DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- In July 2003, The Washington Post published a heartrending front-page story of an Iraqi woman, Jumana Mikhail Hanna, under the headline "A lone woman testifies to Iraq's order of terror," telling how she was falsely arrested, tortured and raped.
Jumana said she was forced to watch her husband's dead body in her cramped jail cell. The story turned Jumana into a living symbol of Saddam Hussain's horror show in Iraq. During her incarceration she witnessed, among other things, many female prisoners being tortured to death, then buried in a mass grave outside the prison.
After the fall of the regime, The Washington Post reporter accompanied Jumana on a tour of the prison named Al Kelab Al Sayba, or Loose Dogs, turning her into a bona fide hero. Paul Wolfowitz -- the United States deputy secretary of defense, a champion and architect of the war in Iraq -- used Jumana's compelling story. Altogether, a dozen professional U.S. investigators -- including doctors, psychiatrists, police detectives and L. Paul Bremmer, the former American proconsul in Iraq -- signed off on Jumana's assertion she was jailed because she married a man whose non-Iraqi origins displeased Uday Hussain, Saddam's slain elder son.
Some investigators were dramatic in their own testimony. "I've been in 70 countries and taken testimony about many atrocities ... and I have to tell you that I found her story to be the most compelling and tragic I've ever heard", asserted Donald Campbell, a New Jersey superior court judge who served as the coalition's top judicial adviser and who was one of many eager-beaver American investigators looking into Jumana's story.
Alas, this week an extensive article in Esquire magazine, published in the January 2005 issue, reveals that the entire story of Jumana, from start to finish, is a total fabrication.
There was no dead husband, just a boyfriend who participated in the fraud. She was jailed, it turns out, for prostitution and only for a few weeks after her own mother complained her behavior was embarrassing, asking a police officer to teach her a lesson. According to the Esquire account, there was neither torture nor any physical signs of it, but the Iraqi doctor who examined her was fired by occupation authorities for saying so.
Some of this stuff is better than fiction. According to the Esquire article "The American Dream," Jumana told one therapist that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, met her on the tarmac in Los Angeles and presented her with a $20,000 check, which, she then said, Catholic Charities -- her sponsor in California -- promptly confiscated.
The story turned out to be pure fiction when the therapist called the governor's office to confirm it. Esquire says that several of Jumana's therapists speaking off the record concluded that she is delusional. Yet this was not enough to stop the process. Yet no one went on the record as her stories grew into legend.
Her claim to hold an accounting degree from Oxford University turned out to be absurd as no such program exists at Oxford. She continues to send her boyfriend hundred of dollars of American money collected in sympathy with her suffering by church communities in America.
Jumana, it turns out, sprung her fairy tale upon enthusiastic American investigators and a gullible reporter as she was installed in comfortable quarters in one of Saddam's air-conditioned palaces while she fabricated her yarn week after week. She said the weeks spend there were great, and they "treated me like a princess." She received lavish attention from Bremmer, who ordered his investigators to get the story out of her and to the American public.
Then she was flown with her two children to California at U.S. government's expense, where she now resides part of the time commuting to Iraq. Esquire says her phone bill tops a thousand dollar per month as she keeps calling the boyfriend.
In Arabic, the names of her children, Sabr and Ayoub, would immediately raise a red flag leading anyone to wonder if the woman is normal for thus naming her children. The names come from a well-known tale about patience, hardly appropriate as a source for naming kids. Yet even as her story began to crumble over the past few months, Jumana continued to demand and obtain money, taking The Washington Post article to church groups and presumably other reporters while American authorities did nothing to stop the bleeding.
Indeed, one question that pops to mind is how supposedly sophisticated American investigators could fail to spot a delusional and manipulative woman. Do they know so little about Arab reality that they cannot differentiate between thousands who really suffered under Saddam and one who is such a fake? Could it be that her simple-minded story was like dialing in "Instant Suffering" as easily as instant coffee -- too good to resist?
The answers are distressing, as is the process of self-delusion in which the American administration has engaged. For example, how can any investigator of even minimal talent, including police detectives, fail to dispute Jumana's fanciful claim to be a graduate of Oxford University even though she could hardly speak with them in proper English, let alone write it? How can a reporter from a reputable American newspaper fail to check facts with Iraqi interpreters who would have spotted the con job easily? It makes one wonder about the veracity of American press reporting from the Arab world.
Equally amazing is how cynical and devious those American architects of the Iraq war are. People like Bremmer and Wolfowitz are far too smart to buy into such lightweight stories, especially as they have access to thousands who really were tortured.
Tragically, such behavior negates the good purpose of American enterprises everywhere and leaves those Iraqis who suffered years of abuse under Saddam feeling they are, once again, being manipulated and abused.
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group. He can be contacted at email@example.com
This essay first appeared in Gulf News.
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