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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Give us the truth, not the hype

By David Shapiro

After the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon and Bush administration hyped the capture and rescue of Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch as a symbol of American grit, righteousness and heroism in battle.

As public opinion now turns sharply against the Bush policy in Iraq, the Lynch saga has become a different kind of symbol — yet another embarrassing example of official misinformation that's characterized this war from the start.

Lynch, a 20-year-old supply clerk, was captured by Iraqis March 23 when her convoy was attacked after making a wrong turn. Eleven Americans were killed, and Lynch suffered severe injuries. She was rescued nine days later from an Iraqi hospital.

Media reports fed by Pentagon puffery depicted Lynch as a Ramboesque warrior who went down firing at enemy troops until she ran out of ammunition, taking knife and bullet wounds in the process. Her rescue was a full-out commando raid under cover of darkness, with cameras rolling like a Hollywood thriller.

Reports of Lynch's heroism soon came under suspicion, and she finally debunked the myths herself in an interview this week promoting her new book.

The heroic accounts were "made-up stories," she said.

Her injuries occurred in the crash of her Humvee and not in the battle, in which she said she fell to her knees in prayer and never fired a shot.

Iraqi defenders had left the area before her rescue, and the retrieval could have been accomplished with far less drama. Lynch criticized the filming of her rescue for propaganda purposes. "They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff ... it's wrong."

It again raises the question of why the Bush administration has been so shy of the straight truth in selling this war of ever-shifting political justifications to the American people.

The administration's claim that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed immediate threat to the United States proved false when occupying U.S. troops found no such weapons. Nor did assertions of an active Iraqi nuclear program bear out.

The revised justification that we needed to free Iraqis from an oppressive regime ran into trouble when many Americans balked at spending billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq when we can't afford to repair our own rotting infrastructure and schools.

The new line is that it's better to fight terrorists in their own backyard than in U.S. cities.

This actually makes some sense. But if it's why we went to war, why weren't we prepared to fight such a conflict instead of being surprised daily by the strength and tactics of insurgents?

Bush isn't the only one ducking the straight truth. Democratic critics avoid a full debate on Iraq in favor of carefully massaged appeals to targeted constituencies.

Even the newly candid Jessica Lynch still suffers convenient memory lapses, took her sweet time in setting the record straight and finally did so only after getting a $1 million book deal.

In his latest defense of the war, President Bush says it's about building a beacon of democracy in Iraq that will improve life throughout the Middle East and diminish anti-U.S. hostility.

This might have merit, but if it's the reason we went to war, why weren't Americans told the full cost beforehand?

Democracy thrives only when everybody has access to accurate information and the best analysis so we all can participate in coming to a reasoned decision.

We've not nearly met this standard in Iraq.

How can we build true democracy in the Middle East if we're not practicing it at home?

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.