'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, January 20, 2005

American Dreams 

On Monday July 21st of 2003 the Washington Post ran a lengthy story, "A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror", documenting the torture and rape of an Iraqi Assyrian Christian at the hands of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The woman, Jumana Michael Hanna, told the Post she had been arrested for marrying an Indian man, had been bound to a bed and repeatedly raped for days, had been electrocuted on the genitals, had been beaten incessantly, had had cigarettes extinguished on her leg by laughing guards, had had dogs sicced on her in a small room, that her husband had been executed by a bullet to the head and that his body had been handed to her through a slot "like a piece of butcher's meat."

She became a cause celebre for neoconservatives eager to justify their pet project which had already gone awry. She was moved into the Green Zone; the Iraqi guards and officials that she fingered as her tormenters were arrested; and she was eventually relocated to America.

Wolfowitz told Hanna's story to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluding

There is a positive aspect in the distressing story of Jumana Michael Hanna, that is her courage in coming forward to offer U.S. officials what is very likely credible information, information that is helping us to root out Ba'athist policemen who routinely tortured and killed prisoners.

In the same testimony, Wolfowitz even mentioned that, according to Hanna, Uday Hussein "would often slip through the back gate at night to torture and abuse prisoners personally", a detail that hadn't appeared in the Post piece.

Hanna was a neoconservative dream come true -- she was also a very successful con artist who played a bunch of suckers for a new life in California.

The story was exposed a month ago in an Esquire piece "The American Dream" by Sara Solovitch. Solovitch had been hired to turn Hanna's story into a book, but became suspicious as her tales grew increasingly far-fetched: she now claimed to have been personally raped by Uday Hussein and to have witnessed dozens of murders, for example. When Solovitch fact-checked the story she found that the whole thing fell apart pretty quickly.

Today, the Washington Post ran what amounts to a retraction, a retraction written by the same journalist who wrote the original story. It turns out that Hanna's husband is not dead. It turns out that a medical examination conducted in 2003 had concluded that there was no evidence that she had been raped or tortured. It turns out that she hadn't been arrested for marrying a non-Iraqi but for conning those desperate to emigrate to Western Europe into giving her money for visas that they never received.

One wonders if the fact that today is coronation day has anything to do with the timing of this retraction. It's on page A18, by the way -- I wonder what page "A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror" was on?

The Post's tepid retraction concludes with a quote from Solovitch:

I went into this project anticipating that I would be working with a genuine hero ... 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 think it's pretty clear that she was a con artist not a pathological liar for two reasons: her skill at self-promotion and her apparent history as a smalltime grifter in Iraq. For what it's worth, I wish Jumana luck but I don't think she'll need it ... America is the land of con men. She has a bright future.

[hat tip to Pete Martinez for keeping me updated on this story]

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