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Myth Making

Congressional investigators have discovered that at least one U.S. military official provided the media with details about Jessica Lynch’s heroic acts—a tale that was later proven to be untrue.

Lynch tried to help Congress unravel the myth around her capture this week
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Lynch tried to help Congress unravel the myth around her capture this week
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WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Mark Hosenball
Updated: 1:39 p.m. ET April 28, 2007

April 28, 2007 - The Pentagon has always denied responsibility for creating the myth that Pfc. Jessica Lynch went down fighting. Even last week, while Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman conducted hearings about misinformation in the Lynch and Pat Tillman cases, military officials (requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case) insisted they did not know how the tale of Lynch's heroics first got into circulation. But congressional investigators have dug up evidence that a military official did in fact provide at least one newspaper with details of Lynch’s alleged exploits.

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In an April 3, 2003, story, The Military Times, a specialist newspaper, quoted Navy Capt. Frank Thorp as saying Lynch waged quite a battle prior to her capture. At the time, Thorp was one of the U.S. military’s senior spokesmen in the Persian Gulf. Now a rear admiral, he serves today as a deputy to Dorrance Smith, the Pentagon's public relations chief. (Smith was not head of public affairs at the time Lynch was captured.) "We do have very strong indications that Jessica Lynch was not captured very easily ... Reports are that she fired her [M-16 rifle] until she had no more ammunition,” Thorp said at the time, shortly after Lynch was retrieved from an Iraqi hospital by U.S. forces.

Until now, the Military Times account, apparently the only story that quotes a military official by name recounting the tale that Lynch went down while firing back at the enemy, has been overlooked in the debate over Lynch's treatment; NEWSWEEK was alerted to its existence by a source involved in the investigation. The original story still can be accessed on the Binghamton, N.Y. Press & Sun-Bulletin Web site.

It later emerged that Lynch put up no resistance because she was immobilized in what amounted to a massive car accident. “I didn’t even get a shot off,” she told Newsweek.com in an interview this week, explaining that her Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing the driver to lose control and slam into the back of another truck in their convoy. “My weapon had jammed. And I didn’t even get to fire.” She blamed the military for not setting the record straight and the media for spreading the bogus story. At the hearing last week, she said she was “still confused as to why [the military] chose to lie and try to make me a legend.”

Thorp told NEWSWEEK that he was not a source for a key Washington Post story about Lynch’s purported exploits which cited anonymous sources and appeared on the same day as the Military Times piece. He also said his quoted account regarding Lynch's alleged valor was more tentative and less dramatic than the version offered by the Post. Thorp said that while he didn’t remember specifically the remarks quoted by the Military Times, he would not deny saying them. He said he does remember receiving early real-time reports from the battlefield about heroics by members of Lynch's unit, which later turned out to be inaccurate or possibly about other soldiers. But he insisted his only motive in telling the military newspaper about the alleged heroism would have been to make public “the known information we had at the time. My intent was always to provide the facts as we knew them at the time and nothing more."

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Thomas Gimble, told a House Oversight Committee hearing chaired by Waxman that an investigation conducted by U.S. Central Command failed to substantiate claims by Pentagon critics and the BBC that the U.S. military operation which led to Lynch’s rescue was stage-managed for publicity purposes. When NEWSWEEK asked CENTCOM for a copy of its Lynch investigation, however, a military spokesman said it was still classified.

Congressional officials said Rep Waxman's committee will request a copy of the CENTCOM report on the Lynch case, which the military says is Top Secret. The officials said Thorp declined a committee invitation to testify. Thorp said he was willing to testify, but had to turn the committee down last week due to a scheduling conflict.

"Pat Tillman’s situation was similar to mine but completely different," Lynch told Newsweek.com. “He didn’t have the opportunity to come home and tell the truth and set the record straight like I did.”

With reporting by Julie Scelfo


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