Stranger Than Fact....
By: Judith Weizner
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, May 25, 2004
A 36-year-old Iraqi immigrant has won yesterday's Powerball Lottery, bagging a jackpot of $104,567,000. "Abu Ghraib," whose name was Hassan Muhammed al-Tikriti before he came to this country last year, claimed his money this morning on the steps of the State Capitol in Hartford.
Mr. Ghraib's route to the United States was not very different from that of many other recent immigrants. A freedom fighter in Iraq, he was taken prisoner in 2003 and was incarcerated at the prison whose name he now bears.
"Those were the worst days of my life," he recalls, speaking through an interpreter. "We endured the most terrible humiliations you can imagine. Women guarded us. They saw us naked. There is nothing worse. Even when Uncle Saddam made us eat glass splinters he did not humiliate us in this way."
The humiliation proved so traumatic that as soon as he was released Mr. Ghraib began to seek ways to leave his beloved country. "There were pictures. Even though my face was not shown, my mother said anyone could identify me from the shape of my right leg. It was impossible for me to remain in my country. But I had no way to leave except to cross the border into Syria. That is a very long walk and I was afraid the Americans would see me and take more pictures."
Afraid and ashamed to leave his mother's house, Mr. Graib became adept in the use of the family computer and eventually established a connection with the Foundation for the Abused of America's Twelfth War of Aggression (FAATWA). Through FAATWA, a California foundation established in 2003 by financial wizard George Tsuris, Mr. Ghraib learned that he was eligible to sue for reparations for the torture he endured at Abu Ghraib prison.
But getting reparations proved more difficult than it had at first seemed. "They said I would have to sue the president," he says softly, the furrows in his brow reflecting the fear that almost led him to drop the suit before it was filed. "Such a thing is unheard of in my country. I was very afraid, even though my friends at FAATWA were very kind and reassured me every day." Indeed, FAATWA gave Mr. Ghraib more than reassurance: It provided a lawyer to handle his case on contingency and flew him to Washington for the trial.
Because Mr. Ghraib's lawsuit against the Bush family was the first to arise from the war, no precedents had yet been established and Mr. Ghraib lost the first round in court when he was not allowed to include the president's daughters, Jenna and Barbara, as defendants.
"At the time I could not understand this decision," Mr. Ghraib said. "In my country, when the father is guilty of a crime his whole family is punished -- severely. I was outraged that these two harlots would escape justice. I considered becoming a shahid in the courtroom, but my lawyers talked me out of it. They told me to be patient. And they were right. The daughters of iniquity will reap justice in the future, as soon as Shari'a law has been established, Allah's name be blessed."
A more serious problem arose when Mr. Ghraib's lawyers were nearly unable to convince their client to expose his leg in court. "I could not bear to be subjected to further humiliation just to prove something to this court of monkeys," he said.
Although he finally agreed to expose his leg to the jury, the identification presented a thorny problem since the all-male jury agreed that there was nothing outstanding about Mr. Ghraib's leg and Mr. Ghraib had refused to allow his mother to be flown to Washington to explain how she had been able to recognize her son from the picture. "Women have no place in the courtroom," Mr. Ghraib said. "Unless they have committed adultery. Anyway I did not think the infidels would ever believe that a mother could recognize her eighth son just from seeing his right leg. In my country everyone knows American mothers never see their children."
But Mr. Ghraib's lawyers were resourceful, ultimately convincing the judge to allow Mr. Ghraib's sixth brother to testify in his mother's place. Although at first the judge ruled against the substitution, he reversed himself when Mr. Ghraib's attorneys pointed out that failure to respect a practice common in a foreign country would be grounds for an appeal that would undoubtedly be upheld by the Supreme Court. "Of course, my brother was able to prove that it was my leg in the picture," Mr. Ghraib says with obvious satisfaction.
The jury awarded Mr. Ghraib $24 million. After paying his attorneys he was left with just enough money to settle in the working-class neighborhood in Queens where he currently lives with his mother, seven brothers and twelve sisters. He says he will use a portion of his lottery winnings to buy a bigger house. He has earmarked the rest to augment the endowment of the Astoria School of Chemical Arts, which is expected to open in September.
"Winning the lottery has made me open my mind to certain ideas," he says with a smile. "I used to hate this country. I did not grasp that it might be possible to hate something while enjoying some of its, err, side benefits at the same time."
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