Abdulhadi Hairan’s Aug. 29, 2010 Huffington Post blog post titled “Is Time’s Aisha Story Fake?” issued a serious charge of fraud and mistaken identity. Hairan claimed that Aisha, pictured above, is really a woman he met in 2007 named Nazia. He provided photographs to support his claim and argued that Time‘s controversial cover story on Aisha was fake.
Teenaged Aisha’s striking image was spotlighted this year as U.S. media outlets, beginning with the Daily Beast, reported her nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban. Her story has also been reported by CNN, the Vancouver Sun and ABC News, among others.
“I must conclude that the Taliban story of cutting off the woman’s nose and ears as told by CNN and Time is false,” Hairan wrote.
We looked into Hairan’s charge that Aisha and Nazia are the same woman — and that Aisha’s story was fake — to see if Hairan’s claim was correct. But, we soon discovered that there was no support for this serious charge of fraud. After we contacted Huffington Post to ask if they would run a correction and they reviewed our evidence, they subsequently removed the post and posted an editor’s note.
Is Nazia the Same Woman as Aisha? Methodology:
iMediaEthics first contacted Hairan and, throughout a series of e-mails with the blogger, we asked him to support his claims and for further information. We compared Hairan’s photos of Nazia and photos of Aisha published by Time, CNN and others.
After researching media reports about Aisha, we contacted the three organizations that are reportedly sponsoring Aisha — Women for Afghan Women, the Grossman Burn Foundation, and MADRE. We also sought out the medical and military personnel interviewed in reports as having treated Aisha at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan.
The general narrative for Aisha’s story follows: Aisha was married at a very young age. She ran away from her husband’s home. She was caught, and as the story goes, her nose and ears were cut off as punishment. Her husband and brother-in-law maimed her, and she ran to a family member’s house. Her father brought her to the U.S. military base for medical treatment.
Comparing Nazia and Aisha’s Photos
iMediaEthics compared images of Nazia and Aisha to determine if they were the same woman, as Hairan charged. Upon a cursory comparison, the women are not the same. Nazia’s septum (nose cartilage) and part of the nostril are more intact when compared to Aisha’s nose where what is left of her septum is only visible in front view. All photos of Aisha show less nose cartilage that iMediaEthics has reviewed.
Not only is Nazia’s skin darker, but her eyes are lighter. Aisha’s mouth turns down at the corners and her chin is more defined.
The key differences are the moles and freckles on the face. Look at Nazia’s chin and in between her eyebrows. Aisha’s skin doesn’t feature any freckles or moles in any photo that iMediaEthics has seen. Aisha also has a scar below the bottom right corner of her nose, prominent in the Time cover.
Is iMediaEthics Right that HuffPost’s Aisha Story was Wrong?
Hairan, an Afghan journalist and research analyst currently based in the Netherlands, blogged that Aisha’s much-publicized story is fake and that she is really a woman he met in 2007 named Nazia.
Hairan explained that he met Nazia three years ago when she was 17 (and, thus, would be 19 or 20 now). According to Hairan, Nazia was injured then on the first day of “Eid ul Adha, an Islamic ritual of sacrifice.” Hairan stated that Nazia was injured by her husband, according to Nazia herself and the police, and that he met her in the hospital.
Even though their names are different, suggesting these are two different women, Hairan asserts that his Nazia and Time‘s Aisha are one and the same woman.
So, beyond a physical comparison, what proves that Aisha is or is not Nazia?Hairan’s evidence for his serious charge on HuffPost was a 2007 blog post he wrote and four photos of Nazia from 2007 (here). He also cited a story on the BBC’s website in Pashto language about Nazia’s case (here; no Google Translate available though for Pashto to English). Basically, Hairan’s support only proved that a woman named Nazia exists who has a similar, but different injury. It doesn’t, however, prove that Nazia and Aisha are the same woman.
Women for Afghan Women dispute Hairan‘s Claims
Aisha, who is currently on the East Coast undergoing preparations for her facial reconstructive surgery, has been sponsored by Women for Afghan Women and the not-for-profit Grossman Burn Foundation, a group of plastic surgeons founded by plastic surgeon Dr. A. Richard Grossman. (The Grossman Burn Foundation features Aisha’s case in its electronic press kit here, noting that the foundation took her case in Aug. 2010.)
Women for Afghan Women is a nonprofit “grassroots civil society organization dedicated to securing and protecting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls.”
iMediaEthics fact-checked Hairan’s claims with the Women for Afghan Women, who with Grossman Burn Foundation, is paying and raising funds for Aisha’s surgery and care. We asked if they had any comment about Hairan’s accusations and if Hairan’s claims had any legitimacy.
Women for Afghan Women rejected Hairan’s claims and told iMediaEthics that the women are two different people.
“I’ve seen his photos. I know about the case. Aisha is NOT Nazia. These are two different people,” Women for Afghan Women’s executive director Manizha Naderi told iMediaEthics via e-mail (emphasis original). She explained that “Nazia still lives in Afghanistan” in another shelter, and that a simple comparison indicates that Nazia and Aisha are two different women.
iMediaEthics asked Naderi how old Aisha is. According to Naderi, via e-mail, Aisha is 19 and was born in March 1991. Hairan’s Nazia, who was 17 in 2007, couldn’t have been born in 1991. She would have had to have been born in 1989 or 1990. Therefore, they couldn’t be the same women.
According to Naderi, after being injured, Aisha went to her father’s father-in-law’s house. He took Aisha to her father, who then took her to the American military center “with a raw wound.”
Slightly adding to the confusion, she explained that Aisha went by the assumed name Nadia — which is close to the name Nazia — in the first Daily Beast article, dated Dec. 2009. Naderi wrote that her organization has “had no contact with Nazia” and that she knows “about it from the ministry of women’s affairs. It happened in 2007.”
Additional Evidence: U.S. Air Force Verifies Treating Aisha in 2009
In addition to the information about Aisha’s identity from Women for Afghan Women, the U.S. Air Force also verifies that they treated Aisha in 2009 – not 2007.
The Daily Beast, Time, and other media outlets reported that the U.S. military was instrumental in helping Aisha in 2009. We used the information to independently confirm with medical personnel that the woman named Aisha was injured last year – not three years ago, as Hairan claimed.
In the Dec. 2009 Daily Beast article, U.S. Air Force Major Dr. Jeff Lewis, pictured below, is reported to have met Aisha, who was brought to Forward Operating Base Ripley in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan by her father. Lewis helped treat Aisha, according to the Daily Beast.
iMediaEthics asked Lewis via e-mail if he could confirm with fair medical certainty that Aisha’s wounds were fresh in 2009 when he treated her. U.S. Air Force press secretary Vicki Stein told iMediaEthics via e-mail on behalf of Lewis, emphasis ours:
“Absolutely. There is no question that the wounds to Aisha (whom we referred to as Bibi) were new wounds that occurred from traumatic injury likely within a 24 to 72 hour time frame prior to her arrival at our facility. If she had sustained a prior injury 2 years before, this was never relayed to me. Regardless, even if she had had a prior injury, the wounds we saw were fresh wounds with exposed cartilage, mucosa, hemorrhage and clot.”
Hairan’s Admissions Via E-mail to iMediaEthics : At first, Aisha and Nazia are the same.
Hairan explained in both his 2007 blog post and his 2010 Huffington Post report that he encountered the 17-year-old Nazia in a hospital in Qalat just after her husband mutilated her in the domestic dispute. Hairan wrote for the Huffington Post:
iMediaEthics asked Hairan by email for more details about how and why he is so sure Nazia and Aisha are the same woman. (Emphasis ours)
iMediaEthics Asked for Correction, HuffPost Removes Blog
We wrote again to Hairan Oct. 27 asking about how his blog and its claims ended up on the Huffington Post’s site. He didn’t respond to that e-mail. We again wrote to Hairan on Nov. 21 asking if he intended to post a correction either on his blog or on the Huffington Post’s site.
As a reminder, Hairan had gone from saying definitively “I concluded that [Aisha] is the same woman” as Nazia to “May be they are not the same woman.”
We also told Hairan that the U.S. Air Force informed iMediaEthics that Lt. Col. Jeff Lewis verified that he encountered Aisha with raw wounds in 2009. We let Hairan know our deadline — Nov. 23, and that we intended to publish Nov. 24. (We ended up holding this story’s publication as we were still waiting for factual information and comment.)
Hairan quickly responded to that e-mail on Nov. 22, telling us “No, I am not going to change anything in my HuffPost post.” He claimed that his post “was a question” and that his “points are clear.” He also told us again that he hadn’t been “able to do research or do some follow-up work on the incident.”
iMediaEthics replied to Hairan, asking for him to explain several points — including his e-mailed claim that his Huffington Post article wasn’t definitive. We noted that the only question or expression of doubt was in the headline of the story, not in the body of the story’s text. We also questioned why he didn’t include in his blog post that he didn’t research or verify his claims.
In a response just twelve minutes later, Hairan stated “Once the circumstances allow me, I may research about it and write another piece.” But, he didn’t address our further questions.
We contacted Mario Ruiz, Vice President of Media Relations for the Huffington Post, asking if the Post intended to publish a correction and asking about the fact-checking process for Huffington Post blogs not written by Huffington Post staff. We spoke with Ruiz on the phone Nov. 23 and offered the information we learned through our fact-checking.
We were surprised to receive an e-mail from Hairan Nov. 24. He wrote informing us that his blog post had been removed from the Huffington Post:
“Finally I know that your purpose of writing to me was not for making any report, but removing the post from Huffington Post. It is done as you wanted. The Huffington Post editors removed my post. I have posted something about this whole issue on my blog www.abdulhadihairan.com”
We responded to Hairan, informing him that we were working on a report, but had delayed publication as we were still awaiting fact checking information on Thanksgiving eve.
Hairan’s blog summarized his Huffington Post definitive claim that the women are the same. “I carefully read all the stories, compared the photos and concluded that it was the same woman. I wrote a blog post about the whole thing and posted it on Huffington Post,” Hairan explained about his original story. He added that iMediaEthics had contacted him asking questions about his post.
“Initially I thought she was asking the questions for some kind of report, but at the end she started demanding me to run a correction on Huffington Post.”
That is, of course, a misleading statement by Hairan. In our e-mails we clearly stated who we were, and we didn’t “demand” a correction. (See a link to our e-mail exchange with Hairan here, with e-mail addresses and phone numbers redacted.) Instead, we asked Hairan, throughout our e-mails, for evidence and support for his claims. We presented him with the evidence we found which we believe had proved his claim false. With that and his changed stance via e-mail that he wasn’t sure if the women were the same, we asked if he would post a correction.
Hairan wrote that he “immediately” responded letting the Huffington Post know that iMediaEthics had been e-mailing him asking for more information about his blog post. Hairan wrote:Hairan himself stated that he told the Huffington Post they could remove his post. He said that Huffington Post’s managing blog editor e-mailed him “saying that my claims about Time’s Aisha story were unsubstantiated, and if they don’t hear from me within 24 hours, they will be ‘forced’ to replace the post with a correction.”
“I told him that, in my post, I had provided a link to my 2007 story and Nazia’s photos, to a BBC Pashto report, and reasons why I doubted the story. I asked them if there was any pressure from somebody to remove the post. If that was the case, they could remove the post altogether. They did that without a reply to my question.”
The Huffington Post had replaced Hairan’s post with the following statement:
“Editor’s Note: As is our policy, when the accuracy of the claims made in this post was called into question, we asked the author to substantiate them. He was unable to, so we have removed the post from the site. ”
We e-mailed Ruiz of the Huffington Post asking about this. He responded:
“The post was removed, as you noted. Our policy is that we give our bloggers 24 hours to substantiate the facts in dispute. That’s what we did with Mr. Hairan. When he was unable to provide backup, we removed the post from the site and replaced it with the following Editor’s Note:”
Part II of our Special Investigation is coming soon….
Update: 12/15/2010 11:00 AM EST : Minor line edits made.