Former army private Jessica Lynch made headlines by telling Diane Sawyer of ABC that the Pentagon used her capture and dramatic nighttime rescue to generate support for the war in Iraq. An early false report in the Washington Post had Lynch dramatically fighting her attackers. Lynch says she wasn’t a hero and that the true heroes were the soldiers who saved her. The real questions are whether some in the Pentagon exploited her story because they wanted to promote women in combat and whether they covered up evidence of her being tortured and raped.
Her book, I Am a Soldier, Too, reports that she was raped and sodomized by her Iraqi captors, although she has no memory of it. Her co-author, Rick Bragg, says the scars on Lynch’s body and the medical records indicate that the assault took place. This has been denied by the Iraqi doctors who treated her, but one of them admitted they were not looking for signs of sexual assault. They treated the wounds she suffered when her Humvee utility vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another vehicle.
The rape of Lynch would be consistent with past Iraqi practices. Major Rhonda Cornum was sexually assaulted by the Iraqis when she was taken prisoner in the first Gulf War, but plays down the incident. Like Lynch, she wrote a book, She Went to War, and is now a colonel commanding an Army medical unit in Bosnia.
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness told WorldNetDaily that she had suspected Lynch had been brutalized but the Pentagon would not confirm any such attack. Back in July, Donnelly assembled a list of “unanswered questions” about Lynch, and one of them had to do with rape and torture. She noted that, according to embedded MSNBC reporter Kerry Sanders, an Iraqi resident asked him to “Please make sure the people in charge know that she [Lynch] is being tortured.” MSNBC also reported that Marines had previously found at the first Iraqi facility that received the prisoners a bloody uniform of a kind used by female soldiers, and a metal bed with a car battery next to it. These items were evidence of a torture chamber.
CENTCOM briefer Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks had said the extent of Jessica Lynch’s injuries would not be discussed “in the interests of her privacy.” Donnelly had commented at the time, “Such terms are rarely used, except in cases of sexual assault.” The NBC television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch, did not suggest she was raped. It showed the Iraqi militia taking her into a hospital and being treated by doctors. It did show one soldier slapping her while she was on a hospital bed. Later, when American soldiers are shown rescuing her, there’s a depiction of that strange room with the metal bed and car battery. “That’s a torture room,” says one of the rescue planners.
The only way to save Jessica Lynch and other women from such a fate is to keep them out of combat. But that may not be practical. The war with Iraq was described as the largest deployment of women to a combat theater to date. Women currently make up about 15 percent of active military personnel.