Jumana Michael Hanna was a poster girl for the ex post facto justification of the Iraq war. In July 2003, as the WMD hunt kept coming up empty and the Bush administration increasingly based its invasion on humanitarian grounds, Hanna surfaced to relate her harrowing tale about being imprisoned, raped, and tortured simply for marrying a foreigner—a man who she said was also jailed and brutalized, and later killed.
The Washington Post reported her claims. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz referred to Hanna’s ordeal in Senate testimony backing the war, saying she was offering “very likely credible information, information that is helping us to root out Ba’athist policemen who routinely tortured and killed prisoners.” The case fueled pro-war sentiment at websites like “Iraq Holocaust Files.” The Charleston Daily Mail hailed Hanna as “one of the first to name names and help allied authorities track down these criminals of this regime.” Bernie Kerik, then overseeing police training in Iraq, talked about visiting the prison in question after hearing Hanna’s claims. “It was sickening,” he said.
It was also, it turns out, probably untrue, the Post reports today. Peter Finn, the same reporter who told the initial tale, says evidence has surfaced that Hanna was thrown into jail for stealing money, not for marrying a foreigner, and that her husband is alive. “The Post was unable to independently verify or refute her allegations of abuse,” Finn reports, after noting that at least one doctor had raised doubts about her claims of mistreatment. Finn’s piece follows an Esquire piece exposing the flaws in Hanna’s story.
Now, the Washington Post wasn’t the only one apparently suckered by Hanna, but shouldn’t it have been more wary? After all, only a month earlier, the paper reported that its own April 3 story on the heroic exploits of POW Jessica Lynch was not accurate. While the April story said that Lynch “fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers,” the paper’s June 17 report acknowledged that Army officials believed that “Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed . . . She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed.” In the Post’s defense, the Lynch story was subject to fictionalization from the first reports of her rescue, when CENTCOM briefer General Vinnie Brooks told that media that the mission to retrieve her involved “fire fights.” Subsequent reports indicated that, in fact, there was no such enemy engagement.
The Lynch affair was a warning. And it wasn’t the first. The Hanna and Lynch tales recall an infamous incident during the buildup to the first Iraq war, when a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told Congress in October 1990 that invading Iraqi troops dumped newborn babies out of incubators. It later turned out the story could not be corroborated, the girl was the Kuwaiti ambassador’s kid, and the PR firm Hill & Knowlton had set up her appearance.
It’s weird that opponents of Saddam resorted to lies to make the case against a regime whose brutality was legendary and, in reasonable circles, not disputed. It’s even weirder that the press consistently has been there to trumpet the lies.