Features

November/ December 2013 The War of Rape

What happened to Jamie Leigh Jones in Iraq?

By Stephanie Mencimer

Franken refused multiple requests to be interviewed, but his staff told me that he originally got interested in the Jones case because of the media coverage, showing just how complete the media-political feedback loop can be. (And he did, in fact, offer to write the introduction to Jones’s book.) Franken and his staff did not do any independent investigation of her case. While he declined an interview, Franken provided a written statement saying, “We may never know the full truth about what happened to Jamie Leigh Jones. But the most important thing to me is that she got her day in court, as will countless victims of sexual assault, because of my legislation.”

Many feminists and other supporters continued to defend Jones after she lost at trial, especially after KBR took the aggressive move of suing her for legal costs and pushed her into bankruptcy. Jennifer Abrahamson, the ghostwriter who was working with Jones on her book, sat through a couple of days of the trial while Jones was on the stand and told me afterward, “All the evidence presented to me is truthful. This is not the first time we’ve seen this, not the first time somebody who has been raped has not been a saint in the past, has not had other sexual encounters, had a drink…. I definitely believe she was raped or violated in some way.”

She said the book she still hopes one day to write would explore the way KBR tried to discredit Jones because of her sexual history. Just because someone was “naughty in the past, doesn’t mean they weren’t raped,” she explains. Abrahamson believes that the Jones saga is “about much more than Jamie herself. It’s really about an individual up against an entity much more powerful than herself.”

Jones’s lawyer Todd Kelly, who invested more than $150,000 and thousands of hours of his time in her case, says, “I will go to my grave believing that Jamie was raped by Charles Bortz. That’s not what the jury got to hear. Jamie’s motives were always to make change for the good. This was a cause that I was proud to be part of because we were trying to make positive change for the good.”

Since the trial, Jones’s once-bright media future has dimmed considerably. Gone are the book and movie deals. In October 2011, Jones filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying the $145,000 she owes KBR for its legal costs. But she didn’t come out of the whole ordeal penniless. Two weeks after she lost the civil trial, she won $175,000 from her workers’ compensation claim, money set aside in an annuity that was protected from creditors in her bankruptcy filing.

She has continued teaching. I caught up with Jones one night in the early spring of 2012 at the University of Houston’s Northwest campus, where she had just finished teaching a class on leadership in organizations. The classroom was in a charmless suburban office building that used to house Compaq Computers.

Glamorous for a professor, Jones stood out among the casually dressed students, in a formal ivory suit with matching satin pumps and pearls that seemed better suited for Easter Sunday. Her hair was swept up in the kind of tight twist favored by Sarah Palin, and she sported heavy, dark-framed glasses.

Jones was reluctant to talk to me. Her family, she said, had been through enough. But she eventually relented, and talked for nearly two hours about everything, from what life has been like since the trial to the reasons she sees for the adverse jury verdict. She finds a lot of blame to go around. She thinks she didn’t get a fair trial because the judge refused to allow Bortz’s mug shots into evidence, and because some of her witnesses weren’t allowed to testify. She thinks her lawyers were overmatched and that they failed to coach her properly for her time on the witness stand. “It was a David-and-Goliath thing. To be honest with you, I had attorneys that were small potatoes, and they had these lawyers that were sharks. I was eaten alive in there,” she says. “If you go against KBR, they could make anybody look crazy…. They wanted to give that impression to people and to the jury that I’m just a liar. And that’s not true,” she insisted.

For instance, Jones says, she does not have bipolar disorder, as KBR suggested. Rather, the antiseizure medicine she was given, which can be used as a mood stabilizer, was for seizures. She also said there was no merit in KBR’s assertion that her treatment for STDs had caused the fissures in her genital area. “I was healed before I went. I wouldn’t have gone to a war zone with fissures and crap. I mean, who does that?” she said with a chuckle.

When I asked her about some of the more damning material in the case, including her previous rape allegations, she declined to discuss them, offering me a media-savvy “No comment.” I wondered how she could explain that not a single person in Iraq gave testimony that supported her version of events, either during the trial or to State Department investigators. She responded, “I think they had each other’s backs. They had forty-eight hours to talk about what they’d say to authorities, forty-eight hours to figure out what they were going to say.”

As for her extensive medical history, Jones concedes that she went to the doctor a lot, especially when she was younger. “I did have a very protective mother. If I bonked my head I would be rushed to the hospital. A lot of that was due to overprotectiveness on her part. But she was just trying to be a good mom.” Jones insists that before she went to Iraq, she was perfectly healthy, and that it was the KBR recruiter who urged her not to disclose her past illnesses on her employment form.

Jones said she had hoped that the jury would be able to see beyond her previous sexual and medical history to focus on what happened in Iraq. “I was hoping that when I laid it all out there, with the jury, that they would be able to see that I do have warts—literally—and yes, I wasn’t the ideal victim for this to happen to, but it happened. I have children now. I’m married. I just thought they would see that.”

She has tried to move on, after many years of doing little but concentrate on her legal case. She’s focusing on her two young daughters. When I spoke with her in Houston, Jones told me then that she was still running her foundation, which sexual assault victims would still contact for help, and she said she does her best to aid them. But the Web site for the foundation has since vanished.

Stephanie Mencimer is a reporter at Mother Jones and a contributing editor at the Washington Monthly.

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