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"my Name Used To Be #200343", Article about a falsely accused

barney_rebel
post Apr 19 2007, 11:07 AM
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"My Name Used to Be #200343"
By David Phinney, IPS News
Posted on April 7, 2007, Printed on April 19, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/50191/

A year ago, Donald Vance learned what its like to be falsely accused by the U.S. military of aiding terrorists. He was held without charge for more than three months in a high-security prison in Iraq, and interrogated daily after sleepless nights without legal counsel or even a phone call to his family.

On Wednesday, the former private security contractor was honored for his ordeal in Washington and for speaking out against the incident. At a luncheon at the National Press Club, Vance received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, an award named in memory of Army helicopter gunner Ron Ridenhour who struggled to bring the horrific mass murders at My Lai to the attention of Congress and the Pentagon during the Vietnam War.

Vance was joined by former president Jimmy Carter, who won a lifetime achievement award, and journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post who was recognised for his recent book, "Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone".

As hundreds at the luncheon finished their lobster salad, Vance, a two-time George W. Bush voter and Navy veteran, recounted the events of his imprisonment and the grief of his fiancé and family. They did not know if he was alive or dead, he said. They were already making inquiries to the U.S. State Department on how to ship his body home.

He then drew a wider circle around his ordeal to include the countless others who have been held falsely without charge and denied normal legal constitutional protections under law. "My name used to be 200343," Vance said recalling his prisoner ID. "If they can do this to a former Navy man and an American, what is happening to people in facilities all over the world run by the American government?"

Vance's nightmare began last year on Apr. 15 when he and co-worker Nathan Ertel barricaded themselves in a Baghdad office after their employer, an Iraqi private security firm, took away their ID tags. They feared for their lives because they suspected the company was involved in selling unauthorised guns on the black market and other nefarious activity. A U.S. military squad freed them from the red zone in Baghdad after a friend at the U.S. embassy advised him to call for help.

Once they reached the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, government officials took them inside the embassy, listened to their individual accounts and then sent them to a trailer outside for sleep. Two or three hours later, before the crack of dawn, U.S. military personnel woke them. This time, however, Vance and Ertel, Shield Security's contract manager, were under arrest. Soldiers bound their wrists with zip ties and covered their eyes with goggles blacked out with duct tape.

The two were then escorted to a humvee and driven first to possibly Camp Prosperity and then to Camp Cropper, a high-security prison near the Baghdad airport where Saddam Hussein was once kept. Vance says he was denied the usual body armour and helmet while traveling through the perilous Baghdad streets outside the safety of the Green Zone or a U.S. military installation.

It was not the way the tall 29-year-old with an easy charm and keen mind had expected to be treated. Vance claims that during the months leading up to his arrest, he worked as an unpaid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sometimes twice a day, he would share information with an agent in Chicago about the Iraqi-owned Shield Group Security, whose principals and managers appeared to be involved in weapons deals and violence against Iraqi civilians. One company employee regularly bartered alcohol with U.S. military personnel in exchange for ammunition they delivered, Vance said.

"He called it the bullets for beer programme," Vance claimed while relating the incident during an interview this week at a cigar bar just walking distance from the White House.

But his interrogators at Camp Cropper weren't impressed. Instead, his jailers insisted that Vance and Ertel had been detained and imprisoned because the two worked for Shield Group Security where large caches of weapons have been found -- weapons that may have been intended for possible distribution to insurgents and terrorist groups, Vance said.

In a lawsuit now pending against former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and "other unidentified agents," Vance and Ertel accuse their U.S. government captors of subjecting them to psychological torture day and night. Lights were kept on in their cell around the clock. They endured solitary confinement. They had only thin plastic mattresses on concrete for sleeping. Meals were of powdered milk and bread or rice and chicken, but interrupted by selective deprivation of food and water. Ceaseless heavy metal and country music screamed in their ears for hours on end, their legal complaint alleges.

They lived through "conditions of confinement and interrogation tantamount to torture", says the lawsuit filed in northern Illinois U.S. District Court. "Their interrogators utilised the types of physically and mentally coercive tactics that are supposedly reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."

Rumsfeld is singled out as the key defendant because he played a critical role in establishing a policy of "unlawful detention and torment" that Vance, Ertel and countless others in the "war on terror" have endured, the lawsuit asserts, noting that the former defence secretary and other high-level military commanders acting at his direction developed and authorised a policy that allows government officials unilateral discretion to designate possible enemies of the United States.

Because the incident and allegations are now in litigation, the Pentagon has no comment, spokesman Army Lieut. Col. Mark Ballesteros said. He referred all inquires to the U.S. Justice Department, which also had no comment for similar reasons.

But darker allegations are included in the complaint over false imprisonment. Because he worked with the FBI, Vance contends, U.S. government officials in Iraq decided to retaliate against him and Ertel. He believes these officials conspired to jail the two not because they worked for a security company suspected of selling weapons to insurgents, but because they were sharing information with law enforcement agents outside the control of U.S. officials in Baghdad.

"In other words," claims the lawsuit, "United States officials in Iraq were concerned and wanted to find out about what intelligence agents in the United States knew about their territory and their operations. The unconstitutional policies that Rumsfeld and other unidentified agents had implemented for 'enemies' provided ample cover to detain plaintiffs and interrogate them toward that end."

It may take some time to sort out the allegations as the legal process grinds forward, but, in the meantime, Vance is raising new questions about his detention. He still wonders why his jailers didn't just call the FBI and have him cleared. They had access to his computer and cell phone to determine if his claims were true.

"When I told them to do that, they just got angry and told me to stop answering questions I wasn't being asked," Vance said. "I think they were butting heads with the State Department. I just snitched on the wrong people. I took the bull by the horns and got the horn."

And why weren't managers with the Shield Group held and interrogated?

Interrogators were certainly interested in these other individuals, according to the lawsuit. They wanted to know about the company's structure, its political contacts, and its owners -- most of whom are related to a long-established Iraqi family who fled Iraq during the years the country was ruled by Saddam Hussein, Vance said.

More startling even now is that the company has reformed. At the time they left, Shield Security held U.S.-funded contracts with the Iraqi government, Iraqi companies, NGOs and U.S. contractors. As far as Vance knows, the company still does -- but under a different name: National Shield Security.

"I built their web site," he said. "And they are still being awarded millions of dollars in contracts."

David Phinney is a journalist and broadcaster based in Washington, DC, whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times and on ABC and PBS. He can be contacted at: phinneydavid@yahoo.com.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/50191/
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barney_rebel
post Apr 19 2007, 11:16 AM
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Occupation turf war sheds new light on the Nick Berg case
US contractors ‘tortured’ for talking to the FBI
Nick Possum



April 12, 2007

The case of Donald Vance, an American citizen secretly imprisoned by the US military in Iraq after making accusations against an Iraqi-owned security company for which he worked, has revealing parallels with the 2004 disappearance of Nick Berg, a US contractor whose murder is officially attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


Vance was last week awarded the prestigious Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington (see "My Name Used to Be 200343" by David Phinney here). The case constitutes further evidence that US military intelligence forces have secretly detained and tortured citizens of the US and probably other Western nations whom they believe may have compromised 'unconventional operations’ in Iraq.


Vance is a US Navy veteran who signed on with an Iraqi-owned security company based in Baghdad. He and a fellow-worker, Nathan Ertel, came to suspect that the company was involved in illegal arms dealing "and other nefarious activity".
He contends that he fell foul of the Occupation military authorities because he shared this information with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to David Phinney:


Vance claims that during the months leading up to his arrest, he worked as an unpaid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sometimes twice a day, he would share information with an agent in Chicago about the Iraqi-owned Shield Group Security, whose principals and managers appeared to be involved in weapons deals and violence against Iraqi civilians. One company employee regularly bartered alcohol with U.S. military personnel in exchange for ammunition they delivered …

Vance and Ertel barricaded themselves in their office after the Iraqi firm confiscated their ID tags. They were rescued by US soldiers and taken back to the Green Zone. There they were arrested and held, secretly, for three months. They were systematically mistreated and tortured with very loud music.


In a lawsuit now pending against former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and "other unidentified agents," Vance and Ertel accuse their U.S. government captors of subjecting them to psychological torture day and night. Lights were kept on in their cell around the clock. They endured solitary confinement. They had only thin plastic mattresses on concrete for sleeping. Meals were of powdered milk and bread or rice and chicken, but interrupted by selective deprivation of food and water. Ceaseless heavy metal and country music screamed in their ears for hours on end, their legal complaint alleges.




But darker allegations are included in the complaint over false imprisonment. Because he worked with the FBI, Vance contends, U.S. government officials in Iraq decided to retaliate against him and Ertel. He believes these officials conspired to jail the two not because they worked for a security company suspected of selling weapons to insurgents, but because they were sharing information with law enforcement agents outside the control of U.S. officials in Baghdad.



"In other words," claims the lawsuit, "United States officials in Iraq were concerned and wanted to find out about what intelligence agents in the United States knew about their territory and their operations. The unconstitutional policies that Rumsfeld and other unidentified agents had implemented for 'enemies' provided ample cover to detain plaintiffs and interrogate them toward that end."

If this is true, Vance and Ertel fell victim to a vicious turf war between the shadowy special operations and intelligence forces created by the Neocons and Vice President Cheney – the 'Other Agencies’ (OAs) set up by Rumsfeld’s Office of Special Plans – and anti-Neocon forces represented by the State Department and the FBI.


This, I have long contended, is probably what happened to Nicholas Berg in April 2004. (For a full list of the material about the Nick Berg case published on my website see links below).


For those new to the case, a brief summary follows …


Nick Berg was a 26 year-old US businessman of Jewish extraction. He was a specialist in radio communications tower repair and construction. Although Berg was, by all accounts, a supporter of George Bush and the US invasion of Iraq, his father, a member of the Democracy Now! group, was an open opponent of the war.


In Iraq, Berg found a commercial partner in Aziz al-Taee, a seedy Iraqi businessman, previously resident in the US, who was an associate of the Iranian-aligned Shiite businessman, Ahmad Chalabi. Aziz had an interesting criminal record in the US but had been instrumental in organising pro-invasion rallies before the war. It is likely that Berg combined his own fledgeling business endeavours with simple commercial intelligence-gathering for others.


Berg also had Iraqi relatives resident in Mosul. It was during a visit to Mosul, on 24 April 2004 that he was arrested by the Iraqi Police at a checkpoint because his Jewish name and Israeli stamps in his passport aroused suspicion. He was reportedly carrying a Farsi phrase book and anti-Zionist literature.


The Iraqi police turned Berg over to US military custody where he was interviewed on three occasions by the FBI. Berg was already well known to the Bureau. It is a curious fact that, while briefly a student at Oklahoma University, and before the events of 11 September 2001, his computer user ID had been used by Zacarias Moussaoui. The FBI had investigated this incident but found him innocent of any wrongdoing. The 911 investigator Michael Wright unearthed evidence supporting the view that Berg was working under CIA supervision at OU, perhaps spying on some of the alleged 911 hijackers who were living nearby at the time. Whatever the truth of this, suspicion must arise that Nick Berg was a part-time CIA operative and/or FBI informant. Certainly Berg made no complaints about his treatment by the FBI while he was in US custody in Mosul.


On 5 April, Berg’s father, who had learned of his incarceration from the US Consul in Baghdad, commenced legal proceedings for his release in the US Federal Court. The circumstances suggest that the US Consulate and the FBI spoke up for him. He was quickly released and offered a flight from Baghdad to Jordan. Reportedly he didn’t take up this offer, saying that he preferred to travel by road, with persons unknown whom he had somehow met. He left the al-Fanar Hotel on 10 April and disappeared.


No credible claim has ever surfaced that ransom demands were made, although Berg would have been a valuable, high-profile captive. A month later his decapitated body was found in Baghdad. Shortly afterwards, the infamous video of his decapitation, officially attributed to al-Qaeda, appeared on the internet. For George Bush, the timing was fortuitous, because the video provided a tailor-made "moral relativity"argument to bolster the US Government just as the story of the US torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib broke.


It is not difficult to see what might have happened in Berg’s case.


Remember that in early 2004, it was still possible for small-time would-be entrepreneurs like Berg to move about Iraq relatively freely. But operations by the Sunni and Baathist resistance were increasing. In late May, four US mercenaries were killed in an ambush in the Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold. The subsequent US attempt to subdue the city resulted in a minor disaster for US forces. A few days later US troops raided the offices of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, triggering a Shiite uprising. Suddenly, US troops were being attacked by the Shiites whom the US had relied upon to remain moderately well-disposed towards the occupation or at least neutral in relation to the escalating conflict with the Sunni and Baathist resistance. At the same time, in the US mainstream media, the view that the US had been tricked into invading Iraq on behalf of Iran began to be advanced. The fortunes of Ahmad Chalabi, until then something of a favourite with US ruling circles, suddenly plunged. The whole Neocon game-plan was falling apart. Behind the scenes rampant political confusion and paranoia would have reigned.


The Neocon-aligned OAs controlling much of the action in Iraq would certainly have known of Berg’s arrest in Mosul and would have resented the FBI and the Consulate’s interference in the case. And Berg’s relationship to a businessman close to the now discredited Ahmad Chalabi would not have helped. Under the confusing circumstance of the time, Berg looked like a highly suspicious character and he was one with whom the Neocon OAs would have felt they had unfinished business. It isn’t difficult to imagine they would have wanted to have a little chat with him. Nor is it difficult to imagine he might have died "accidentally" while under interrogation. Having seized Berg after his first incarceration had become a legal issue in the United States, his captors would have been in a lot of trouble had they later released him, but his death, apparently at the hands of al-Qaeda, would have been a safe resolution.


Donald Vance was lucky he got a prisoner registration number. At the time Berg was picked up, the CIA and OAs were holding unregistered "ghost prisoners" and they may still be doing so. Vance was probably given a number because the circumstances under which he was rescued by US troops from the Iraqi security company meant that several people whose loyalty and silence could not be relied on by the OAs, knew he had been taken into custody. In Berg’s case he was probably picked, unobserved, by an OA squad.


Donald Vance and his friend Nathan Ertel were very lucky indeed. In slightly different circumstances they might have ended up featuring in an "al-Qaeda" atrocity video, or perhaps, more likely these days, in one featuring "Iranian terrorists".


Oh, and the Iraqi security company for which they worked is still in business, but under a slightly different name, and is still receiving US funds.

The Nick Berg case on the Nick Possum Home Page
WARNING: some articles contain disturbing images

The Nicholas Berg execution:
A working hypothesis and a resolution for the orange jumpsuit mystery
23 May 2004
Why was Nick Berg wearing a US prison "jumpsuit" when he was apparently executed on video by what are claimed to be al-Qaeda-linked terrorists? Something fishy there, but there was an elegant explanation. This was my first work on the case, later elaborated by …

New evidence and observations on the Berg case
18 July 2004
A close comparison of frames from the Berg video and pictures from Abu Ghraib prison reveals more evidence that the execution video was recorded in the notorious prison complex. Also, a refinement on the issue of the orange jumpsuit, which was actually a two-piece US prison uniform. And for an "off camera" view of a videotaped interrogation like the one seen in the opening 13 seconds of the Berg execution video, see the postscript to this piece. WARNING: disturbing images.

Nick Berg: the missing month
1 June 2004
A lot of people would like to know what happened to Nicholas Berg after he walked out of Baghdad’s Fanar Hotel on 10 April. They say the 26 year-old American contractor was looking for a taxi when he walked off down the street and into history.

Nagging questions about Nicholas Berg's last days:
An open letter to Beth A. Payne, US Consul, Baghdad, Iraq
9 June 2004
Millions want to know the truth about the last days of the young American contractor murdered in Iraq. Was he seized a second time by US forces? The US Consul in Baghdad should tell us all she knows.

Our man in Kabul:
Torturing Afghanis with Fox News' celebrity mercenary
1 August 2004
The fascinating case of Jonathan Keith Idema a mercenary headhunter and one of Donald Rumsfeld's OA boys until he fell foul of the US State Department and the Afghan regime.





:: Article nr. 32084 sent on 13-apr-2007 01:06 ECT


www.uruknet.info?p=32084

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Uruknet .
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chucksheen
post Apr 19 2007, 12:07 PM
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Great articles. Thanks.
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painter
post Apr 19 2007, 12:33 PM
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I've always felt that the Nick Berg incident was a message being sent from one counterintelligence group to another, essentially saying, 'This is what can happen to you.' Of course these things usually have several levels of meaning or use. That it was 'fortuitous' for Bush is one example.
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Sanders
post Apr 19 2007, 05:58 PM
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Unbelievable
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