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The Gross National Debt

Friday, November 17, 2006

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and ePluribus Media)

I did a diary search for the last month to see if anyone had written about what happened to Cyrus Kar, an Iranian American who went to Iraq to film an historical documentary.  I didn't find a specific reference, but apologies in advance if this has already been diaried.

If you don't know Kar's story, it's both shocking and chilling and exactly the reason our new Congress has to conduct oversight activities on the conduct of the administration in the prosecution of the so-called "War on Terror".

No boogeying this time - step somberly over the bump.

I heard the story first this morning while I was heading to a meeting and was listening to CNN on my Sirius radio.  It was covered on Anderson Cooper 360 last night as well, and that's where I found the transcript below.  All emphasis is entirely mine.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cyrus Kar is an Iranian American who went to Iraq last year to film a historical documentary. It had nothing to do with the war. But just days after arriving, his trip took a stunning turn. Karr landed at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison where he says U.S. troops called him the American terrorist.

CYRUS KAR, FILMMAKER: I could hear them in what must have been their standard mantra, which was, you F-ing terrorist, you're here to kill Americans. You f-ing terrorist.

KAYE: So how did this Los Angeles filmmaker, who's lived in the U.S. since kindergarten, this Navy veteran, end up a suspected terrorist?

Kar says his taxi, driven by an Iraqi, was stopped at a checkpoint. The car's trunk was searched, and Kar, his cameraman and the driver were arrested for plotting to build roadside bombs.

KAR: They found three dozen washing machine timers.

KAYE (on camera): Did you know those were in there?

KAR: No.

KAYE: Did you know what they were being used for?

KAR: No.

Ok - So Kar, an American of Iranian descent, is traveling in an Iraqi taxi with his cameraman.  When stopped, US officials discover items in the trunk widely used by terrorists to construct and detonate IEDs.

KAYE (voice-over): Washing machine timers are widely used by insurgents to trigger IEDs on roadsides. In time, Kar says his taxi driver would admit the timers were his.

But when Kar was handed over to U.S. forces, he says his hands and feet were bound and he was left to bake for hours in a cage in 120-degree heat. He remembers a hood over his head nearly suffocated him.

(On camera): Did you think you were going to die there at that point?

KAR: I remember I kept telling myself, stay awake, you won't die today. Stay awake.

KAYE (voice-over): Kar says he showed U.S. troops his passport and his veterans card, but they still took him to Abu Ghraib.

After Abu Ghraib, Kar says he was thrown into solitary confinement for two months at the same prison as Saddam Hussein. If Kar's story is true, why would the U.S. treat one of its own citizens this way?

Erm... could it be because the administration basically instituted any anything-goes policy towards suspected "terrorists", one that promoted "hold them, abuse them, torture them, and find the facts later" (if at all)?

MARK ROSENBAUM, CYRUS KAR'S ATTORNEY: Saddam Hussein received more due process than Cyrus Kar did.

KAYE: The ACLU's Mark Rosenbaum represents Kar in a lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking military officials. They say Rumsfeld's replacement will also be added to the suit.

The lawsuit claims the U.S. government deprived Cyrus Kar of his constitutional rights and violated the Geneva Convention.

ROSENBAUM: But holding people incommunicado, in the hell hole places like Abu Ghraib, that's not acceptable. And that's Constitution 101.

KAYE: A spokesman for coalition forces says, "Kar was treated fairly and humanely, consistent with the standards set by the Geneva Conventions." But Rosenbaum says Kar passed a lie detector test. And after all, the taxi driver did admit the washing machine timers were his. Still, he says, Kar was refused a lawyer.

(On camera): While Cyrus Kar was being interrogated in Iraq, he had no idea he was also being investigated back here at home.

In a midnight raid, FBI agents turned his Los Angeles apartment upside down. They confiscated two computers, credit card statement, phone records and airline tickets. None of it provided any evidence to warrant keeping him in Iraq.

Also, Kar says he was held for 55 days, 53 in solitary confinement. In fact, 49 days passed before he even had a hearing. Why did it take so long to free an innocent American?

See my comments above.  Cyrus Kar is emblematic of a flawed policy that trashes the Constitution and Geneva Conventions and assumes guilt without any particular zeal to determine the truth.  It's deplorable and unforgivable.

Does a lawsuit like this, though, really have any legs? I mean, you think about suing Don Rumsfeld, General Casey, do you really think you're going to get somewhere?

ROSENBAUM: The government is saying that what they did was perfectly lawful. And so I think this lawsuit is the only chance the citizens like Cyrus have in restoring what the basic principles are.

KAYE (voice-over): Secretary Rumsfeld and the other defendants have filed motions to dismiss the case. The Department of Justice argues, "the length of the plaintiff's detention was well in keeping with the exigencies of ongoing hostilities in Iraq and the need to ascertain fully and accurately his true status." It adds, "once the tribunal had assessed the plaintiff's case, military personnel took only six days to review the decision and make arrangements to release the plaintiff."

A hearing to determine if Kar's lawsuit will go forward is set for January.

(On camera): At some point while you were there, did you say to yourself, maybe I shouldn't have come to Iraq in the height of war to shoot this documentary about some Persian leader that's been gone 2,500 years?

KAR: You know, I think a lot of people might find me crazy for this, but no, I never regretted my decision.

KAYE (voice-over): Cyrus Kar's documentary would have been about a great Persian conqueror, a ruler considered by many to be the father of human rights. The irony was not lost on Cyrus Kar.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Los Angeles.

The US is, of course, seeking to dismiss Kar's suit.  

In its response, filed Friday, U.S. attorneys cautioned the court to carefully consider getting entangled in military operations overseas. They said Kar cannot challenge the government's policies without "a realistic threat that he will again be subject to detention in Iraq by the United States military officers."

WTF?  Are they saying that it should be dismissed because if he proceeds, he will again be "detained"?  I don't know if I'm reading that part correctly, but how else could that be interepreted?  

The Washington Post article concludes:

While imprisoned, Kar said he was at times hooded, threatened and taunted by U.S. soldiers. One soldier slammed Kar's head into a concrete wall, the lawsuit said.

Military officials have said Kar was properly detained as "an imperative security threat" and that the matter had been handled and resolved appropriately.

Now listen.  Although it's known today that Kar did not, in fact, constitute a threat, I do not necessarily believe that it wasn't appropriate to detain him in the first place.  But the administration's slip is dangingling below the hemline, here.  They could have simply taken this man into custody and do what should have been done: assume him innocent until proven guilty.  They could have held him humanely, allowed him to contact a lawyer and his family, and investigated.  I'm also open to the idea that it takes some measure of time to determine innocence in a climate such as Iraq with issues of possible terrorism - I don't know if 55 days meets that criteria (seems long to me).  But had they only held this man appropriately with some measure of due process and respect for his rights as a human being, this lawsuit wouldn't be necessary.

This lawsuit is entirely appropriate.  They held this man, an American citizen (and veteran to boot!), without due process or access to counsel, his family or a hearing.  They used strong-armed tactics against him, assuming immediately that he was "guilty" and a "terrorist" because of (presumably) his ethnicity and location.

I hope this, along with a suit filed against Rumsfeld and others finally and at last gets that slip back under the skirt.  We can't begin to rebuild our world stature without showing that we are also willing to admit to wrongdoing and make appropriate reparations.

posted by RenaRF at 12:22 PM 1 comments


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