This despicable story shows just how far the Bushist fascist War on Democracy has gone. Can you say "TOTAL CONTEMPT FOR THE RULE OF LAW"?
The good news is that the story is finally being told in the usually ball-less American media.
Kudos to Michael Moss, and the NY Times.
One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.
American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.
The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.
Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon’s detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.
The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.
But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents. . .Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.
The story told through those records and interviews illuminates the haphazard system of detention and prosecution that has evolved in Iraq, where detainees are often held for long periods without charges or legal representation, and where the authorities struggle to sort through the endless stream of detainees to identify those who pose real threats.
"Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had," said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. "While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves. . ."
In April, Mr. Ertel and Mr. Vance said, they felt increasingly uncomfortable at the company. Mr. Ertel resigned and company officials seized the identification cards that both men needed to move around Iraq or leave the country.
On April 15, feeling threatened, Mr. Vance phoned the United States Embassy in Baghdad. A military rescue team rushed to the security company. Again, Mr. Vance described its operations, according to military records. . . On the evening of April 15, they met with American officials at the embassy and stayed overnight. But just before dawn, they were awakened, handcuffed with zip ties and made to wear goggles with lenses covered by duct tape. Put into a Humvee, Mr. Vance said he asked for a vest and helmet, and was refused.
They were driven through dangerous Baghdad roads and eventually to Camp Cropper. They were placed in cells at Compound 5, the high-security unit where Saddam Hussein has been held.
Only days later did they receive an explanation: They had become suspects for having associated with the people Mr. Vance tried to expose. . .
Mr. Vance said he began seeking help even before his cell door closed for the first time. "They took off my blindfold and earmuffs and told me to stand in a corner, where they cut off the zip ties, and told me to continue looking straight forward and as I’m doing this, I’m asking for an attorney," he said. "‘I want an attorney now,’ I said, and they said, ‘Someone will be here to see you.’"
Instead, they were given six-digit ID numbers. The guards shortened Mr. Vance’s into something of a nickname: "343." And the routine began. . . .
Five times in the first week, guards shackled the prisoners’ hands and feet, covered their eyes, placed towels over their heads and put them in wheelchairs to be pushed to a room with a carpeted ceiling and walls. There they were questioned by an array of officials who, they said they were told, represented the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"It’s like boom, boom, boom," Mr. Ertel said. "They are drilling you. 'We know you did this, you are part of this gun smuggling thing.' And I’m saying, you have it absolutely way off."
The two men slept in their 9-by-9-foot cells on concrete slabs, with worn three-inch foam mats. With the fluorescent lights on and the temperature in the 50s, Mr. Vance said, "I paced myself to sleep, walking until I couldn’t anymore. I broke the straps on two pair of flip-flops. . ."
Their legal rights, laid out in a letter from Lt. Col. Bradley J. Huestis of the Army, the president of the status board, allowed them to attend [their] hearing and testify. However, under Rule 3, the letter said, "You do not have the right to legal counsel, but you may have a personal representative assist you at the hearing if the personal representative is reasonably available. . .”"
Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel had separate hearings. They said their requests to be each other’s personal representative had been denied.
At the hearings, a woman and two men wearing Army uniforms but no name tags or rank designations sat a table with two stacks of documents. One was about an inch thick, and the men were allowed to see some papers from that stack. The other pile was much thicker, but they were told that this pile was evidence only the board could see.
The men pleaded with the board. "I’m telling them there has been a major mix-up," Mr. Ertel said. "Please, I’m out of my mind. I haven’t slept. I’m not eating. I’m terrified."
Mr. Vance said he implored the board to delve into his laptop computer and cellphone for his communications with the F.B.I. agent in Chicago.
Each of the hearings lasted about two hours, and the men said they never saw the board again.
"At the end, my first question was, 'Does my family know I’m alive?' and the lead man said, ‘I don’t know,’" Mr. Vance recounted. "And then I asked when will we have an answer, and they said on average it takes three to four weeks." About a week later, two weeks into his detention, Mr. Vance was allowed to make his first call, to Chicago. He called his fiancée, Diane Schwarz, who told him she had thought he might have died.
"It was very overwhelming," Ms. Schwarz recalls of the 12-minute conversation. "He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, and was kind of turning to me for answers and I was turning to him for the same."
She had already been calling members of Congress, alarmed by his disappearance. So was Mr. Ertel’s mother, and some officials began pressing for answers. "I would appreciate your looking into this matter," Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois wrote to a State Department official in early May.
On May 7, the Camp Cropper detention board met again, without either man present, and determined that Mr. Ertel was "an innocent civilian," according to the spokeswoman for detention operations. It took authorities 18 more days to release him.
Mr. Vance’s situation was more complicated. . . . Over the following weeks, Mr. Vance said he made numerous written requests — for a lawyer, for blankets, for paper to write letters home. Mr. Vance said that he wrote 10 letters to Ms. Schwarz, but that only one made it to Chicago. Dated July 17, it was delivered late last month by the Red Cross.
"Diana, start talking, sending e-mail and letters and faxes to the alderman, mayor, governor, congressman, senators, Red Cross, Amnesty International, A.C.L.U., Vatican, and other Christian-based organizations. Everyone!” he wrote. "I am missing you so much, and am so depressed it’s a daily struggle here. My life is in your hands. Please don’t get discouraged. Don’t take 'No' for answers. Keep working. I have to tell myself these things every day, but I can’t do anything from a cell."
The military has never explained why it continued to consider Mr. Vance a security threat, except to say that officials decided to release him after further review of his case.
"Treating an American citizen in this fashion would have been unimaginable before 9/11," said Mike Kanovitz, a Chicago lawyer representing Mr. Vance.
On July 20, Mr. Vance wrote in his notes: "Told ‘Leaving Today.’ Took shower and shaved, saw doctor, got civ clothes back and passport."
On his way out, Mr. Vance said: "They asked me if I was intending to write a book, would I talk to the press, would I be thinking of getting an attorney. I took it as, 'Shut up, don’t talk about this place,' and I kept saying, 'No sir, I want to go home.’"
. . .Mr. Vance is back in Chicago, still feeling the effects of having been a prisoner of the war in Iraq.
"It’s really hard," he says. "I don’t really talk about this stuff with my family. I feel ashamed, depressed, still have nightmares, and I’d even say I suffer from some paranoia.'
I'd say you suffer from PTSD.
May you sue the living crap out of everyone involved.
May those who have made war on our Democracy wind up in Gitmo.
For Christmas. For ever.
Full NYTimes story here.
Bush's War on Democracy