The Man Who Never Was
The NYT recently corrected its account of torture as described by "the man in the hood" at Abu Ghraib. The man it turns out, wasn't the man in the hood at all. One of the interesting things about New York Times retraction is that it is behind the registration firewall. But via Captain's Quarters we have this excerpt:
A front-page article last Saturday profiled Ali Shalal Qaissi, identifying him as the hooded man forced to stand on a box, attached to wires, in a photograph from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal of 2003 and 2004. He was shown holding such a photograph. As an article on Page A1 today makes clear, Mr. Qaissi was not that man.
The Times did not adequately research Mr. Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph. Mr. Qaissi's account had already been broadcast and printed by other outlets, including PBS and Vanity Fair, without challenge. Lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib vouched for him. Human rights workers seemed to support his account. The Pentagon, asked for verification, declined to confirm or deny it.
Despite the previous reports, The Times should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military. A more thorough examination of previous articles in The Times and other newspapers would have shown that in 2004 military investigators named another man as the one on the box, raising suspicions about Mr. Qaissi's claim.
The Times also overstated the conviction with which representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed their view of whether Mr. Qaissi was the man in the photograph. While they said he could well be that man, they did not say they believed he was.
Here's the Washington Post account of the fiasco, which is not behind a registration firewall.
It was a dramatic front-page story to match an infamous photo: the chilling shot of an Abu Ghraib prisoner, hooded, standing on a box, electrical wires attached to his outstretched arms. ... But after questions were raised by the online magazine Salon, the Times acknowledged last night that the story was flat wrong. The prisoner in the photograph was not Qaissi, who has belatedly admitted that to the newspaper.
The Post article suggests that the Army had already told the NYT that their alleged man in the hood wasn't the right one, but the NYT proceeded on the strength of assurances from Amnesty International.
The Army, however, says that only one man was mistreated that way, a prisoner whom guards nicknamed "The Claw," according to the Times report. ... But the paper said government records made available by Amnesty International show that Qaissi was in U.S. custody at the time and that the organization, along with Human Rights Watch and attorneys involved in a class-action suit over the abuses at Abu Ghraib, "believe that he is the man in the photograph."
Only he wasn't the man in the photograph. The media outlet that did get it right was Salon. Their source? The US Army.
Days after the Times story was published, Salon reported that Qaissi was not the man in the picture and that it was actually "another detainee, named Saad, whose full name is being withheld by Salon to protect his identity." The magazine cited Army documents and confirmation by a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.
What actually happened to the man in the hood is described by the International Herald Tribune:
On May 22, 2004, The Times quoted the testimony of a detainee, Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh: "Then a tall black soldier came and put electrical wires on my fingers and toes and on my penis, and I had a bag over my head. Then he was saying, 'Which switch is on for electricity?'" ... But Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, said that the military believed that Mr. Faleh had been the only prisoner subjected to the treatment shown in the photo. "To date, and after a very thorough criminal investigation, we have neither credible information, nor reason to believe, that more than one incident of this nature occurred," he said. Mr. Qaissi's lawyer, Ms. Burke, countered, "We do not trust the torturers."
Apparently the NYT "man in the hood" had been traveling the world regaling the Arab world with his stories of American atrocity.
With a thick shock of gray hair and melancholy eyes, Mr. Qaissi is today a self-styled activist for prisoners' rights in Iraq. Shortly after being released from Abu Ghraib in 2004, he started the Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons with several other men immortalized in the Abu Ghraib pictures. Financed partly by Arab nongovernmental organizations and private donations, the group's aim is to publicize the cases of prisoners still in custody, and to support prisoners and their families with donations of clothing and food. Mr. Qaissi has traveled the Arab world with his computer slideshows and presentations, delivering a message that prisoner abuse by Americans and their Iraqi allies continues. He says that as the public face of his movement, he risks retribution from Shiite militias that have entered the Iraqi police forces and have been implicated in prisoner abuse. But that has not stopped him.
The NYT's man in the hood recently had recollections of what "happened" him. The International Herald Tribune notes:
A lawsuit Mr. Qaissi joined, filed on July 27, 2004, also made no allegation that he was shocked with wires or forced to stand on a box. That allegation appeared only on an amended version of a complaint he later joined, filed last month, which said he had been forced to stand on the box and fell off from the shocks of the electrocution: "They repeated this at least five times."
Mediacrity notes that the NYT "still doesn't acknowledge the distinct possibility -- if not probability -- that nothing this man said was true and, again, obscuring his motive, which was clearly monetary. He is, after all, suing the government."