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Wolfowitz 'Saddam Torture Story' Falsified

Taipei Times | January 24 2005

FLASHBACK: When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators

Testifying before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2003 about the rebuilding of Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the story of Jumana Michael Hanna, an Iraqi woman who had recently come to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad with a tale of her horrific torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Hanna's tale -- more than two years of imprisonment that included being subjected to electric shocks, repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted -- was unusual in that she was willing to name the Iraqi police officials who participated in her torture, "information that is helping us to root out Baathist policemen who routinely tortured and killed prisoners," Wolfowitz said.

But Hanna's story, which 10 days before Wolfowitz's testimony had been the subject of a front-page article in the Washington Post, appears to have unraveled. Esquire magazine, in this month's issue, published a lengthy article, by a writer who was hired to help Hanna produce a memoir, saying that her account had all but fallen apart.

And on Thursday, the Post itself published a follow-up article saying that Hanna, who was granted refugee status by US officials on the basis of her claims of imprisonment, torture and sexual abuse, "appears to have made false claims about her past, according to a fresh examination of her statements."

The articles in Esquire and the Post concluded that none of Hanna's allegations about torture could be verified. Sara Solovitch, the author of the Esquire article, wrote that the law under which Hanna was supposedly imprisoned in Iraq never existed.

And the Post article, by Peter Finn, the correspondent who wrote the original article in 2003, quoted several of Hanna's in-laws as saying that Hanna's husband, who she previously said had been executed in the same prison where she was tortured, was still alive.

David Hoffman, the foreign editor of the Post, said in an interview on Thursday that the newspaper would likely continue its reporting on the story, including trying to determine how Hanna got refugee status and gained entry into the US.

"Clearly this is not the bottom of it," Hoffman said. "We did feel that it was time to publish what we found."

The apparent debunking of Hanna's story raises questions about her embrace by officials from the Coalition Provisional Authority, who in the summer of 2003 were eager to find Iraqis who would testify to some of the atrocities that the US had used as a reason to attack Iraq. People involved in the investigation of her story for the authority told Solovitch that the case was given high priority by top US officials.

Calls to Hanna on Thursday were not returned. She is currently living in Chicago, where she moved this month from Northern California. It was there that she spent several weeks talking to Solovitch, who had been recruited by a literary agent to help Hanna put together a book proposal about her life.

Beginning in August of last year, as Solovitch began to try to verify details about Hanna's experiences, inconsistencies began to appear. An Iraqi doctor who examined her at the request of US authorities discounted her story of rape and abuse, Solovitch reported. A National Guardsman who was assigned to investigate Hanna's claims of a mass grave in the yard of the police academy in Baghdad turned up some cow bones but nothing else. All nine of the men who had been arrested on Hanna's word had been released for lack of evidence, the Esquire article reported, with some of them being compensated for wrongful imprisonment.

Officials at the state department, the successor agency to the Coalition Authority in Baghdad, and the defense department did not return phone calls seeking comment on Thursday, which was Inauguration Day in Washington.

The Post article on Thursday said that Finn met Hannah in July 2003 at the Human Rights Society of Iraq in Baghdad and later accompanied her on a tour of the police academy that had served as a prison under Saddam. He interviewed her three times before the publication of the initial article, "in the company of an Iraqi interpreter and a Post correspondent who spoke fluent Arabic," the Post said.

While Hanna was apparently imprisoned for some period, the charge is unclear. The Post quoted a cousin of Hanna's husband as saying "he believed she was jailed for cheating people out of money on the promise of getting them visas."

The Esquire article quoted Hanna as saying that her mother had arranged her arrest -- in order to try to put a stop to a marriage that the mother opposed -- on charges of prostitution, theft, spying and plotting to overthrow the government.

Hoffman, the Post editor, said that the newspaper was not aware of the potential problems in her story until the Esquire article appeared, but that the newspaper's original interviews "were quite extensive, and we did do some due diligence with her family."

In retrospect, he said, it was an error not to include a disclaimer in the original story noting that the Post was unable to independently verify her allegations of abuse.

"I would point out that she said one set of things to us and then she said another set of things to the author" of the Esquire article, Hoffman said. "If you look at those two sets of things, they didn't overlap much."