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As the Mrs reminded us, April 4th marked the 5th anniversary of the day SFC Paul Ray Smith earned the Medal of Honor during the battle for what was then known as Saddam Hussein International Airport...
...when morning broke and B Company of the 11th Engineers arrived unscathed at Saddam Airport - some even snapping photos along the way - Sergeant Smith was still uneasy. Things were too quiet, and the airport's high walls obscured the battlefield around him.That story didn't make the news that day. That's hardly a condemnation of reporters; obviously much time would pass before events of that nature (in the midst of a war) could be sorted out and accurately reported.
Like almost every choice he made, Smith's next decision was straight from the military textbook - punching through a wall with a bulldozer to look around. Yet it set in motion events that would eventually claim his life as he stood in the turret of a crippled vehicle, holding at bay almost single-handedly an advancing force of as many as 100 Iraqis.
So what did make news from Iraq on 4 April, 2003? Here's Robert Fisk's report from that same airport:
SADDAM HUSSEIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - So where are the Americans? I prowled the empty departure lounges, mooched through the abandoned customs department, chatted to the seven armed militia guards, met the airport director and stood beside the runways where two dust-covered Iraqi Airways passenger jets -- an old 727 and an even more elderly Antonov -- stood forlornly on the runway not far from an equally decrepit military helicopter.A report that in many ways confirmed this one from a few days before:
And all I could hear was the distant whisper of high-flying jets and the chatter of the flocks of birds which have nested near the airport car park on this, the first day of real summer in Baghdad.
Only three hours earlier, the BBC had reported claims that forward units of an American mechanised infantry division were less than 16km west of Baghdad -- and that some US troops had taken up positions on the very edge of the international airport.
But I was 27km west of the city. And there were no Americans, no armour, not a soul around the runways of the airport whose namesake, in poster form, sat nonchalantly in the arrivals lounge in a business suit, cigar in hand. Even more astonishingly, there was no sign of the 12,000 Republican Guards whom the US division expected to fight.
Indeed, Saddam Hussein International Airport looked as if it was enduring an industrial strike (let us not conceive of such an event in Saddam's Iraq) rather than an imminent takeover by the world's only superpower.
Was it true, the Iraqi minister of information was asked at his daily 2pm press conference (11pm NZT) - a routine institution of usually deadly tedium - that the Americans were at the airport?
"Rubbish!" he shouted. "Lies! Go and look for yourself."
So we did.
And, alas for the Anglo-American spokesmen in Doha and the US officer quoted on the BBC, the Iraqi minister was right and the Americans were wrong. But it's a good idea to take these things, if not with a pinch of salt, then at least with the knowledge that there are always two reasons for every decision taken in this violent, ruthless land.
Sure, the Americans had been caught lying again...
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. war plan has "failed," veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett told Iraqi TV in an interview that aired Sunday.Indeed. And for something that important, one shouldn't let little things like truth, objectivity, or integrity stand in the way.
"The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another war plan," Arnett said. "Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces."
Arnett -- who is reporting for National Geographic Television and NBC News -- also said Iraq has given him and other reporters a "degree of freedom which we appreciate," this despite the fact that Iraq has expelled several journalists, including CNN's Baghdad team, and apparently has imprisoned two journalists from the New York newspaper Newsday.
Arnett is a member of the Board of Directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is trying to locate the missing journalists.
"I'd like to say from the beginning that the 12 years I've been coming here," Arnett said, "I've met unfailing courtesy and cooperation, courtesy from your people and cooperation from the Ministry of Information."
Arnett told the Iraqi TV interviewer, who was dressed in an Iraqi Army uniform, that President Bush is facing a "growing challenge" about the "conduct of the war" within the United States.
"President Bush says he is concerned about the Iraqi people, but if Iraqi people are dying in numbers, then American policy will be challenged very strongly," he said. In the interview, Arnett said reports from Baghdad on civilians being killed are being shown in the United States, and "it helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments."
There were reports of heroism and courage from Iraq in the media that week. The most memorable - appearing in the Washington Post on April 3rd, 2003, was truly incredible - even though it included this strong disclaimer from the DoD:
Several officials cautioned that the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge... Reports thus far are based on battlefield intelligence, they said, which comes from monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed. Pentagon officials said they had heard "rumors"... but had no confirmation.But the paper chose to bury that detail far down in the story that began with these paragraphs:
Pfc. Jessica Lynch, rescued Tuesday from an Iraqi hospital, fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers after Iraqi forces ambushed the Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said yesterday.But within hours of that report, a named "official" would derail the Post's attempt to create a hero:
Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23, one official said.
Hours after the Post account appeared, Col. David Rubenstein, commander of the Army hospital in Germany where Lynch was taken, was widely quoted as saying that medical evidence did "not suggest that any of her wounds were caused by either gunshots or stabbing."And on the very day Paul Smith was fighting for the lives of his troops, even as Robert Fisk was denying his presence at the airport...
On April 4, a Post story from the Lynch home in West Virginia quoted her father, Greg Lynch Sr., as saying, "The doctor has not seen any of this. There's no entry [wounds] whatsoever."
AS the deputy commander at United States Central Command from 2001 to 2003, I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.But that didn't stop the colleagues of those "West Virginia politicians" from holding a kangaroo court...
The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic. Based on these reports, politicians from her home state, West Virginia, wanted the military to award her the Medal of Honor. Their request rose up the ladder until finally it reached me.
But initial combat reports are often wrong. Time must always be taken to thoroughly investigate all claims. In the case of Private Lynch, additional time was needed, since she was suffering from combat shock and loss of memory; facts, therefore, had to be gathered from other sources. The military simply didn’t know at that point whether her actions merited a medal.
This is why, when the request landed on my desk, I told the politicians that we’d need to wait. I made it clear that no one would be awarded anything until all of the evidence was reviewed.
The politicians did not like this. They called repeatedly, through their Congressional liaison, and pressured us to recommend her for the medal, even before all the evidence had been analyzed. I would not relent and we had many heated discussions.
The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.
As it turned out, after a careful review of the facts, the military concluded that the initial reports were incorrect. Ballistic tests on Private Lynch’s weapon demonstrated that she had never fired; she had merely been a passenger in a vehicle that went astray, came under fire and crashed. Private Lynch was badly hurt, and in her condition, she could not fight back. Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing would be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.Still, no reporters or "West Virginia politicians" have been charged with crimes in the case.
"The truth, the truth, this is only a search for the truth," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference in San Francisco. "It's about holding this administration accountable for the message that it sends out. ... It's about reality."
Lynch, a 21-year-old former Army supply clerk, became one of the most visible faces of the war when she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after being captured by Iraqi forces April 1, 2003. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed where her convoy was attacked, and six, including Lynch, were captured.
Her videotaped rescue by special forces branded Lynch a hero at a time the U.S. war effort seemed bogged down. It also stirred complaints of government media manipulation.
Search Google News for Jessica Lynch today (April 5, 2008) and you'll find a handful of recent stories of the "where are they now" variety.
Search google news for Paul Ray Smith and - outside an Army Times account - you'll find nothing.
Peter Arnett was fired by NBC in the wake of his remarks. He was hired immediately by the British newspaper The Daily Mirror:
The tabloid's banner headline Tuesday said: "Fired by America for telling the truth ... hired by Daily Mirror to carry on telling it."
Robert Fisk continues his career as a "journalist". In 2006 he was awarded the "Lannan Cultural Freedom Lifetime Achievement Prize":
The Prize for Cultural Freedom was established to recognize people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression...
Fisk will receive $350,000.
According to Foundation president J. Patrick Lannan, Jr., “Robert Fisk stands out as one of the rare reporters on Middle East affairs who tells the story of war not from the comfort of his hotel room, but from the blood-stained ground where the story is taking place.
There are no words that can express America's gratitude and awesome awe of these men and women.
My son is in Iraq at this moment with the 101st.
God Bless them all.Posted by Snooper at April 6, 2008 05:14 AM
I belong to a group called Operation Firing for Effect. I am the National Director for the Woman's Coalition for this group. I would appreciate it if you would take a look at our website. We support full funding of the VA. Thank you!Posted by navyvet48 at April 6, 2008 01:47 PM
"So what did make news from Iraq on 4 April, 2004? Here's Robert Fisk's report from that same airport:"
I think you meant 4 April, 2003. Other than that, a very good post - thanks!Posted by L. Greg at April 6, 2008 06:56 PM
Yep - fixed it, thanks!Posted by Greyhawk at April 6, 2008 07:22 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(4) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)