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Thursday, November 6

Lynch's neighbors weigh in on book's revelations

By Bob Withers | The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

The family has kept quiet, and to themselves, and many in Wirt County think they now know why.

Some think the sordid part of Jessica Lynch's story may be part of the reason why the family has been so reluctant to talk publicly and so eager to keep her out of the public glare.

``That may be what it's all about,'' said Debbie Hennen, Wirt County assessor and friend of the family. ``If she were my daughter, yes, I probably wouldn't have wanted her out of my sight. I could protect her. I would die before somebody got to her.''

``As a parent, you're going to do anything and everything to protect that child from any more hurt,'' Pam Nicolais of Elizabeth, W.Va., a third cousin to Lynch, agreed.

But then again, maybe it's something else - such as the book agents.

``At the homecoming game in September, she raised the flag,'' Hennen said. ``It took her 45 minutes to get from one end of the field to the other, with all of her friends greeting her. It was that way at the (Wirt County) fair, too. She was all over the place. But the closer we get to the book and the TV hoopla, she's just kind of disappeared - except that a lot of people have seen her shopping in Wal-Mart at midnight.''

Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who tipped off U.S. Marines about Lynch's whereabouts and precipitated her rescue, was unavailable for comment Thursday, but an Alexandria, Va., public relations firm released a statement on behalf of their client:

``Neither Mohammed nor anyone close to him has read Jessica Lynch's book,'' said Max Pulsinelli, an account executive with Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. ``We are not comfortable commenting on anything in a book we haven't read. Pfc. Lynch suffered unbelievable torture at the hands of a vicious dictator and was enduring pain Mohammed has witnessed time and time again throughout his lifetime.''

Pulsinelli added that al-Rehaief admires Lynch.

``She is a hero,'' he said. ``He sympathizes with what she has gone through. He hopes she continues the healing process in body and spirit. He knows they will meet when the right time comes, and he also wants her to know that if he had it all to do over again, he would do the same thing.''

The remarks were not news to Tom Kalil, assistant to the deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's farm loan programs and the attorney with whom al-Rehaief lived during his first six months in the United States.

``Though I had long ago been told that the Turkish press had reported Jessica's rape, Mohammed and I discussed this issue at great length and chose not to speak about it publicly out of respect to Jessica, and to preserve her privacy,'' he said. ``Now that I am told that she has made this fact and the supporting medical evidence known to all in her book, I would like to express my deepest sorrow that she suffered such brutality at the hands of Saddam's soldiers. I know that Mohammed and his family, while in my care, were constantly haunted by their memories of the atrocities they witnessed and the terror to which they had been subjected under Saddam's regime. I am personally thankful that God gave Mohammed the courage to assist in facilitating Jessica's rescue and we all pray that she will be able to fully recover.''

Meanwhile, news of the assault doesn't seem to have softened the attitude among some in the Tri-State that Lynch snubbed al-Rehaief when he visited Palestine, W.Va., on Oct. 27.

Hazel B. Damron of Fort Gay, W.Va., who criticized Lynch in a recent Voice of the People letter, said the news about the assault changes nothing.

``I don't care what happened to her,'' she said. ``Of course, I'm sorry it happened, but I still say she or someone from her family should have met with the Iraqi who risked his life to save hers.''

``I still think she should have made time for him,'' said Glenna Keisler of Huntington. ``What happened to her in that case had nothing to do with him.''