Back on July 21, 2003, the Washington Post (the link is to Genocide Watch, but it’s the same story) published the dramatic account of Jumana Michael Hanna, who claimed to have been tortured and raped by Saddam’s regime while her husband was executed.
Hanna’s story was received as fact, and was even repeated in congressional testimony by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Today the Post calls her a liar and a con artist.
An Iraqi woman who was granted refugee status in the United States after telling The Washington Post and U.S. officials that she had been imprisoned, tortured and sexually assaulted in Iraq during the 1990s appears to have made false claims about her past, according to a fresh examination of her statements.
Jumana Michael Hanna also claimed that her husband, Haitam Jamil Anwar, had been executed during the rule of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Her testimony led to the arrest of several Iraqi security officials. Based on her testimony, U.S. officials took her into protective custody in Baghdad and then to the United States.
She was the subject of a lengthy article in The Post in July 2003. Later, a writer who was interested in collaborating with Hanna on a book concluded that she was not telling the truth. The writer’s article appears in the January issue of Esquire magazine.
In recent interviews in Baghdad, Hanna’s in-laws — including her husband’s brother, uncle and cousin — all said the husband was alive and had left Iraq several months ago. They also said that although Hanna was imprisoned in Baghdad in the 1990s, it was not for the reason she told The Post.
In July 2003, a Post correspondent, photographer and interpreter asked her to accompany them to the police academy. She appeared to know the grounds well, pointing out certain landmarks that she had described in interviews. While at the academy, she appeared to be deeply traumatized. Photos taken of her at the academy showed her wailing and on the verge of collapse. American officials took her into protective custody shortly afterward.
Toma Kalabat, a cousin of Hanna’s husband, offered a different account in an interview with The Post. He said that Hanna had been imprisoned but that he believed she was jailed for cheating people out of money on the promise that she could get them visas to immigrate to Western Europe. Kalabat and other family members said Anwar, the husband, had also been imprisoned.
In a separate interview this week in Baghdad, a priest who knew Hanna and spoke on condition he not be identified by name said she had conned people out of money on the promise of getting them visas. The priest was contacted at the suggestion of Hanna, who said he could verify her story.
For the past three weeks, Hanna has continued to insist in telephone interviews that she told the truth.
She said Faisal had moved to Jordan and could corroborate her story. Jordanian government officials checked all border crossings at the request of The Post and said no such person had entered Jordan since 2000. Faisal works as a parking lot attendant in Baghdad, where a Post correspondent met him Wednesday.
Hanna also directed a Post correspondent to one and then another graveyard between Baghdad and Baqubah where she said her husband was buried. He was not interred in either place, a Post correspondent found.
She then directed a Post correspondent to a man who she said had transported her husband’s body from Baghdad to the graveyard. That man died 10 years ago, but his job has been assumed by his son, Toma Kalabat, Anwar’s cousin.
Kalabat said Anwar was alive and directed a Post correspondent to his brother, uncle and mother. The brother and uncle confirmed that Haitam Jamil Anwar was alive. Kalabat said that Hanna remains in touch with him.
After arriving in California, where she was first resettled, Hanna met Sara Solovitch, the author of the Esquire article, and the two agreed to work on a book about her experiences. However, her claims began to become more and more outlandish, and Solovitch began to doubt her, according to the Esquire piece.
Hanna told Solovitch, for instance, that she attended Oxford University in Britain, although she could speak very little English; she had told The Post that she had taken business courses in Baghdad. She told Esquire that she had a bizarre, direct encounter with Uday Hussein, although she had told The Post that she never saw or heard him. She also told Esquire that other female prisoners were killed in a gruesome fashion. In interviews with The Post, she spoke of beatings and rapes of female prisoners, but not of killings.
“I went into this project anticipating that I would be working with a genuine hero,” Solovitch said in an e-mail to this reporter. “Now, I believe that she is at best a pathological liar, at worst a highly intelligent con artist. Jumana took advantage of all of us.”
I’m not about to claim that Saddam never tortured anyone or that one of Georgie’s favorite casus beli (rape rooms) did not exist. But this incident reminds me of the Kumati teen known as “Nayirah” who told Congress prior to the first Bush War on Iraq that she had witnessed “Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where . . . babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”
The incubator story was repeated ad naseum by Poppy Bush. After the war it was revealed that “Nayirah” was the 15-year-old daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s Ambassador to the United States and Canada, and that she was in fact in Washington when the “events” she recounted were supposed to have taken place.
Fool me once…