THE RAPE OF THE TRUTH
Then, I went into a Bookstar store one evening and perused the shelves. I picked up the book Rape of Kuwait. This was a couple of years after the 1991 Gulf War. I was astounded. "How could anyone have published this rubbish?" I asked myself. The more I read, the more appalled I became. The book was poorly-written and laden with outright lies. Plus, many of the names given to supposed recipients of atrocities were pseudonyms. Acknowledgements of praise were given to proven frauds and instances that never happened were written as true. Plus, the book was printed on pulp paper, the kind used for dime-store novels. Further research showed that the book was a New York Times bestseller. I was aghast.
After seeing the travesty of The Rape of Kuwait, I kept my eyes open for further frauds, although it was not at the top of my priority list at the time. I assumed it must have been a one-off and left it at that. I did not know that its author, Jean Sasson, went on to have an incredibly successful career as an author.
Then, the buildup to the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq came. With it were all sorts of ludicrous books, feature magazine articles and outrageous allegations from US and UK politicians and media. Few seemed to even try to find the truth or become skeptical about what was being printed.
After scrutinizing all the lies before and after the March 2003 invasion, I decided to go back and research in-depth the mother of all lies that set the pattern for ensuing hoax books about Iraq: The Rape of Kuwait by Jean Sasson. When I began, there were snippets here and there about the bogus book, but no one seemed to tie them all together.
The Rape of Kuwait consisted of interviews conducted by an unknown writer at the time, Jean Sasson. The people she interviewed were supposedly victims of the August 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraq. Their stories depicted horror, torture and murder of Kuwaitis at the hands of Iraq soldiers. All those interviewed were given pseudonyms, supposedly for their own safety.
Sasson seemed to be an unlikely candidate for writing such a book. She had lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years and worked at a hospital. As incredible as it seems, she did not speak or read Arabic.
Now came the reality. The people she interviewed were sent her way by the Kuwaiti government, most of whom were in exile. No one checked to verify their authenticity. This was only one of a number of propaganda activities perpetrated by the Kuwaiti government. Nine days after the Iraqis crossed the Kuwaiti border, the Hill and Knowlton public relations firm, a shady organization occasionally used by US government agencies, such as the CIA, to conduct campaigns of deceit, created a front group called "Citizens for a Free Kuwait." Like many other sham organizations, the name sounds benign and humanitarian. However, the activities this group engaged in were far from those ideals. In the following three months, the Kuwaiti government channeled in excess of $11 million dollars through the Citizens for a Free Kuwait group. The only other income the group had was a meager $17,861, donated by 78 individuals. Plus, many other smaller groups were set up with various names.
October 10, 1990 was a day that, as stated by a former U.S. president, would "live in infamy." On that day, the world heard of Iraqi troops in Kuwait removing incubators from a Kuwait City hospital and shipping them to Baghdad. To add more shock value, the allegations stated that the Iraqi soldiers left the babies on the cold floor of the hospital to die. In one stroke, the U.S. had enough propaganda to paint Iraqis as barbaric less-than-human entities. The world was aghast at the actions of the Iraqi soldiers and government. The only problem was that none of the aforementioned atrocities occurred.
On that day, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) appeared on nationally-televised Today Show and alleged that Iraqi troops threw babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospital incubators and shipped the incubators to Baghdad, leaving the babies on the cold floor to die. Later in the day, a special meeting of the House Human Rights Caucus was held in Washington, D.C. Although this group sounds official, it was not. It had no part of US government activities. Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL) set up the group and both had free office space in Hill and Knowlton's Washington operation.
A tearful 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, named Nayirah, took the stand and told of seeing the Iraqi soldiers perform the inhumane actions. At the time, she said she saw 15 incubators taken away. In time, the number grew to more than 300 in statements of various politicians and US military leaders. No one took the time to travel to Kuwait and find that there were fewer than 30 incubators in hospitals in the entire country.
Everyone believed Nayirah. She was thought to have been a volunteer nurse, but some time later, her true identity was discovered: she was the daughter of the Ambassador of Kuwait to the US, Saud Bin Nasir Al-Sabah. Before Nayirah's testimony, Hill and Knowlton vice president, Lauri Fitx-Pegado, coached Nayirah for hours. Not one reporter was told this. In one day, Hill and Knowlton and the Kuwaiti government set up the scenario that would be the basis for Sasson's book, The Rape of Kuwait.
Sasson quickly took the interviews and looked for a publisher. She got a bite from a small firm, Knightsbridge Publishing, and after the company's agent rewrote and cleaned up some of Sasson's poor writing, Knightsbridge proceeded to publish it and try to get it out before the beginning of possible hostilities that could start on January 17, 1991 in Iraq. The book was released to the public in late 1990 and became an instant best-seller. But, what we saw wasn't real.
The sales figures included about 300,000 books purchased by the Kuwaiti government and each US soldier assembled in Saudi Arabia was given one to read in an effort to get them incensed about Iraqis.
Sasson was interviewed by many media outlets and publications. All of a sudden, this former hospital worker in Saudi Arabia who couldn't speak Arabic became a spokesperson for the Arab world and women's rights.
On January 17, 1991, bombs began falling on Iraq. A cease-fire was called on February 28, 1991. Then came all the accolades and celebrations in the US. Dignitaries from the US were invited to Kuwait on a "freedom flight" in March 1991 to celebrate Kuwait's "liberation." All expenses were paid by the Kuwaiti government. Jean Sasson was one of those invited.
Shortly after the book was published and the bombs started falling on Iraq, a few rumblings about the legitimacy of The Rape of Kuwait began to emerge. On January 30, 1991, the Orange County Register got involved with reporting about the plethora of books emerging about Iraq. The article, "Persian Gulf Books Storm onto Best-Sellers List," was written by Valerie Takaharma. She stated:
The report continued:
That last statement from Sasson is another swerve. Amnesty International did not document any cases. The group merely took the bait from the published propagandas and condemned the alleged actions in general without sending one person to Kuwait, or make one phone call, to verify the claims of the stolen incubators. A red-faced Amnesty International admitted it had been conned.
Within a month of the publishing of The Rape of Kuwait, several sources touched on whether the Kuwaiti government had anything to do with financing either the publisher or the author. Immediate denials from both sides came forth. Soon after, Jean Sasson and Knightsbridge Publishing parted ways. Lawsuits from both sides ensued.
John MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine, began to publish articles here and there about the entire debacle and who was behind the creation and financing of Rape of Kuwait. In 1996, he again brought up The Rape of Kuwait. However, for the first time, the subject of the Kuwaiti government paying Knightsbridge and Sasson was highlighted in more detail. MacArthur's article, "How Kuwait Duped The Times Best Seller List," went deeper into the finances of publishing the book and how the New York Times became a willing accomplice in promoting what MacArthur called, "Ms. Sasson's Shabby little tract." According to MacArthur, writing for the March 11, 1996 edition of the New York Observer:
There is now no doubt as to who paid expenses for Sasson and Knightsbridge to produce The Rape of Kuwait. Many people know that the bulk sales of the book to the Kuwaiti government were included in total book sales, making it a high-ranking book on various best-selling lists, but the Kuwaiti government also agreed to pay for the printing of one million books that Knightsbridge could use for general sale. Here's the two-page letter sent from the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US, the same man who allowed his 15-year-old daughter to lie to the world on October 10, 1990. I would think that any government official who allowed his minor child to participate in such a vile act should be accused of child abuse, but no one seemed to take that concept into account.
Of note on the following two-page agreement are parts four and seven. One tells of subsidizing Knightsbridge for printing costs not related to the sales to the Kuwaiti government and the other is adamant that no one other than the Knightsbridge publisher and Jean Sasson should ever see the contents. It ends with, " ,,, and this document and its content are not to be known to others."
Professor Doug Kellner of UCLA published an outstanding account of deceit of the media and the Kuwaiti government in producing the atmosphere that allowed the Gulf War to occur in his book The Persian Gulf TV War, published in 1992:
Then, Kellner brought up how the same theme was used against Iraq that had worked more than seven decades prior to galvanize public opinion about supporting war against a perceived enemy:
I recently corresponded with Professor Kellner about his knowledge of The Rape of Kuwait. He answered my queries by calling the book, "One of the biggest lies in history." These are strong words coming from one of the foremost media experts in the world.
Almost 23 years have passed since The Rape of Kuwait was published. The book is still available to buy today from various Internet booksellers. The back cover still unashamedly contains these words: "Infants were torn from incubators and left to die on hospital floors."
After the hoopla of the Gulf War began to subside, The Rape of Kuwait was mostly a footnote in history. But, Jean Sasson had other plans. She was contemplating writing anecdotes about Arab women. She discussed the possibility of writing a book to be finished in 1992 with her agent, Alysss Dorese. Sasson praised Dorese and spoke of their future long-term relationship. Eventually, Sasson pitched the idea of writing about a Saudi Arabian princess she met in 1985 and the pitfalls she endured in Saudi society. On May 24, 1991, she sent the following letter to Dorese:
Sasson then mentions information about other correspondence and ends the letter with, "Gotta dash! Talk to you soon. Three more pages to follow this."
Dorese was totally unaware that Sasson had already written a considerable portion of a book called Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. She also did not know that Sasson was seeking another agent at the same time she was sweet-talking Dorese.
In a discovery transcript from a court case brought against Sasson for plagiarism, she admitted:
Sasson did get a new agent, Peter Miller. It came as a shock to Dorese, who had worked on The Rape of Kuwait so it would be publishable. She went well beyond the normal duties of an agent. Coincidentally, Miller was once the agent for Monika Adsani and her manuscript titled Cinderella in Arabia long before he represented Sasson. A few years later, Adsani brought suit against Sasson and Miller for basing the main character in Princess on her own life. And, shortly after Princess was released, Sasson unceremoniously fired Miller. Two books and two former agents.
Miller got William Morrow and Company to commit to publish the book. This was Sasson's ticket to stardom.
The manuscript presented to Miller was well-written, yet Sasson was not a skilled writer. She employed Pat Creech, an outstanding editor and writer to work on the manuscript. In the above-mentioned court case, Creech at first said she did light editing and eventually changed her story and said she had more of a role in major work on the book.
One can tell a person's real writing skills by reading his/her personal messages and statements. If you go to Jean Sasson's webpage, you will see an incredible number of basic mistakes in the English language. She uses exclamation points liberally when they are wrong. Also, instead of italicizing a word she wants to highlight, she writes them all in upper case; something no legitimate writer would do or have his/her work accepted with such anomalies. Plus, in her real writing, Sasson lacks accuracy in historical and geographical information. For instance, she mentions a newspaper in the UK that wrote an article about her. The newspaper is The Guardian. Sasson called it a "London newspaper." It is not. The daily paper is in Manchester, not London. It is world famous and anyone who reads it knows it is not a London publication. At times, Sasson has written about the woman who sued her for plagiarism. She has called her a German, an Austrian and an Australian cook. The mistakes I've picked up from reading her personal statements are far too numerous for me to elaborate here. You may think I may be nit-picking, but for someone who is called a world-class writer by some, these mistakes are incredible. She has had the luxury of astute editors and authors working on her behalf. Once she acquired fame, it was easy to get people to reconstruct her writing because the public believes she is an excellent writer.
Princess was released in early 1992 and became an overnight sensation. The tales of "Princess Sultana" of Saudi Arabia riveted the readers to their seats. It had all the markings of incredible intrigue: murder, torture, male domination and other atrocities. In other words, it had everything that US readers would want to hear about Saudi Arabia's male-dominated society.
Not long after, some cracks began to appear. As in The Rape of Kuwait, Sasson did not use real names. She alleged that if she used the princess' name, her life could be in danger. Another problem was the language barrier: the princess spoke no English and Sasson spoke no Arabic. It is quite odd to have seen her mention to her former agent, Alyss Dorese that she may one day let the princess speak to her. There would have been the same language problem.
Then, more cracks appeared. Some of the information Sasson mentioned about Saudi society and culture were challenged by people who were aware of the social mores of the desert kingdom.
James G. Akins was the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1973 to 1976. He spoke fluent Arabic and was familiar with many countries in the Middle East. On August 30, 1995, he reported on Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia and Sasson's follow-up book, Princess Sultana's Daughters:
The report went on to list many anomalies, too many to include here. Most considered of basic mistakes that anyone with a cursory knowledge of Saudi Arabia should not have made.
On August 30, 1995, Dr. Jack J. Shaheen stated in an affidavit in the County of Beaufort, State of North Carolina:
Shaheen then continued to list many discrepancies.
After reading what other experts had to say about these books, I called my colleague, Professor Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University. He is a professor of religious studies and an Islamic scholar who has been to Saudi Arabia many times to attend conferences. I asked him to read Princess and give me his input about the religious statements made in it. About a week after he picked up the book, he returned it to me, again with many contradicting statements. For instance:
Despite all these mistakes, plus hundreds of others that have been pointed out by scholars and Arab nationals, Sasson still maintains that the character Princess Sultana is real, not fabricated. She has said that in time, she will reveal the princess' identity when it won't put her in danger. Sasson has repeated this promise at various times over the years. I would think that more than two decades would be sufficient. We all know that Saudi Arabia is not the most enlightened country on the planet, but in the past decade, it has tried to put on a more humane face to the outside world for political and business reasons. To think that outing the princess at this time would endanger her life is quite preposterous.
Jean Sasson has the effrontery to insult her readers with occasional statements on her webpage saying how she just received a message from the princess and she thanks all her fans. Again, how can Sasson communicate with her?
Eventually, Sasson wrote three books about the princess and her family, calling them the "Princess Trilogy." Not one has real names. I can't recall any author of merit who has written three "nonfiction" books without indicating the names of the people involved. Such a fishy aspect has gone virtually unnoticed.
Another mystery is, what happened to the diaries of the princess that Sasson says she used to write the book? Also, who translated them? When asked who had them in the plagiarism case brought against her, according to a discovery transcript, she stated, "No one. I intentionally destroyed my things after I completed the book, and Sultana, of course, took back everything that belonged to her." Sasson explained that she had 20 or 30 sheets of paper that belonged to Sultana that she returned, but she destroyed all the notes she had taken over the years or copied from the diaries. However, she has never revealed the name of the company that translated the alleged diaries that she said were written in Arabic and French.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Jean Sasson is not the only writer who tried to cash in by writing books that may be intriguing to the US public about the Middle East, yet were dubious in nature.
In 2003, Norma Khouri came out with a shocking account of murder in Jordan, called Forbidden Love, in which a friend was killed by a family member because she wanted to marry a man of a religion other than Islam. However, to Australian journalist, Malcolm Knox, something wasn't right. Khouri made many historical, geographical and cultural errors. He investigated it and published a scathing report that discredited the entire book.
For instance, Khouri had two children but said she was a virgin. Then, it was discovered that her account of being in Jordan for two years and running a beauty salon with her friend was bogus. When checked out, it was found that Khouri was in Chicago during that time. Plus, many cultural and geographic errors came forth. Khouri mentioned the River Jordan running through Amman. Unless the river drastically changed its course suddenly by hundreds of miles, this was in fact an outrageous geographical depiction. The River Jordan is far from Amman.
The publisher, Random House, admitted that it never checked any items for authenticity. There were red faces all around.
Now, let's look at the back cover for endorsements of the book:
There's Sasson's use of the word "true" again. Almost everything she writes or comments on has to include this word, even though if it is true, the word is not necessary. We'll give her a pass on incorrect noun/verb agreement in the first sentence.
Another horrible tale of atrocities committed by Palestinians, Burned Alive, emerged in 2003. It was written by a person using the pseudonym of Souad. To this day, no one knows the identity of Souad, but the book eventually went under scrutinizing and appeared to be the same mish-mash of half-truths and lies that adorned other books of the same genre: all Arabs were beasts who kept their women in slave-like conditions.
Thérèse Taylor is a renowned teacher of history at Charles Stuart University in Australia who quickly found many anomalies in the book. The heroine, Souad (a pseudonym, as most names in books of this kind, is used). She becomes pregnant and is sentenced to be burned to death by her family in an "honor killing." Miraculously, she lives through the ordeal and escapes her home country. There are various accounts of her injuries. Early publications of the book say that 90% of her body was burned. Successive printings changed that to 70% and then 60%. She speaks of taking a direct air flight from Tel Aviv, Israel to Lausanne, Switzerland. According to Taylor:
By 2007, Burned Alive had been universally discredited. But, guess who came to the plate to try to turn the tables on the critics who had verified the mistakes in the book? Of course, Jean Sasson was once again backing a fraud. On September 1, 2007, she wrote on Amazon.com, the bookselling website:
This was classic Sasson, denial and misuse of upper-case letters. And, her logic was skewed. In any argument about facts and proof, no one is supposed to prove a negative. It's up to the person to prove the positive with facts.
SASSON AND THE STARS
Don't get fooled by this headline. I'm not inferring that Jean Sasson's hobby is astronomy or that she has an affinity for Hollywood stars. She is a practitioner of astrology.
In a discovery transcript, Sasson mentioned her astrologer, Richard Billingsley of Tennessee. She admitted: "He (Billingsley) had three different groups of the book (Princess) that I had sent during the course of that summer when I was consulting with him about an agent, a new agent, and also about the book project, which is something I do with all my projects. I consult with Richard."
Sasson went on to describe the difference between an astrologer and a psychic: "Psychics just go by whatever comes through their heads. You ask questions, they tell you. Astrologers look at your time of birth, look at spiritual growth by stars, all sorts of things, and I believe that astrology plays a big role in your life's pattern." When asked if she consulted her astrologer for advice regarding the Princess manuscript, she said, "Yes, I did." When asked to elaborate what she discussed with Billingsley, Sasson stated:
It is quite humorous to hear Sasson's testimony about the differences between psychics and astrologers. She inferred that psychics were quacks, but astrologers were astute practitioners of giving advice. This assessment would be similar to one stating that Donald Duck was a fictitious character, but Mickey Mouse was real. Coincidentally, shortly after this statement, Sasson referred to Billingsley as "my psychic." She also admitted to using his services regularly since 1989.
Astrology, like psychic powers, is bunk, pure and simple. The US government officially dubbed it "pseudoscience." And, Islam threw it out the door at the beginning of the second millennium CE. It is odd to see Sasson cite astrology while putting on the illusion that she is knowledgeable of the Muslim world.
Many people think astrology is harmless. Millions of people look at the astrology columns in the morning papers while having coffee and have a quick laugh at their predictions. However, it can be dangerous and Sasson admitted she took the advice of her astrologer in making a choice for a new agent. Alyss Dorese, her original agent, had her life turned upside down by some quack in Tennessee. Astrology is not as benign as it is portrayed to be. Unfortunately, most daily newspapers devote more column inches to astrology than they do to science. It seems there's more money in it. Sad.
CONCLUSION (OF SORTS)
Jean Sasson has led a charmed career as a writer. She has dubious writing skills and is loose with facts. And, she's the only writer I have ever seen who writes books not using people's names or facts and calls them nonfiction. If she admitted they were fiction, there would be no argument and I wouldn't have had to take many hours to research her work and write this article. She has been exposed many times, but nothing stuck. She just keeps denying and continues on the same path. She does have many admirers, and reading some of the reviews of her books online and comments made on various websites, they are rabid when someone tries to bring up discrepancies in Sasson's work. So far, she hasn't suffered the same fate as Norma Khouri.
My biggest gripe with her work is that she was a catalyst for what Doug Kellner called, "One of the biggest
lies in history." This lie contributed to the deaths of many Iraqis and created many Iraqi widows and orphans. Over the
years, I've received many messages from Iraqis, both inside the country and those who were made refugees at the hands
of the US military telling me their sad and horrific stories. Each time, Jean Sasson comes to my mind.
In 2003, Sasson released Mayada: Daughter of Iraq:One Woman's Survival Under Saddam Hussein. It was another story of torture at the hands of Saddam. Sasson allegedly went to Iraq in 1998 so she could, according to her view, confront him about human rights in Iraq. She was given a translator, Mayada Al-Askari. After she left Iraq, she maintained that Mayada suddenly stopped writing to her. Then, Mayada finally contacted her and said she had been imprisoned and tortured. She fled Iraq. As soon as the book was released, many Iraqis, both inside and outside the country questioned its validity. There was a blurry line between fact and fiction. Sasson appeared at West Point Academy in October 2003 and spoke to some students. She bragged how she outwitted Saddam and said it was his time to go so women could be freed in Iraq. Looking at today's Iraq, that could be considered a huge joke if the results of the invasion weren't so devastating on Iraqi women. Plus, before the March 2003 invasion that she endorsed wholeheartedly, she predicted that the Iraqi people would welcome US troops as liberators. Maybe she received that prediction from her astrologer.
In 1995, Monika Pavlik/Adsani filed suit against Jean Sasson in New York for plagiarism. Her story is told in The Phoney Princess and can be ordered at http://www.amazon.co.uk/.