U.S. Says It Will Release American Held in Iraq

Published: July 10, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/politics/10release.html?oref=login  (must register to view original article)

WASHINGTON, July 9 - Military officials have agreed to free Cyrus Kar, an aspiring American filmmaker who has been imprisoned without charge for nearly two months at a United States military detention center in Iraq, lawyers and relatives of Mr. Kar said Saturday.

The news of the planned release came as government lawyers prepared for a hearing on Monday afternoon in federal district court in Washington, where they had been ordered to show cause for his continued detention.

Last week, after his lawyers sued the government for his release through a petition for habeas corpus, Defense Department officials said Mr. Kar, 44, had been detained on May 17 with his Iranian cameraman, Farshid Faraji, on suspicion of involvement with the Iraqi insurgency.

The two men, who relatives said were in Iraq working on a historical documentary, were arrested after a search of a taxi they had taken from a Baghdad hotel turned up dozens of washing-machine timers of a type sometimes used by Iraqi insurgents to make improvised explosive devices, the officials said.

Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the United States military forces in Iraq said Saturday that they could not confirm that Mr. Kar's and Mr. Faraji's release was imminent. But his relatives said a consular official at the United States Embassy in Baghdad had telephoned them Saturday to tell them that the two would be freed within two days, and his lawyers said the embassy official later told them the same thing.

In an e-mail message sent to Mr. Kar's aunt this evening and forwarded to a reporter, the embassy official, Sarah Francia, said, "We expect that he may be released very soon." Reached by telephone in Baghdad, Ms. Francia said, "I told them that it was expected possibly," but then added that she could not publicly discuss the case.

"I'm thrilled that Cyrus and Farshid will be released soon, but the question is why it didn't happen 50 days ago," said the lead lawyer for Mr. Kar, Mark D. Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "It shouldn't take a lawsuit to free an innocent man whose only crime was to get in the wrong cab."

Mr. Kar's relatives said they understood why he might have been questioned or even detained. But they could not fathom why Mr. Kar - a veteran of the United States Navy and the Naval reserves who supported the war in Iraq - was held almost incommunicado by the military and continued to be held for weeks after an F.B.I. agent had told the family that he had been cleared.

"I know they have to protect themselves, but I am really hurt," said Mr. Kar's aunt, Parvin Modarress. "This was very unfair. From the very beginning, they knew he was innocent. According to the F.B.I. he came out of a hotel and got into a taxi. How could they have known what was in the taxi?"

"They held him for over 50 days - and for what?," she added.

Relatives and friends of Mr. Kar, as well as anthropologists, filmmakers and others who had worked with him, gave a reporter detailed accounts of how he had gone to Iraq to try to complete the filming of a historical documentary he was trying to make about the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great.

Over the previous two years, they said, Mr. Kar had already shot more than 40 hours of footage in the United States, Germany, Britain, Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. He was determined to visit Babylon, the fabled city south of Baghdad that Cyrus the Great had conquered in 539 B.C., freeing its Jewish captives in a show of magnanimity.

A Pentagon official said Mr. Kar was turned over to American custody immediately by the Iraqi security forces and was never mistreated. He was detained and interrogated at Camp Cropper, the American prison at the Baghdad airport that holds Saddam Hussein and some of his former aides, an official said.

But even while they allowed Mr. Kar to make three brief telephone calls to his relatives, the military would not let him say where he was being held, and both the military and the government refused to confirm to his relatives that Mr. Kar was in their custody.

Their only real information about his case, family members said, came from a relatively low-level F.B.I. agent who, after searching Mr. Kar's Los Angeles apartment and investigating his background, told them the circumstances of his arrest.

"This detention system works on a presumption that you are guilty until proven innocent," Mr. Rosenbaum said of the military's handling of suspected terrorists and insurgents. "You're guilty even after you're proven innocent."

Mr. Kar's aunt, Ms. Modarress, was in a more forgiving mood Saturday. "I can't explain the joy that we felt," she said. "I have no hard feelings as long as he is safe."

She added that she was now trying to wire some money to her nephew in Baghdad so that it would be waiting for him when he was released.

According to the embassy consular official, Mr. Kar still did not want to go home until he was able to complete his filming in Babylon.