Sunday, July 24, 2005

Republicans vs. The Constitution: U.S. citizen held as unlawful uncombatant, interrogated about his vote 

The LA Times has a long story about the arrest, interrogation, and release of Cyrus Kar, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, who went to Iraq to make a film about Cyrus the Great. Here are some extracts from his story.

Note, before we start, that the FBI has completely exonerated Kar, who is now free and back in the U.S.

Kar hires a cab to go film a bridge, and gets arrested at a checkpoint:

Kar didn't like the taxi driver they got at the central depot, near the Iraqi Museum, the hiring spot for long-haul cabs. "He didn't look trustworthy, but we didn't have a choice," he said.

They set off, chatting briefly with the driver, who they learned was a Sunni.

When they got to a checkpoint after 5 p.m. ... the car was pulled over, and soldiers looked at passports, visas, permits.

Everything seemed in order until someone popped the trunk and pulled out brown plastic garbage bags. Karr said he hadn't seen inside the trunk because they had carried only a small movie camera, Kar's dog-eared copy of Herodotus and cue cards for the narration they planned to do on the bridge.

At an Iraqi police station, officers lined up his things — including the camera and microphones — like exhibits. Kar's map, showing all of his carefully marked ancient sites, was placed on the wall. On the floor, the police placed about three dozen mechanical devices. Kar thought they looked like water heater gauges.

They were, in fact, washing machine timers—useful for making IEDs. From the first interrogation:

"One guy kept saying, 'You're going to be in big trouble…. You're going to be famous in the highest levels of government, from the secretary of defense up to the president. You're an enemy combatant. You're an American terrorist…. You're the next John Walker Lindh.' "
(via LA Times)

Interesting, if what the interrogator is saying is true; there really is a direct route that intelligence follows from the field right to the West Wing (one wonders if Abu Ghraib photos have travelled along this route).

After the driver was questioned, one of the American interrogators told Kar, "Hey, Cyrus, just wanted to let you know we talked to the cab driver and he admitted the gauges were his." ... He said they were taken to a room where everything from the taxi — their belongings and the timers — was spread out on a table, like exhibits. The three men were told to kneel in front of the items so they could be photographed, he said. ... Kar said he demanded to know why they were doing this to him and his cameraman when they knew the timers weren't theirs. ... "Don't worry about it," he said the officer told him. "I put it in our report that the driver admitted they weren't yours."

Again, as at Abu Ghraib, we have the photographed tableau for the files. (In fact, Kars was moved to Abu Ghraib briefly before being moved to Camp Cropper.)

[There,] Kar was taken to be interviewed by two FBI officers, whom he identified as "Donna Peterson" and a man named "Robert."

During the interrogation, Kar said, he was asked one question that startled him.

"Are you registered to vote in California?" [Kar] was asked.

He said he was.

"Who did you vote for?"

He hesitated. "For a split second, I realized what a political prisoner must feel like in a fascist state," Kar said he thought to himself.

"I voted for Kerry," Kar said he told the agents, and then proceeded to justify his vote. "But I believe in Bush's foreign policy. I believed in bringing democracy to countries where … bullies kept kicking people when they were down."

"How come you're so on top of politics?" he said one of the agents asked.

"Because as a voter you should be informed," he said he told them. "I'm a teacher. I teach. At a university. I should know some things."

Then they asked him his religion, Kar said. "I felt it was an invasion of my innermost beliefs, but by the same token I thought it might be one element that might help clear me." Kar said he told the agents he was raised as a Presbyterian but now considers himself a Zoroastrian, "the religion of ancient Persia before they were invaded by Muslims in 640 A.D."

Kar's family is informed that he is cleared, but Kar is still held:

Kar made his final call to his Los Angeles relatives that day. "We told him that the FBI had cleared him," Folger said. "He was shocked and frustrated by that information. It sounded as if they were telling him over there that they were waiting for him to be cleared here in the United States, while here in the U.S. they were telling us they were waiting for him to be cleared over there.

Three days later, on Friday, July 1, [Lt. Col. Carol V. Haas, the commandant of Camp Cropper] came to Kar's cell and told him he would have a hearing on July 4 because "your status under Article 4 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 12 August 1949 … is in doubt."

Translation: Kar was being held as an "unlawful combatant"—since how else would his status under the Geneva convention be in doubt?

The July 4 tribunal is held:

The written notice Haas gave Kar said he had the right to attend the hearing, present evidence, call witnesses and examine evidence, but that he could not have a lawyer.

He requested that the interrogators from the military and the FBI be called as witnesses, and that all their reports and notes be provided. He requested that his cameraman be brought as a witness. "I wanted to get him out of Abu Ghraib," if only for a day, Karr said. He also asked for the results of his polygraph exam.

On the morning of Independence Day, his hearing was convened. All the government witnesses, he was told, were "unavailable."

All the reports were "classified."

His polygraph exam showed "no deception."

Then the sergeant brought out the picture of Kar with the washing-machine timers. "I said I recognized it," he said. "They asked if I had a statement.''

Kar, pent up, launched a diatribe. "I said, 'Your system is flawed. My imprisonment is based solely on stupidity. There is no escape valve at the first rungs of the ladder of this bureaucratic machine and it causes innocent people to be rounded up for no reason and incarcerated for no reason.

" 'Your people created something out of nothing by taking that picture,' " he said he told them. "I started cussing like a sailor. . . . I told them I felt betrayed by my own government, a government I served honorably in the Navy."

After 15 minutes of deliberation, the panel declared him innocent, Kar said. "They said we have found you to be an innocent civilian."


This story helps us connect a few dots. Consider only the Constitutional aspects:

1. The legalese in Kar's story strongly suggests that at least one U.S. citizen has been denied his Constitutional rights to a trial and a lawyer as an "unlawful combatant." How many others are there?

2. The administrivia in Kar's story strongly suggests that there's an extra-constitutional/extra-statutory chain of command from the interrogation units right to the White House; the pictures and reports are potentially weapons of disinformational warfare. That would be why, after the FBI cleared Kar, a hearing had to be held anyhow: two chains of command. [A confused chain of command and secret records held on digital media are both handwriting of The Fog Machine, back.] Where are the pictures and reports now, and who is holding them?

Now consider the kind of polity we are becoming under the Republicans:

1. It's an article of faith among Republicans that Democrats are traitors. Of course, we know that the Republican Noise Machine has been propagating this meme, unchallenged, for years; we know that Rove is planning a "stab in the back" 2006 mid-term, blaming "the enemy within" for the Republican clusterfuck in Iraq (back); and all we have to do is read the (Ketchum funded? 101st Fighting Keyboarders to know what the base believes. It's important for us to realize that the Republican view that Democrats are traitors is not a mere matter of rhetorical excess, or "entertainment"; it's an article of faith.

But even I didn't expect the idea that Democrats are, by definition, traitors to appear in FBI interrogation procedures! [Note that the FBI agents are good bureaucrats; they have procedures and undergo training. Therefore, it's highly unlikely that the FBI is asking the question "Who did you vote for?" as a jeu d'esprit. Further, they probably don't get to ask that question to a lot of Iraqis. Leading one to ask, where else are they asking that question, and who are they asking it to?

2. How long will it be before such interrogations become routine domestically? Suppose I refuse to open my bag when I take the train in the morning? Or suppose I decide to wear Bush mask for the cameras, and security doesn't like that? When I'm pulled out of the line and taken to the office to be interrogated, will I be asked how I voted?

NOTE It is odd, is it not, that the whole apparatus of social control over public transportation that, suddenly, everyone is so eager to impose applies primarily in Blue States? It's as if the only people who are to exempt from surveillance live and work in the suburbs (no way to check their bags!), and drive cars to work (no video in the car!) Meanwhile, maybe somebody can explain to me how searching the bags of blue state commuters is going to protect us from a loose nuke in a shipping container? A danger that the Iraq clusterfuck has already increased?

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