distorted and exaggerated by the United States government in an effort to undercut public resistance to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iraqi doctors at the hospital in question claimed Lynch was well cared for by hospital personnel and virtually unguarded at the time that she was rescued by American forces; rather, Lynch's "rescue" was a publicity stunt that was staged, and the subsequent news reports were carefully controlled propaganda. Lynch herself has criticized the US government for releasing false information, stating "They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff..." [1] Though Pentagon statements claimed that Lynch emptied her gun fighting off her attackers, later reports and Lynch herself indicated that this was not the case; in fact her gun jammed on the first round and she did not offer any resistance to her capture. The story is now believed to have stemmed from the mistranslation of an intercepted Iraqi message which referred to one of her male fellow soldiers.

Amended reports by the Washington Post, which initially reported dramatic stories of Lynch's ordeal, indicated that U.S. officials made no attempt to downplay exaggerated or incorrect reports in the media. The dramatic rescue, with heavy force ready for an unknown situation, was videotaped at the request of military public affairs, who knew this would be a popular story. In other reports, British military officials were very critical of the way that the videotape was released to the press and the spin that U.S. officials decided to put on the Lynch story. Iraqi doctors caring for Lynch told reporters that they gave Lynch the best care possible while she was kept at the hospital and that they often bought juice she asked for out of their own pockets. They also said that they were not only frightened by the dramatic way US forces held them at gunpoint during the rescue, but that the forces also slashed the sand bed Lynch was given, the only such bed (special medical equipment designed to prevent bed sores) in the hospital, before sweeping out again. Also twelve doors were kicked in and damaged and a sterilized operating theatre was contaminated. No reports that the Iraqi hospital would be compensated for the damage were ever published. Doctors also noted that Iraqi soldiers had been stationed in the hospital as recently as the morning before the rescue.

Prisoner of war

After some time in the custody of the Iraqi army regiment which captured her, Lynch was taken to a hospital in Nasiriya. Sympathetic Iraqi hospital staff, including Doctors Harith al-Houssona and Anmar Uday, claim to have shielded Lynch from Iraqi military and government agents who were using the hospital as a base of military operations. U.S. forces were tipped off as to Lynch's whereabouts by an Iraqi, sympathetic to her plight, who told them she had been tortured and injured but was still alive. The Iraqi was described as a 32-year-old lawyer initially described only as "Mohammed." He was later identified as one Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief. Mohammed and his family were granted refugee status by American forces.

Initial reports indicated that Mohammed's wife was a nurse by the name of Iman in the hospital where Lynch was being held captive, and that while visiting his wife at the hospital, Mohammed noticed that security was heightened and inquired as to why. However, hospital personnel later confirmed only part of Mohammed's story, indicating that while Mohammed had indeed visited the hospital, his wife was not a nurse there, nor was there any nurse by the name of Iman working there. While visiting the hospital from which Lynch was eventually extracted, Mohammed claimed that he observed an Iraqi colonel slapping Lynch. "My heart stopped," said Mohammed, "I knew then I must help her be saved. I decided I must go to tell the Americans." This story has been disputed by doctors working at the hospital, who claim that Lynch was shielded and protected from Iraqi military personnel by hospital staff and was cared for well throughout her stay at the hospital.

Futhermore, there is a report [1] that on March 30 Dr Harith attempted to have Lynch delivered to the US forces, an attempt which had to be abandoned when the Americans fired on the ambulance carrying her. The credibility of some of the hospital staff has been questioned, however.

Mohammed walked six miles to a United States Marine checkpoint to inform American forces that he knew where Lynch was being held. After talking with the marines, Mohammed was sent back to the hospital to gather information that was used to plan Lynch's rescue. Mohammed returned to the checkpoint with five different maps of the hospital and the details of the security layout, reaction plan, and shift changes. The U.S. military reportedly learned of Lynch's location from several informants, one of whom was Mohammed. After he came forward, to confirm her location, officials with the Defense Intelligence Agency equipped and trained an unnamed person, possibly Mohammed, alternatively listed as an Iraqi informant and as a CIA agent, with a concealed video camera. On the day of the raid, the informant walked around the hospital, secretly videotaping entrances and a route to Lynch's room. Reportedly, Mohammed was ultimately paid for his services.

A combat camera video shows undated footage of Lynch on a stretcher during her rescue from Iraq (USCENTCOM photo)

On April 1, 2003, U.S. Marines staged a diversionary attack, besieging nearby Iraqi irregulars to draw them away from Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah. Meanwhile, a team of Navy SEALs, Marine commandos, and Army Rangers launched the nighttime raid, where they found Lynch hiding under a blanket on a hospital bed. An American soldier called out, "Jessica Lynch, we are United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home." As the soldier removed his helmet, Lynch looked up and said, "I'm an American soldier, too." U.S. officials said, "Jessica held up her hand and grabbed the Ranger doctor's hand, and held onto it for the entire time, and said, 'Please don't let anybody leave me.'" She was airlifted on a stretcher out of Iraq and onto a Coalition air base in Kuwait.

Lynch's injuries

It was unclear what injuries Lynch had at the time of her rescue, but it appears she suffered a head laceration, an injury to her spine and fractures to her right arm, both legs, and her right foot and ankle. Conflicting reports also existed that Lynch had suffered gunshot wounds to her left arm and right leg. Dr. Harith al-Houssona, a doctor in the Nasirya hospital, described Lynch's injuries as "a broken arm, a broken thigh, and a dislocated ankle." According to al-Houssona, there was no sign of gunshot or stab wounds, and Lynch's injuries were consistent with those that would be suffered in a road traffic accident. Al-Houssona's claims were later confirmed in a U.S. Army report leaked on July 10, 2003. [1]

In the book "I Am A Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story" by Rick Bragg, the author alleges that Lynch was raped and sodomized during her captivity, based on medical records and her pattern of injuries. Iraqi doctors who treated her have disputed the claim, although they were not looking for signs of rape at the time. Lynch has no memory of being raped nor of being slapped or mistreated during her captivity.

Departure from Iraq

From Kuwait, she was transported to a medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany, where she was expected to recover fully from her injuries. On the flight to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the military medics kept her sedated and hydrated. She didn't say much, they said, but she opened her eyes. Her family flew to Germany on April 5 to be reunited with her. In a statement, the hospital said, "Lynch had a big smile on her face when her parents arrived."

Lynch underwent back surgery on April 3 to correct a slipped vertebra that was putting pressure on her spinal cord. Since then, she has undergone several more surgeries to stabilize her fractures.

Eleven bodies were recovered at the same time as Lynch's rescue, and, following forensic identification, eight were identified as fellow members of her company, including her best friend, Private First Class Lori Ann Piestewa. All were subsequently given posthumous Purple Hearts. Details of their deaths are unclear. Lynch's rescue was the first of an American POW since World War II and the first ever of a woman.

Private Lynch was not shown during a controversial display on Al Jazeera television of four other supply unit POWs, among whom was New Zealand-born James Riley. That video showed a number of dead soldiers from that unit with gunshot wounds to the forehead.

After learning of Mohammed's role in Lynch's rescue, Friends of Mohammed, a group based in Malden, West Virginia, was formed to fight for Mohammed's U.S. citizenship and to bring him to West Virginia. On April 29, 2003, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced that Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief, his wife, and their 5-year-old daughter had been granted humanitarian parole on April 28. Al Rehaief and his family were brought to the United States at his request April 10. Al Rehaief will publish a book, Because Each Life Is Precious, around October 2003, which will net him around US$300,000.[1]

Return home

On April 12, Private Lynch was flown to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C to undergo specialized treatment and rehabilitation. On April 17, she underwent surgery to repair a bone in her right foot.

While recovering in Washington, Lynch was inundated with gifts and flowers from well-wishers, so much so that she asked the public to send cards instead. Her family suggested that the public send money to charity and relief organizations instead.

Lynch was released from the hospital on July 22, more than three months after her injury. She was awarded the Bronze Star for Bravery. [1]

On August 27, 2003, Lynch was given a medical honorable discharge. An authorized biography, written by Rick Bragg, will be released in November. NBC made a television movie called Saving Private Lynch, which was about Mohammed's account of him rescuing Lynch. A lot of the content in the movie had been disputed by others.[1] [1]

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