Jessica Lynch, the US army private who became the heroic American face of the Iraq war when her convoy was ambushed soon after the invasion, lambasted the Bush Administration yesterday for lying about the incident.
She was testifying to Congress, along with the brother of Pat Tillman, the US Army Ranger who gave up a lucrative career as an American football star only to be killed by his own platoon in Afghanistan, and the two decried the Pentagon’s “deceit” in turning their disastrous experiences into false tales of heroism.
Ms Lynch was injured badly when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq on March 23, 2003, the third day of the war. The Pentagon said initially that she was shot after emerging from her vehicle, guns blazing, before being abducted. It later emerged that she was injured in the ambush and was incapable of fighting. She was taken to an Iraqi hospital by Iraqi troops and owes her life to Iraqi doctors, who even tried to return her to American troops.
Speaking to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Ms Lynch told of waking up in hospital with terrible injuries, unaware that the Pentagon was circulating “the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting”.
“It was not true,” she said yesterday. “I’m still confused as to why they choose to lie and try to make me a legend.
“The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don’t need to be told elaborate lies.”
Kevin Tillman, in angry and emotional testimony, accused army officials of destroying his brother’s uniform, equipment and notebook, falsifying wit- ness statements and rewriting the field hospital report in order to concoct an “inspirational” story that his brother had died leading a charge against enemy fighters. For five weeks after his brother’s death the Pentagon and the White House told that story, Mr Tillman said, including at his memorial service.
He said that his brother’s death came soon after the dual rebellions in Najaf and Fallujah, the call-up of more troops to Iraq, and White House knowledge that the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal was about to break. “Revealing that Pat’s death was fratricide [friendly fire] would have been yet another political disaster . . . so the facts needed to be suppressed,” Mr Tillman said.
In addition to destroying and falsifying evidence, the Pentagon had suppressed an initial investigation that reported his brother was killed by friendly fire, he claimed.
Mary Tillman, his mother, accused Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defence Secretary, of being complicit. “These are intentional falsehoods that meet the legal definition of fraud,” Mr Tillman said. The Pentagon has said that there was no attempt at a cover-up, merely “errors of judgment which created the perception of concealment”.
Mr Tillman said: “These are deliberate acts of deceit. This narrative was intended to deceive the family, but more importantly to deceive the American public.”
He added: “We have concluded that our efforts are being thwarted by powers that are more interested in protecting a narrative than getting at the truth.”
Mr Tillman also cited other “friendly fire” cases that he claimed had been covered up, including Sergeant Patrick McCaffrey, whose family was told that he was killed in Iraq on June 22, 2004, after “an ambush by insurgents”. Two years later they discovered that the “insurgents” were the Iraqi troops he had been training.
“Before his death he told his chain of command that these same troops he was training were trying to kill him and his team. He was told to keep his mouth shut,” Mr Tillman said.
Mrs Tillman said: “The fact that he would have died by friendly fire and no one told Rumsfeld is ludicrous.” She said that the family was “absolutely appalled” when they realised the extent to which they had been lied to.
Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the panel, said: “For Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, the Government violated its most basic responsibility.