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Photograph by Dave Lepori

Biter

Tortured?

Jumana Hanna's tale of abuse in Iraq falls apart

By Dean Hinton

I WANTED to believe Jumana Hanna. I really did. Her tales of torture and humiliation, strapped to a tree in the yard of an Iraqi prison, her private parts zapped with electricity by prison goons, her ability to stare down her captors once the liberators arrived, her eventual escape to America, to Los Gatos—when Metro freelancer Sheila Sanchez pitched the story, it sounded like a remarkable recovery from the depths of hell.

I didn't even mind when Jumana and one of her counselors, Karim Kahwaji, raised holy hell after the story ran because we declined to publish Jumana's bank information for soft-hearted readers who might want deposit checks directly into her account.

Jumana's story came with the highest credentials. The Washington Post wrote a story about her a year before Sheila stumbled upon the story in a Los Gatos church, where Jumana was seeking assistance.

The basic story, which Sheila outlined in an Aug. 25 story we titled "Escape From Iraq," was that Jumana married a non-Iraqi citizen—supposedly taboo—and was sent to a prison run by Uday Hussein, where she was tortured so badly for two years that she wrote prayers on a wall in her own blood. Eventually released in 1996, Jumana lived to see her husband killed when he contacted Iraqi authorities about paperwork for his children.

In July 2003, Jumana was embraced by the American military for singling out her captors. They arrested nine guards and sent Jumana to safety in America, with her two cute kids and quiet mother, supported by various churches and nonprofit organizations. The handouts were welcomed. After years of torture, Jumana couldn't work. Hers was the kind of story that seemed to justify America's chaotic invasion of Iraq. All was set for a mainstream life in America—until Sara Solovitch, a veteran reporter, contracted to write Jumana's odyssey.

As Solovitch dug deeply into Jumana's story, she found gaping holes in facts and credibility, which she published in Esquire's January issue. It began with Solovitch's hunch that, despite Jumana's insistence, Jumana had not graduated from Oxford University. The lies quickly unraveled from there. Jumana's husband was not dead. The "bodies" buried in the prison yard turned out to be cow bones. The nine prison guards were released. Jumana had been sending money home to a boyfriend.

I visited Jumana over the weekend to see how she would respond. She answered the door in pajamas—elfin, bright-eyed, eager to please. She said she didn't know about the Esquire article. When I handed her my copy, she kept repeating that Solovitch didn't have permission to run photos of Jumana's two kids. She said she couldn't comment because she hadn't read the story and asked me to contact George, one of her handlers (who, contacted, said, "You know now as much as I do").

I asked her if she intended to have someone else write her life's story. Of course, she said. But I'm sure it's not anything I want to read. I already know how the story will end.


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From the December 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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