On March 23, 2003, a US battalion was ambushed near Nassiriya in Iraq. Nine soldiers were killed, and 19-year-old Private Jessica Lynch was captured and taken to the local hospital, where it was alleged she was beaten and interrogated.
US Marines stormed the hospital eight days later, after a tip off from an Iraqi lawyer, and rescued Lynch. They captured dramatic footage of the rescue, which was then broadcast to the public. Lynch was celebrated as an all-American hero, and her rescue paraded as the first of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam.
But the rescue turned out to be an elaborate propaganda ploy.
Accounts from eyewitnesses and doctors at the hospital presented a very different story, in which Lynch was given the best treatment possible in the midst of a war, and was shielded from the Iraqi military. It was also claimed US forces knew Iraqi soldiers had fled the area the day before the raid, but had staged it anyway, firing blanks for the cameras.
Lynch was unconscious in the immediate aftermath of the ambush, but in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News, she said:
“From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing… I’m so thankful for those people, because that’s why I’m alive today.”
Before criticising the military’s glorification of her rescue:
“They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. Yeah, it’s wrong,”
On the surface the showpiece operation could be seen as simple propaganda of the deed – a statement from the US military showing the capability of their Special Operations teams, and refusal to leave any man, or woman, behind.
But staging the rescue of a patient, who the hospital authorities had attempted to return to the American forces anyhow, runs deeper. It was a deliberate attempt to serve the ends of the US military by deceiving the American public, and media. The Iraq Invasion, which had only just begun, had been bombarded by public criticism, and propaganda campaigns such as this one were necessary to justify the incursion.
Footage showing the saving of Private Lynch was taken and distributed by the military, making this an example of white propaganda. But, though the source was clearly declared, the manifold deceptions were not, so it remains an example of propaganda.