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January 31, 2005

UCSC lecturer debunks Iraqi refugee's tale of torture

By Tim Stephens

Sara Solovitch, a lecturer in UCSC's science writing program, was looking forward to working with a modern-day hero when she drove to San Jose last August for her first meeting with Jumana Mikhail Hanna.

Photo: Sara Solovitch

Sara Solovitch
Photo: Steve Fisch

In July 2003, the Washington Post had run a powerful front-page story about Hanna, an Iraqi woman who said she had endured torture and rape in an Iraqi prison in the mid-1990s.

Her harrowing story was cited in Senate testimony by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Hanna had been granted refugee status and resettled in San Jose.

Solovitch had just signed a contract to coauthor a book with Hanna about her horrific experiences under Saddam Hussein's regime. But Hanna's story soon began to unravel as Solovitch tried to confirm the details. In a lengthy article in the January issue of Esquire magazine, Solovitch describes how she gradually came to the realization that Hanna had fabricated the entire story and fooled everyone from the Pentagon to the Washington Post.

Since the publication of Solovitch's Esquire article, the Washington Post has published a report acknowledging that the original story was based on false claims, as well as an article by the Post's ombudsman about the newspaper's investigation of the story. In addition, Solovitch's debunking of the Post story has been covered by the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, and other media.

Solovitch, who lives in Santa Cruz and teaches a course on "The Science Profile" for the Science Communication Program, is a freelance magazine writer and former staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her stories have appeared in Esquire, Outside, Wired, Omni, Legal Affairs, and other publications, and she has won numerous awards, including the 2002 Outstanding Magazine Article by the American Society of Journalists and Authors.


Sara Solovitch's Esquire story

Washington Post story

Washington Post ombudsman's response

New York Times story

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