Henry Weinstein / Los Angeles Times – 2006-07-08 22:54:12
US Citizen Held for 55 Days in Iraq
LOS ANGELES (July 8, 2006) — A Los Angeles filmmaker sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials Friday, alleging they violated his civil rights, international law and the Geneva Conventions by imprisoning him for 55 days in Iraq last year.
Cyrus Kar, 45, was freed a year ago just days after the American Civil Liberties Union sued seeking his release. His lawsuit, filed in federal court here, says his imprisonment violated principles of due process of law.
“The abuses experienced by Mr. Kar — prolonged arbitrary detention without charge, the systematic denial of access to counsel, and the absence of any court in which to challenge the legality of his detention — are the norm for thousands of persons held in U.S. military detention in Iraq,” the suit asserts.
In addition, the suit cites a 2004 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said military intelligence officers of coalition forces admitted that “between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.”
Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the suit was the first civil action challenging the constitutionality of the detention and hearing policies of the US government in Iraq.
Kar, a US citizen and Navy veteran, went to Iraq 14 months ago to make a documentary film about Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who issued the world’s first human-rights charter.
On May 17, 2005, he was riding in a taxi and stopped at a Baghdad checkpoint. Authorities found a common component for explosive devices in the trunk. The driver told military authorities that Kar and his cameraman were passengers and knew nothing about the devices.
Kar submitted to a polygraph examination and agreed to allow the FBI to search his house. They found nothing incriminating, but he was held for weeks in various prisons around Iraq, including the notorious facility at Abu Ghraib.
Even after he was cleared by a military court at Camp Cropper, Kar was held for another week. Eventually, the camp commandant gave him a letter stating that military judges found him to be an “innocent civilian” under the Geneva Conventions.
While in confinement, the suit states, Kar was hooded, restrained “in painful flexi-cuffs,” and “repeatedly threatened, taunted and insulted” by US soldiers. At one point, according to the suit, a soldier at Abu Ghraib slammed Kar’s head into a concrete wall.
“Mr. Kar was and remains traumatized by his indefinite and virtually incommunicado detention, in solitary confinement, by the US military without charge,” the suit states.
The military said Kar was detained as “an imperative security threat” under the authority of a UN Security Council resolution, noting that the washing machine timers found in the taxicab trunk are a “common component” in the construction of improvised explosive devices.
What happened to him in Iraq was “a life-altering experience,” Kar said.
He emphasized, “I am not a left-wing liberal. I agree with many of George Bush’s policies.” But he added, “I don’t think the Constitution has to be gutted to achieve our objectives” in the war on terrorism. “I felt it was my duty as an American to take a stand for the constitutional rights guaranteed to all Americans.”
The suit — filed by Rosenbaum and Ranjana Natarajan of the ACLU and volunteer attorney Dan Marmalefsky of the Morrison & Foerster law firm — has a broader agenda than winning a damages award for Kar.
“This action is brought to end the policies and practices of the United States government toward detainees in Iraq to which Cyrus Kar, a United States citizen and Navy veteran, was subjected … in clear violation” of fundamental principles of due process of law.
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