Would be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam was sentenced to a 22-year prison term yesterday, and U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, a Reagan appointee, used the occasion to decry the government’s use of secret tribunals and other tactics that abandon “the ideals that set our nation apart.”
“The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism,” said Coughenour in a voice edged with emotion. “Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. … If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.”
As far as Iranian-American filmmaker Cyrus Kar is concerned, these ideals have already been abandoned. In an interview today on NPR’s Day to Day, Kar describes his 55-day ordeal, imprisoned in Iraq by American forces who knew he was innocent.
Kar had gone to Iraq, with permission from the US government, to complete work on a documentary about Persian emperor Cyrus the Great. While riding in a hired taxi, he and his cameraman were arrested at a checkpoint after washing machine timers were found in the trunk. Such timers are sometimes used as parts in roadside bombs.
The two were blindfolded, handcuffed, charged as enemy combatants, and subjected to humiliation and abuse by US soldiers. They even served a stint at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where a guard smashed Kar’s head against a cinderblock wall, and his cameraman was forced to publicly disrobe.
The taxi driver admitted the timers were his, and an FBI investigation cleared Kar within 10 days of his arrest… but the military refused to release him until the day before a hearing in federal court. When he asked the military why it took 45 days to release him after they learned of his innocence, Kar was told: “bureaucracy.”
Kar is not so sure.
“You have to be really, really gullible to believe that it is this well established process that won my release and that the release curiously came the day before the attorneys of President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had to appear in court. It’s just too much of a coincidence, and I honestly believe and I’m quite certain that I would have been there for a long, long time had the ACLU and the press not gotten ahold of this and driven this case home.”
Once a supporter of the war, Kar now believes the occupation is doomed, and says if an American is treated so inhumanely, imagine what ordinary Iraqis are going through. But the worse part for him was losing his faith in American justice.
“I came to realize that I’m not considered an American. Being an American is an exclusive club that really wants no part of folks of my ethnicity.”
Judge Coughenour is right. Once we abandon the ideals that set our nation apart, we all cease to be Americans.
I just listened to a much more in depth interview with Kar on the CBC’s As It Happens. (RealAudio stream.)
Kar gives more details of the circumstances surrounding his arrest, and his treatment at the hands of American soldiers, including the unique culture of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. As an Iranian born American, who served in the US military, and has now been victimized by it, Kar has unique and disturbing insight into what he saw happening on the ground in Iraq.
“There are a lot of innocent people sitting in jail — don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of really evil bad people I saw there too — but that makes it even more egregious to lock innocent people up, and that only leads to a growing insurgency, an insurgency that’s picking up speed. It is far more dangerous to go to Iraq today than it was right after mission had been declared accomplished, because the insurgency has been mushrooming, and the only reason it’s been mushrooming is because unfortunately we are creating… we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction, and it’s leading to the senseless deaths of a lot of American soldiers there.”