Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 16 News List

A Hollywood casualty of war

Cyrus Kar is a US citizen who was born in Iran. He went to Iraq to film a historical documentary but was then accused of being `the next John Walker Lindh'


Cyrus Kar, 44, a filmmaker from Los Angeles, was released earlier this month after spending 55 days in US military custody, on suspicion of being a terrorist.


After his first four days in solitary confinement at a US military prison in Iraq, Cyrus Kar was taken from his small cell and brought before two FBI agents, who before questioning him gave him a sheet of paper listing his rights.

"I have the right to a lawyer?" Kar, an aspiring filmmaker from Los Angeles, said he asked as he scanned the list.

"Yes," he said he was told by one of the agents, whom he knew only as Robert.

"Do you actually have lawyers here?" Kar inquired.

"No," he quoted the agent as explaining. "The last guy who requested one is still waiting two years later, in Afghanistan."

The episode was emblematic, Kar said, of the 55 days he spent imprisoned in Iraq, struggling to prove his innocence to what he described as an inflexible, often surreal bureaucracy that seemed in no hurry to sort out the guilt or innocence even of a man who carried a US passport and had served in the US Navy.

"Certainly there were some evil, evil people in there," Kar, 44, said of Camp Cropper, the prison where he was held, a few cell doors down from one of Saddam Hussein's brothers. "But they are casting a very wide net, and anything that's scooped up in it will be thrown in a cell, and they'll sort it out later."

Kar, a naturalized US citizen who was born in Iran and went to the US as a boy, had gone to Iraq to film part of a historical documentary about Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC.

After two weeks in Iraq, Kar and his Iranian cameraman were arrested on May 17 by the Iraqi police, who found two plastic bags filled with washing-machine timers in the trunk of a taxi they had hired to drive them to the Shiite town of Balad, 75km north of Baghdad. US military officials, who said such timers are commonly used to make insurgent bombs, held the two men and the taxi driver as "imperative security threats to Iraq."

Kar and his cameraman, Farshid Faraji, were released July 10; the driver, who officials say proved to be the owner of the timers, remains in custody, a military spokesman said. A senior military spokesman in Iraq said Kar had been treated fairly and according to "well-established procedures."

"These are serious matters of life and death, and there's a process -- which takes some time -- to gather all the information," said a Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman. "The military took a very serious and deliberate approach to this case."

Kar said he was well treated by the military guards, whom he described as honorable young men and women who, for the most part, just wanted to go home. But he spoke angrily of the officers in charge, who he said ignored his repeated requests to see a US Embassy official and left him in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

In a long interview, his first since returning home last week, Kar described an ordeal that seemed to mix Orwell or Kafka with flashes of the comical and the absurd.

Kar, a wiry former Silicon Valley sales executive who speaks in passionate bursts about film, politics and other subjects that fascinate him, said he had known the risks of going to Iraq. But after traveling for the project to Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Iran, he was determined to film at Babylon, the ancient city that was central to the story of Cyrus the Great.

A few days after receiving their Iraqi visas on April 30, Kar and the cameraman left Tehran and traveled into Iraq. They filmed in northern Iraq for about 10 days, then drove to Baghdad on May 13 with a Kurdish guide.

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