Time continues to expose the brazen and sinister character of the Bush administration’s propaganda machine, as growing distance from 9-11 makes ever more brave politicians and media figures who should have always been skeptical of government claims about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fictions created around Private First Class Jessica Lynch and Corporal Pat Tillman are crumbling, revealing the deeply immoral public relations efforts by a government bent on war and occupation.
Much came to light yesterday before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Jessica Lynch, the diminutive former supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company, remarked, “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend.” The government claimed that Lynch valiantly fought off Iraqi soldiers before being taken captive after her maintenance convoy took a wrong turn near Nsiriya in 2003 into an ambush. Television executives managed to turn the story into a television movie before the truth came out. The “story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting” was a lie, said Lynch. She never fired a shot.
There is much more to the story—and none of it makes the administration or the army look good. During the successful rescue effort, US Special Forces invaded the hospital where Lynch was being treated, brutalized the doctors and nurses, and damaged and destroyed valuable hospital equipment. There were no Iraqi military forces in the hospital, and everyone present in the hospital attempted from the beginning to cooperate with US forces. They had, after all, saved Lynch’s life and were providing her medical care. Shoshanna Johnson, an African-American soldier captured in the same ambush, received neither the publicity nor the awards Lynch received. Worse, Johnson’s disability pension was smaller than Lynch’s. Jessica Lynch is white. And on November 11, 2003, Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, received, allegedly from soliders, nude photographs of Lynch. To his credit, Flint locked the photographs away in a safe and has never revealed them publicly. Yet the army has never apologized to Lynch for this despicable attempt to harm her reputation nor, to my knowledge, were any soldiers reprimanded.
Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who left professional football to become an Army Ranger killed by his own troops in Afghanistan, condemned the Bush administration for portraying Tillman’s death as an act of heroism. Based on lies, Tillman was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Silver Star for valor. “A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation’s foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Kevin Tillman.
Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House committee, said, “We don’t know what the secretary of defense knew. We don’t know what the White House knew. These are questions this committee seeks answers to.” But we do know that soldiers and commanders connected with the Tillman case knew that Pat’s death was caused by friendly fire and that the family was lied to for several weeks about it. Four generals and five other officers are confirmed to have known about this. In fact, Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger Jr., head of the Army Special Operations Command at the time of Tillman’s death, knew the truth during a nationally televised memorial service for Tillman on May 3. Kensinger attended that service, but said nothing to correct the record. (Kensinger has refused to testify at the hearing.)
We also know that Army Specialist Bryan O’Neal, who was there that fateful day, wanted to tell Tillman’s brother, Kevin, what had happened but he was ordered not to by his battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Bailey. O’Neal was even threatened to keep quiet and statements attributed to him in the recommendation for Tillman’s Silver Star were not his own. Although persons connected with the case continue to claim there was no cover up, Thomas Gimble, Inspector General for the Pentagon, said he has been unable to determine who altered O’Neal’s statement.
Then there is the matter of the urgent memorandum Major General Stanley McChrystal (now Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal) sent to high-ranking commanders one week after Tillman’s death in which he gave the heads up that Tillman was killed by his own troops. One crucial aspect of the memo is that McChrystal urged commanders to relay this information to president Bush and the army secretary.
Surely, Rumsfeld knew about all this. As Kevin Tillman said, “It’s a bit disingenuous to think that the administration did not know about what was going on, something so politically sensitive.”
Everything the administration says is more than a bit disingenuous.