Video: Iranian-American filmmaker sues Rumsfeld

David Edwards
Published: Friday November 17, 2006

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In this video clip, CNN interviews Cyrus Kar, an Iranian-American filmmaker, who is suing U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for wrongful imprisonment and the violation of his Constitutional rights.

In Iraq to film a historical documentary, Kar was charged with being a terrorist and placed in the notorious prison at Abu Ghraib. He was held for 55 days, most of them in solitary confinement. After 49 days, he was finally given a hearing and eventually freed.

Rumsfeld has filed motions to have the suit dismissed. A hearing in January will determine if Kar's lawsuit can go forward.

A full transcript follows the video.


COLLINS: He went to a war zone to make a movie, but he became the key player in a real life prison drama. Now this filmmaker is suing Donald Rumsfeld. CNN's Randi Kaye explains.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Cyrus Kar is an Iranian-American who went to Iraq last year to film a historical documentary. It had nothing to do with the war. But just days after arriving, his trip took a stunning turn. Kar landed at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison where he says U.S. troops called him the American terrorist.

CYRUS KAR, FILMMAKER ARRESTED IN IRAQ: I could hear them in what must have been their standard mantra, which was, you f-ing terrorist. You're here to kill Americans. You f-ing terrorist.

KAYE: So how did this Los Angeles filmmaker, who's lived in the U.S. since Kindergarten, this Navy veteran, end up a suspected terrorist? Kar says his taxi, driven by an Iraqi, was stopped at a checkpoint. The car's trunk was search and Kar, his camera man and driver were arrested for plotting to build roadside bombs.

KAR: They found three dozen washing machine times.

KAYE: Did you know those were in there?

KAR: No.

KAYE: Did you know what they were being used for?

KAR: No.

KAYE: Washing machine timers are widely used by insurgents to trigger IEDs on roadsides. In time, Kar says his taxi driver would admit the timers were his. But when Kar was handed over to U.S. forces, he says his hands and feet were bound and he was left to bake for hours in a cage in 120 degree heat. He remembers a hood over his head nearly suffocated him.

Did you think you were going to die there at that point?

KAR: I remember I kept telling myself, stay awake. You won't die today. Stay awake. KAYE: Kar says he showed U.S. troops his passport and his veterans card but they still took him to Abu Ghraib. After Abu Ghraib, Kar says he was thrown into solitary confinement for two months, at the same prison as Saddam Hussein. If Kar's story is true, why would the U.S. treat one of its own citizens this way?

MARK ROSENBAUM, CYRUS KAR'S ATTORNEY: Saddam Hussein received more due process than Cyrus Kar did.

KAYE: The ACLU's Mark Rosenbaum represents Kar in a lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking military officials. They say Rumsfeld's replacement will also be added to the suit. The lawsuit claims the U.S. government deprived Cyrus Kar of his constitutional rights and violated the Geneva Convention.

ROSENBAUM: Of holding people in communicado in the hell holes of places like Abu Ghraib, that's not acceptable. And it's Constitution 101.

KAYE: A spokesman for coalition forces says Kar was treated fairly and humanely, consistent with the standards set by the Geneva Convention. But Rosenbaum says Kar passed a lie detector test. And, after all, the taxi driver did admit the washing machine timers were his. Still, he says, Kar was refused a lawyer.

While Cyrus Kar was being interrogated in Iraq, he had no idea he was also being investigated back here at home. In a midnight raid, FBI agents turned his Los Angeles apartment upside down. They confiscated two computers, credit card statements, phone records and airline tickets, none of it provided any evidence to warrant keeping him in Iraq.

Also, Kar says he was held for 55 days, 53 in solitary confinement. In fact, 49 days passed before he even had a hearing. Why did it take so long to free an innocent American?

Does a lawsuit like this, though, really have any legs? I mean you think about suing Don Rumsfeld, General Casey. Do you really think you're going to get somewhere?

ROSENBAUM: The government is saying that what they did was perfectly lawful. And so I think this lawsuit is the only chance that citizens like Cyrus have in restoring what the basic principles are.

KAYE: Secretary Rumsfeld and the other defendants have filed motions to dismiss the case. The Department of Justice argues, "the length of the plaintiff's detention was well in keeping with the exigencies of ongoing hostilities in Iraq and the needs to ascertain fully and accurately his true status." It adds, "once the tribunal had assessed the plaintiff's case, military personnel took only six days to review the decision and make arrangements to release the plaintiff."

A hearing to determine if Kar's lawsuit will go forward is set for January. At some point, while you were there, did you say to yourself, maybe I shouldn't have come to Iraq in the height of war to shoot this documentary about some Persian leader that's been gone 2,500 years?

KAR: You know, I think a lot of people might find me crazy for this, but, no, I never regretted my decision.

KAYE: Cyrus Kar's documentary would have been about a great Persian conqueror, a ruler considered by many to be the father of human rights. The irony, was not lost on Cyrus Kar.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Los Angeles.