Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Policy

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Cyrus Kar is a 44-year-old documentary filmmaker who lives in my neighborhood. An immigrant from Iran who came here at age nine, Kar served for four years in the U.S. Navy, supports the war in Iraq, and sleeps under a large American flag.

At least, until May 17. Since then, he's been held in indefinite military detention at the Baghdad airport, charged with no crime. Story here.

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  1. It certainly sounds outrageous, although I didn’t see an explanation for the timers. Still, it’s disturbing that I’m not even particularly surprised by this.

  2. Of course, that assumes that there were really timers there to be explained.

    Perhaps the timer story was made up, when really what happened was that the car had some gear with high resale value, the arrest removed anyone who could oppose the theft, and a story about timers was a convenient smokescreen.

  3. And so erodes even more the right of habeas corpus. 🙁

  4. No, Jon.

    The anonymous Pentagon spokesperson quoted in the article very clearly states that timers really were found in the cab.

    Also, I don’t think the spokesperson would have said spoken as she did in the article if the timers were planted by the military authorities because then her comments would tend to mislead the public she serves.

  5. Timers or no timers, why is this American citizen still in prison when he’s been found innocent?

    Oh, right, the whole “they hate us for our freedom” bit.

  6. If Iraq is the chaotic hell-hole many would have me believe, it seems a bit goofy that a private person would head over there now to pursue a historical art project. Further the goofiness by noting the person is a citizen of military experience who probably shares many traits with the “enemy”. Seems like a dumb time for this guy to visit Iraq.

    Either the situation is actually calm enough for this man’s trip to be reasonable, the man is nuts, or he’s somebody’s tool.

    It may take a while for his rights as a citizen to catch up to him in a combat zone. This is not quite the same as Jennifer’s sobriety check last week.

  7. Dynamist-

    I’ve worked for a middle-aged guy who owns a video production house. He’s ex-Air Force, and a couple of months he went to northern Iraq to shoot high-def footage for a documentary project.

    People who make a living pointing cameras at things usually only do well when they’re pointing them at things other people find interesting, like a war-torn Middle Eastern nation, for instance.

  8. Correction: I meant to write “couple of months ago

  9. It sounds like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sad, but you can’t blame the military for holding him a bit when IED timers are found (and no I will not call our troops liars without some evidence), though I think his release should be expedited based on the facts so far.

    Just ask yourself how you’d want him treated is he was found in an American airport with hidden boxcutters on 9/12.

  10. Uhh, I would want to have the box cutters discreetly followed by a man with a gun. That way I could catch a terorist in the act and put her away for a longer time. Maybe she would lead me to other terrorists or even OBL himself (who we still haven’t caught!).

    They should have used the same approach with the timers, assuming the timers really are as suspicious as they say.

  11. TallDave-I would want him treated with due process, and released if there was no basis for holding him. While the initial detention may have been justified, keeping him after he has been cleared is not.

  12. Number 6,

    One must remember that we are at war with Oceana! 🙂

  13. So basically, people here are saying that in addition to holding people who ARE guilty, it’s acceptable to hold people who look like they might be guilty, or people who do unwise things like go to a war zone when their complexions match those of the enemy? Ooooh, an ex-military guy in a war zone; yep, better lock ‘im up!

    You’re right, Dynamist, this isn’t like my sobriety check last week. Because in the sobriety check, after the cop took a few minutes of my time to ask questions that were none of his goddamned business, I was allowed to go home and continue my life, as opposed to me STILL being there trying to figure out how to convince the guys with guns that I deserve to be set free.

  14. Jennifer: How would you expect such a situation to play out, given your ideal world doesn’t extend into Iraq? I’m looking for a reasonable alternative. Complaints don’t help me much. You didn’t have to drive that route that day last week. Checkpoints suck, but your standing changes when you voluntarily drive into one.

    mediageek: So then, Iraq isn’t the meatgrinder that headlines suggest. Kar, and your associate, probably were well-acquainted with the risks of their endeavours. We can wish them well, and respect the drive to go where the action is (although Kar’s history seemingly could wait for better conditions), but when the difficulties materialize, why the knee-jerk blame on USA/military/authority?

  15. Just ask yourself how you’d want him treated is he was found in an American airport with hidden boxcutters on 9/12.

    For starters, I’d expect that he’d be charged with a crime.

  16. Dynamist,

    This is the government we’re talking about here.

  17. So basically, people here are saying that in addition to holding people who ARE guilty, it’s acceptable to hold people who look like they might be guilty . . . ?

    Over at Freeperland people are saying that Kar needs to die for his Treason. Personally, I hope they hold off on the execution uau some less equivocal evidence comes in.

  18. TallDave writes: “when IED timers are found (and no I will not call our troops liars without some evidence)”

    I’m thinking Iraqi soldiers would be the liars. Unless I’m mistaken, he was detained by Iraqi soldiers, not Americans, so Iraqis would be the ones who searched the vehicle and “found timers”.

    And, presumably, Iraqi soldiers would be more likely to steal a bunch of high-tech gear if they had the chance.

  19. Hakluyt-Yes, and we’ve always been at war with Oceania.

    Dynamist-Yes, Iraq is a meatgrinder. It does not follow from that fact that imprisoning apparently innocent people it a good idea. That logic makes about as much sense as a football bat.

  20. The NY Times version of the story says:
    “After a taxi they were in was stopped in Baghdad,
    the two men were arrested by Iraqi security forces, who found what they suspected might be bomb parts in the vehicle.”

    And they probably found a pricey camcorder, and maybe a Mac laptop, and maybe a DAT deck, etc.

  21. Arresting a guy found with suspicious timing devices sounds sensible, but it does sound like he should be charged or released. The article didn’t sound entirely clear, though, on what the outcomes of the hearing described might be.

    I wonder whether the issue is that the military thinks the guy is a threat (for valid or invalid reasons), but can’t substantiate it enough to press charges and wants to use the results of the hearing to justify just sending him back to the US. It seems they should be able to do that more quickly than this, to me at least.

  22. Maybe the US military people lack confidence in the Iraqi security personnel’s arrest and search, and can’t pin something on him decisively, but don’t want to let him go in case the Iraqis were right.

  23. Matt, Some may commend you for your restraint. I castigate you for the missed opportunity to use this headline: Dude, Where’s my Kar.

  24. or better yet: Dude, Where’s Cy Kar?

  25. Jon: also possible. I suspect there are other similarly understandable, while not entirely defendable, possible reasons for this.

  26. You didn’t have to drive that route that day last week. Checkpoints suck, but your standing changes when you voluntarily drive into one.

    Good point, Dynamist. All I had to do was drive twenty miles out of my way and I’d’ve been free from harassment. And all Cy Kar had to do was–what? Postpone his documentary until the war on terror ends? Being innocent obviously isn’t enough anymore.

  27. Jennifer,

    No one is innocent. The government just hasn’t found the time to imprison us yet.

  28. I know, Hakluyt. It’s very depressing. And even more depressing that the government’s able to get away with so much thanks in part to supporter-apologists like Dynamist, who see nothing wrong with a free country keeping innocent men in prison, and apparently sees nothing wrong with sobriety checkpoints that mean an innocent person can’t drive home from work without telling the cops where she came from and where she’s going. But, as he pointed out, it’s my own fault for not developing precognitive skills to know in advance where the checkpoints will be and then driving forty minutes out of my way to avoid them, if my privacy means that much to me.

    Man, I hope I don’t run into another checkpoint coming home today. I haven’t been drinking, and I have nothing illegal on me, but in the mood I’m in I’m afraid that if a cop asks me “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” I might make some treasonous, anti-American comment like “Excuse me, officer, but unless you have a warrant I’m afraid that is no business of yours.”

    How long before Cy Kar-style stories start happening no in distant Iraq, but right here in the USA? I don’t think it will be too much longer, now.

  29. Something else just occurred to me: what exactly were these “timers,” anyway? The reason I ask is that when I flew last week, I had a travel alarm clock in my bag. I kept the battery separate, of course–even before 9/11 I would not have gone through airport security with something going “tick, tick, tick” in my suitcase–but couldn’t a knowledgeable person have turned that clock into a bomb timer, with the right materials?

    Holy shit! When you take my little collection of antique clocks into account, I might have over a dozen IED timers in my own apartment!

  30. Oops.

    A Swiss national was recently shot and killed by a (female) American soldier. It was a mistake.

    The US government is looking into it.

    So Cyrus Kar should consider himself lucky. (For the moment.)

  31. Uh, Jennifer, I get the feeling you’d change your civil libertarian mind when the city you are in has random car bombs that start killing your friends and family.

    BTW, this guy was in the Navy, a short 2-3 month investigation while he’s “imprisoned” is a walk in the park compared to a peacetime deployment

  32. this guy was in the Navy, a short 2-3 month investigation while he’s “imprisoned” is a walk in the park compared to a peacetime deployment

    Jesus Christ.

  33. There’s another story about this in yesterday’s New York Times, and many other places; go to Google news and type “Cyrus Kar” into the search box. Mr. Kar claims he was tortured at the beginning of his detention; the Defense Department denies it. I am curious to know if Dynamist is inclined to believe Mr. Kar or the Defense Department, in light of revelations concerning our overseas prisons over the last couple of years.

  34. Something else just occurred to me: what exactly were these “timers,” anyway?

    Washing machine timers. Not exactly something people tend to collect, and supposedly very common in IEDs.

  35. Yup, Jennifer, the apologists are at it again. “But the Navy is worse!”

    Look, who knows if the guy’s legit, a patsy, or really was transporting timers for terrorists (is that like “Toys for Tots”?), but as thoreau has said before (paraphrasing here), “shouldn’t there be some way to determine whether someone is a criminal before holding them indefinitely? Maybe a ‘judge’ could look at ‘evidence’ against said person to determine if the ‘evidence’ against them warrents them being labeled a ‘criminal’?”

  36. Yes, I did see later that they were washing-machine timers. And in the context of Baghdad, that would certainly warrant talking to the men, perhaps even overnight, or a couple of days. But he’s been cleared.

    And something else: he was stopped IN A TAXI. I’ve been in my share of taxis, and I don’t check first to make sure there’s no contraband hidden in the car.

    Mr. Kar told a family member that he was tortured during the early days of his confinement. I see no reason to doubt this; our own government’s word that it is not torturing a prisoner of Arab or Persian descent is worthless.

    And we have people here, not even the ones in power but the ones who might one day be maltreated by the ones in power, insisting that open-ended, secret and illegal confinement is no different from what my dad the sailor experienced whenever the sub or surface ship he was on did a Cold War cruise of the Med.

    Really.

  37. Jennifer: Thanks for the label. Now how about a solution. We all could rail on about checkpoints on “public” highways. When you choose to play by the state’s game, getting a license for yourself and your vehicle, you voluntarily subject yourself to its dumbass rules. Without doing research, I must assume that such checkpoints have passed Constitutional Scrutiny with the Supremes. Next time, vote Originalist, to hopefully support people who read the plain words, “Congress shall make no law…” That’s one lever to already in your hand to make USA more like your ideal world.

    If Kar wasn’t a moron, he knew he might get caught in sketchy circumstances. But still he had to make his film now. Tough luck for him, but he bought the lottery ticket. If he vanishes, or gets extended detention, I’ll join the protest against the violation of a citizen’s rights. Presently I’ll wait for more facts to be found, and actually enjoy that our maligned system allows cases such as his into public view.

    I have no reason to take Kar’s testimony over the state’s. Kar may be a freak with an axe to grind. I don’t know. The state is, if anything, stodgily predictable. Like the fuzz at your checkpoint, they ask questions, waste your time, and follow their bureaucratic procedure. You might have even been tortured, if your frame of mind was fragile. Would you rather have it that anything wrapped in a USA flag was just given a nod as it passed into a secure area?

    Lowdog: Having war materiel in a combat zone while not wearing a uniform is suspect, even by the beloved Geneva Convention. Again, it takes time for the bureacrats to find their facts.

  38. Jennifer & Dynamist,

    Good debate. Last two posts (8:20 & 10:28) especially: great points on both sides.

    Still, in this case, I can’t help but lean more towards Jennifer’s indignation than Dynamist’s cynicism. Fine, Jennifer might not have some all-encompassing ‘solution,’ but she’s pretty sure that detaining people indefinitely without the basic rights that all American citizens supposedly enjoy isn’t a solution. And I’d tend to agree with her. The guy had his house ransacked by the FBI and nothing except his devotion to this country turned up. He has several people with no reason to support someone connected with terrorism vouching for him. I suppose maybe I don’t have the whole story, but it appears to me that there’s no reason for them not to let the guy go.

    As to ‘voluntarily’ subjecting ourselves to the state’s dumbass rules … well, not exactly …
    I didn’t volunteer for anything.

  39. “If Kar wasn’t a moron, he knew he might get caught in sketchy circumstances. But still he had to make his film now. ”

    Funny, that’s the kind of thing one used to hear about someone backpacking through, say, Burma. Or travelling through the Soviet Union. Or, say, being a nun in El Salvador.

    It’s not really the kind of thing you expect to hear about someplace controlled by “the good guys”.

  40. Dynamist writes: “I have no reason to take Kar’s testimony over the state’s. ”

    Other than the fact that the arrest was made, and the evidence was collected, by Iraqi “security” personnel?

    We’re not exactly talking about strong evidence handling procedures, here.

  41. “this guy was in the Navy, a short 2-3 month investigation while he’s “imprisoned” is a walk in the park compared to a peacetime deployment”

    Holy Crap!

    “If Kar wasn’t a moron, he knew he might get caught in sketchy circumstances. But still he had to make his film now.”

    And if those infidels didn’t pay taxes to the American war machine, and work in the towers of imperial domination, they wouldn’t be targets of the holy jihad.

  42. Obviously joe and Jennifer missed the point of my post and it’s not surprising. Many people interpret situations based on their own experiences. My point is that y’all are making this out to be a horrific situation rather than standard procedures in a FRICKIN’ WAR ZONE!!

  43. JFH-
    Taking the guy into custody in the first place may be “standard procedure;” what is standard about continuing to hold him after the FBI has shown he is not a threat? What is standard about torturing him?

  44. Just ask yourself how you’d want him treated is he was found in an American airport with hidden boxcutters on 9/12.

    “For starters, I’d expect that he’d be charged with a crime.”

    What crime would that be? This isn’t England, you know (where any tool with a sharp edge can be called a “weapon”); this is America.

    I carry a Leatherman around with me all the time, and I suppose it could be called “hidden” when it’s in my pocket. Should I be arrested and charged with a crime if I carry it to the airport to meet a friend who is arriving? I carry a machete in the trunk of my car. If I get stopped at some roadblock around the Capitol and the cops find it, should I be thrown to the ground and shipped off to Gitmo?

  45. Hi Everyone,
    Interesting rants. I’m sure that Cy will agree – he’s been released and should be home by next week! I think he’ll get a kick out of your comments, he hasn’t wrapped his head around the fact that people are talking about him – but not enough people are talking about this fiasco as far as I’m concerned. And no, he was never charged with any crime, and as far as we know all of his equipment was destroyed or lost including 20 hours of footage, camera, laptop, cell phone, cash, clothes on his back, and more. Check out http://www.freecyruskar.org for more info. It’s a new website his friends recently put up, but more will be posted soon, so stay tuned.

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