Sing, bard!

The real “Saving Private Lynch”

Continuing in my using-Canadian-media-to-poke-holes-in-U.S.-politics, I draw your attention to an intriguing story in the Toronto Star. Remember Private Lynch — the female, American prisoner of war in Iraq who was saved by a daring raid? And who’d lain, battle-wounded — presumably by gunfire — in what was, we were told, a pretty barbaric hospital?

Well, Mitch Potter — the Star’s Middle East bureau — interviewed all the Iraqi doctors who treated Lynch. The upshot is, they seem like rather nice guys. A few days before the raid, they’d actually tried to personally return Lynch to U.S. custody — but been rebuffed by the U.S. army.

“A few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back,” [Houssona said.] “We carefully moved her out of intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the Americans, who were just one kilometre away. But when the ambulance got within 300 metres, they began to shoot. There wasn’t even a chance to tell them `We have Jessica. Take her.’”

So, while treating Lynch — offering her multiple surgeries so excellent that a U.S. army doctor later came back to personally thank them — the Iraqi doctors befriended her. Then came the raid:

At midnight, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital’s upper floors sent staff scurrying for the x-ray department — the only part of the hospital with no outside windows. The power was cut, followed by small explosions as the raiding teams blasted through locked doors.

A few minutes later, they heard a man’s voice shout, “Go! Go! Go!” in English. Seconds later, the door burst open and a red laser light cut through the darkness, trained on the forehead of the chief resident.

“We were pretty frightened. There were about 40 medical staff together in the x-ray department,” said Dr. Anmar Uday, 24. “Everyone expected the Americans to come that day because the city had fallen. But we didn’t expect them to blast through the doors like a Hollywood movie.”

Dr. Mudhafer Raazk, 27, observed dryly that two cameramen and a still photographer, also in uniform, accompanied the U.S. teams into the hospital. Maybe this was a movie after all.

Apparently, Lynch’s wounds were derived not from gunfire — as media and the military intimated at the time — but from having fallen off a vehicle. Once the soldiers who raided the hospital realized that there weren’t any Iraqi militia at the hospital, they quietened down, and left four hours later with Lynch, saying “thank you” to the Iraqi doctors.

Now, a cynic might conclude that the U.S. military staged the raid so that they could look dashing and heroic — and be “touted by military historians as the first successful planned raid to free an American prisoner of war since Army Rangers freed more than 500 POWs from a Japanese camp in the Philippines in 1945,” as reporters have gushed. But interestingly, the Iraqi doctors themselves don’t believe this; they figure the U.S.’s refusal to let them return Lynch was just a typical mixup in the fog of war.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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