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BBC correspondent defends Lynch documentary

BBC correspondent John Kampener:
BBC correspondent John Kampener: "It is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible."

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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(CNN) -- The U.S. military has denied misrepresenting the facts surrounding the rescue of Pfc Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital April 1 to make the mission appear more dramatic, as alleged in a BBC documentary. CNN anchor Leon Harris talked to John Kampfner, the veteran BBC correspondent behind the documentary, about the allegations.

HARRIS: Is it your belief right now based upon your investigation that this rescue of Lynch was in any way a staged event and not real?

KAMPFNER: No. First things first. Credit where it is due. The Americans had a legitimate right in getting Lynch out of the hospital in Nasiriya. They had no way of knowing what her fate was, whether she was being well or badly treated.

So, it is entirely legitimate for any country to want to get its own out as quickly and as safely as possible.

Where we took issue with the official version as put out by Central Command, in Doha, [Qatar], to the world's press, was the way the Americans did it. They went in, all guns blazing, helicopters, a great, heroic rescue mission.

The contention of the Iraqi doctors we spoke to was, well, actually they didn't need to do that, they could have come and got her. And in fact, one of the doctors said the day before the Americans conducted this very elaborate rescue mission, they had actually tried to get Lynch to the Americans, by putting her in an ambulance, taking her to the front line. In the course of that journey, according to the doctors, that ambulance came under fire from American forces, and they had to take her back to the hospital.

HARRIS: Our own reporters have reported that story. John Vause, our reporter who was over there embedded for a while there with the troops, filed a report on that incident with the ambulance. And we've also seen that report elsewhere, as well. We've also gone to the Pentagon to get a response to your documentary last night. They're saying they're sticking by the information [Central Command] provided.

What I'm very interested in is a couple of things that were in your report. You got a quote here from some of the doctors that were there at the hospital. I'm going to read the transcript of it. "It says like a film in Hollywood, they cried go, go, go. They shot with guns, and blanks with bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions, and break the door. We were very scared." Are you saying that you believe [the] Iraqi doctor's assessment that the U.S. troops there were using blanks?

KAMPFNER: Well, that is his contention. What we did, what I did when I went to the Pentagon and spoke to its No. 2 there, Brian Whitman, we said, OK, we have one story, two different versions. Let's cross-check the information that the Iraqi doctors have given against the official U.S. version.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued in a commando raid.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued in a commando raid.

For example, what kind of injuries did Lynch sustain in the hospital? Was it true that she received bullet and stab wounds as a result of the Iraqis? He said, well, the truth will come out at some point in the future. In other words, he didn't engage in that.

Second question was, did the Americans come under fire from the Iraqis during the rescue mission? Again, that's the kind of holding answer we got from him.

The main point we said to them was, OK, there are two versions. There are several different allegations, several different interpretations of this story.

Instead of all of us relying on your five-minute, very professional, very carefully edited film, which was immediately transmitted from Central Command to the world's broadcasters, why don't you give everybody what's known in the profession as "the rushes"? Give everybody all the unedited film, the real-time film, as shot by the U.S. military cameraman who was with the rescue mission, and that will put everybody out of all questions of doubt. They declined to do that.

HARRIS: Let me ask you something else. You spoke with a number of British authorities and officials there, who were raising questions of their own about the way the U.S. briefings actually presented information there. What have you learned, if anything at all, from the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair about what he thinks happened during this incident? Is there any concern in British officialdom whether or not what we saw was something that was not necessarily what [happened]?

KAMPFNER: Well, I mean, it must be said the British are no more angels than the Americans when it comes to putting out certain messages in the war. The British were worried about the Lynch episode, but they saw this more in general terms. They were worried about the entire U.S. media operation.

The man behind the scene sent a long a letter to Blair's head of strategy, Alex Campbell, setting out in quite considerable detail his misgivings about the way the Americans conducted the whole media operation from Doha.

At the same time, in our film, the British military spokesman, who figured very much in BBC, CNN and all international broadcasters' coverage of the war, told us on camera that he was deeply unhappy with the American media handling, and he said to us, there were two different styles of media management. There was the American one and the British one, and I was pleased to be part of the British one.

And that to me, that's a pretty damning indictment.

HARRIS: It remains to be seen whether it will be seen that way here on this side of the pond. John Kampfner, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

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