Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A lying Iraqi for Bremer

pv vivekanand

An Iraqi woman who became a celebrity in the US because of what she described as her decade-long suffering that surpassed the ordeal of any Iraqi under the Saddam Hussein regime has been reportedly proved to be a liar, catching the Bush administration redfaced and fumbling for explanations.
It is the same woman, Jumana Mikhail Hanna, who is in her mid-30s, who was once described by Iraqi newspapers as US overseer Paul Bremer's secret lover and who was taken to the US, along with her two children and her mother Jeanne d'Arc, a few days before Bremer himself left Baghdad after handing over administration of the country to the interim government on June 28, 2003.
Her falsehood was exposed by renowned American freelance writer Sara Solovitch, who was assigned by American publishers backed by the Bush administration to write her story into a book that was supposed to become the best account of how Iraqis suffered under the Saddam regime.
"Hanna became a symbol of survival, of the indomitability of the human spirit in one of the most repressive states in modern history," Solovitch recalls. The writer quotes Donald Campbell, a New Jersey superior court judge who served as the US-led coalition's top judicial advisor in Iraq as saying: "I've been in seventy countries and taken testimony about many atrocities—including right after My Lai. And I have to tell you that I found her story to be the most compelling and tragic I've ever heard."
Solvovitch worked on the project since July 2004 and found out after four months that Jumana, an Iraqi Christian, was lying outright when she told Bremer and other Americans, including senior military officers and civilian officials, of how she was punished by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son, for having dared to decide to marry a man of Indian origin, Haytham Jamil Anwar, son of Indian immigrants who had come to Iraq along with thousands of Indians during the British occupation of 1919 to 1932.
Haytham Jamil Anwar was uneducated and was poor. He was not accepted an Iraqi and Jumana's choice was considered shameful, she told the Americans. Her mother opposed the marriage, but the two got married anyway on Aug.15, 1993, she said. However, Jumana said she was in trouble because, as she claimed, Saddam had made it illegal for Iraqi citizens to marry non-nationals and she wanted help from Uday Hussein in this matter.
But when she took an appointment and went to see Uday Hussein a few weeks later, she told everyone, she was arrested for violating the law, taken into a cell at what she called Al Kelab al Sayba — Loose Dogs Prison — in Baghdad where she was repeatedly raped by prison guards, hung from a rod and mercilessly beaten during her imprisonment for the next three years. "Please," she said she begged her guards. "I'm like your sister."
Solovitch writes recalling from what Jumana had told her:
"After seven months, three men appeared at Jeanne d'Arc's mansion with a handwritten letter from (Jumana) Hanna, asking her mother to sign over her house in order to secure her release. Jeanne d'Arc agreed, eventually signing away two houses. Still, Hanna wasn't returned. For 19 months, the men drained Jeanne d'Arc of all her remaining wealth until, homeless, she was forced to lodge with a poor Muslim man who opened his door in an act of charity. By the time Hanna was released in 1996, her head shaved, Jeanne d'Arc didn't even recognise her.
"Anwar, too, was a changed man. He had been sodomised and beaten, his nose had been broken, and he walked with a heavy limp. He had become a heavy drinker who now beat his wife regularly. For the next seven years, Hanna walked the streets of Baghdad, begging for food and drink. The couple had two children, but because the marriage remained unsanctioned by the state, they were considered illegal aliens. In January 2001, Hanna sent her husband to the Ministry of the Interior to obtain the documentation required for Sabr and Ayyub to attend school. It was a bad idea. Once again, Anwar was arrested and returned to the very cellblock where he was previously held. This time, he never came home."
After the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Jumana hit the headlines when the Washington Post published a heartrending front-page story about her under the headline "A lone woman testifies to Baghdad's terror."
The story was touted by American conservatives as "justification alone for Bush's Operation Iraqi Freedom."
And it was because American concern for her safety — since she spoke out — that Bremer moved her to the famous Green Zone in Baghdad along with her mother, 72, and two children, a seven-year-old daughter, Sabr, and a five-year-old son, Ayyub, They stayed there until late June 2004 when they were driven to Jordan and then flown to the US where she was given shelter.
Bremer and other American officials met her and questioned and then moved her to the "Green Zone."
During further questioning, she identified her jailers with such point-blank accuracy that occupation forces ultimately arrested nine Iraqi officers, including a brigadier general, on her word alone.
Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was in Iraq as senior policy advisor for Bremer, assigned two military investigators to help her prosecute her tormentors. Their investigation lasted four months. Kerik even went to see for himself the prison where Jumana said she was held —  "to be physically there, to look at the barbed wire that was hooked into the trees, to think about the stories she told and then actually see the devices they used...," he said at that time: "It was sickening."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also toured Loose Dogs Prison and testified about Jumana before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Her courage in coming forward to offer US officials what is very likely credible information," he said, would help the coalition "root out" Baathist killers.
After she and her family were moved to the US, Solovitch regularly met them in order to write a book on her until she discovered that all the stories that Jumana recounted were lies. Yes, she had been in prison for a few days but that was because her mother opposed her marriage and wanted to frighten her, but the man was Iraqi and had nothing to do with India, and there was no Saddam law against Iraqi women marrying foreigners either.
Solovitch writes: "Family members told me that Hanna had gone to prison but that the real reason bore no resemblance to what she told authorities, the Post, or even what she wrote on her application for asylum. She had been jailed, she said, for marrying an Indian, violating an Iraqi law that forbade marriage to a non-national without government permission. In fact, there was never any such law. While intermarriage may have been discouraged, it did not require special approval, a point confirmed for me by a specialist at the Library of Congress."
Solovitch says she developed the first doubt about Jumana when she found that the woman did not have enough understanding of English although she claimed she was an Oxford graduate.
Since then, Solovitch cross-checked with Oxford — and was told they had no record of any Jumana Mikhail Hanna. Since then, everything that Jumana had been telling the Americans unravelled as outright lies, says Solovitch in an article appearing in the January issue of Esquire.
The marks that she alleged were signs of the torture she suffered in prison were discounted. All the names she gave as her fellow inmates turned out to be false and non-existent. And then it turned out that husband is a tramp in Baghdad and is alive.
The nine people that Jumana identified as her tormentors have been released and financially compensated for wrongful imprisonment.
"Far from being a story about the indomitability of the human spirit, Hanna's tale now seemed to open a window on the coalition's naivete — the willingness of its leaders to believe almost anything that fit their agenda," according to Solovitch.
Solovitch says she confronted Jumana and her mother after she learnt the truth about the lies that the Iraqi woman had been spreading.
"Yes, she now admitted, she had lied about the reasons for her imprisonment," Solovitch says. "It was Jeanne d'Arc, determined to teach her daughter a lesson and put a stop to an ill-advised marriage, who had arranged for her arrest on seven charges, including prostitution, theft, spying for the British, and plotting to overthrow the government."
Finally, the writer says, she asked Jumana why she lied about going to Oxford.
"For a second, she looked confused, and I thought, yes, finally, she was going to come clean," Solovitch recalls. "I went to Oxford!" she screamed. "Oxford College of Accounting on Oxford Street in London. It is right next to Louis the Five Hotel. I'll take you there!"