Correction to This Article
A March 18 Style article on the New York Times's misidentification of Ali Shalal Qaissi as the Abu Ghraib prisoner photographed in a hood while standing on a box incorrectly said that the unidentified Iraqi in the photo was dubbed "The Claw" by prison guards. It was Qaissi who was given that nickname.

Times Says It Misidentified Iraqi as Hooded Prisoner

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 18, 2006

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.

He is Ali Shalal Qaissi, the New York Times said last Saturday, and the Iraqi told the paper that his wounds are still raw.

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 Times did not adequately research Mr. Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph" and "should have been more persistent in seeking comment from the military," the paper said in an editor's note.

Susan Chira, the Times foreign editor, said in an interview earlier this week that Salon had "raised legitimate questions" about the newspaper's story. "Any time you talk to someone like this, you worry: Are they telling you some kind of story?"

In a story published in today's editions, Qaissi is quoted as saying in a tearful telephone interview that he was photographed in a similar position. "I know one thing," Qaissi told the Times. "I wore that blanket, I stood on that box, and I was wired up and electrocuted."

The Army, however, says that only one man was mistreated that way, a prisoner whom guards nicknamed "The Claw," according to the Times report. Further undercutting Qaissi's account, the Times reported, is that he never claimed to have been the man under the hood in the first months after his release from Abu Ghraib or in a July 2004 lawsuit that he joined.

In last Saturday's Times story, written from Amman by staff writer Hassan Fattah, the 43-year-old Qaissi was quoted as saying: "I never wanted to be famous, especially not in this way." The paper reported that Qaissi has a slight limp and a mangled hand -- an old injury that became infected by his shackles -- after his six-month imprisonment at Abu Ghraib in 2003 and 2004, and that he is now a prisoner advocate who uses the hooded image on his business card.

A U.S. military spokesman would not comment to the Times, citing the Geneva Conventions' rules against disclosing the identity of prisoners. 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."

In today's report, however, the Times said: "Evidence suggests that he adopted the identity of the iconic man on the box, the very symbol of Abu Ghraib, well after he left the prison."

Qaissi, who had been a neighborhood official in Saddam Hussein's government, has been touring the Arab world and delivering computer slide shows about the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the photographs of which became a global embarrassment for the U.S. military after they were obtained by several news organizations.

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.

Salon Editor Joan Walsh said her organization raised questions after obtaining 279 photos taken inside Abu Ghraib along with other Army documents. "We thought, gee, let's check and see how this lines up with the documentation we had, and it really didn't," Walsh said. "We knew who the Army said that particular prisoner was," and it was not Qaissi.

The Times was hardly the only news organization to name Qaissi as the hooded prisoner, although its profile -- headlined "Symbol of Abu Ghraib Seeks to Spare Others His Nightmare" -- gave him considerable prominence. Vanity Fair, the PBS show "Now," Der Spiegel and the Italian news media have all identified Qaissi as "The Claw."

"We did not present this as a scoop," Chira said. After careful checking, "we came up with a lot of people who believed he was this guy" in the photo.

Walsh credited the Times for its response to Salon. "As a Times subscriber, I was happy they moved to at least try to correct the record so quickly," she said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company