LOS ANGELES - After more than 50 days in an Iraqi detention center, Los Angeles documentary fillmmaker and Navy veteran Cyrus Kar was released with his cameraman from U.S. military custody, attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California and Kar's relatives announced Sunday.
In a phone call to his family and ACLU lawyers from the lawn at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, Kar said he was kept in solitary confinement with just one hour outside his cell each day and that he repeatedly asked for access to a lawyer, but was denied.
"It was like they put us in a cell and forgot about us," Kar said through a patchy connection on a satellite phone in Baghdad. "The only thing I knew about what was going on came from three short conversations with my family."
Kar's release from Camp Cropper, a military jail near the Baghdad airport, came just days after ACLU attorneys on behalf of his family filed a lawsuit in federal court against top U.S. officials for violating Kar's constitutional rights, federal law and international law and just one day before a federal judge was scheduled to hear the case in Washington, D.C.
Both Kar, a 44-year-old part time college professor, and his cameraman Farshid Faraji, who was detained in the Abu Ghraib prison, said they were concerned about the future of many other detainees who were similarly detained with no way to prove their innocence.
"My film is not my highest priority right now," Kar said. "People don't know the conditions in the detention centers. I supported the war in Iraq and I certainly support our people in uniform, but the public needs to know what's going on in Iraq. My eyes have been opened."
After Kar missed his return flight to Los Angeles, his relatives began a nearly two-month long odyssey to release Kar from U.S. custody. Kar's first cousin Shahrzad Folger and his aunt Parvin Modarress, contacted or attempted to contact several government agencies including the State Department, the Pentagon, the Embassy, the Navy and the offices of elected officials, but could confirm nothing about Kar even after they received assurances from the FBI that Kar had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
"We were so desperate to bring him home, but now I can't stop smiling, I'm so happy my nephew is safe," said Parvin Modarress, Kar's aunt. "I can't wait to have him here with us where we know he is unharmed."
Kar grew up along the West Coast after emigrating from Iran as a child. He served in the Navy for three years before earning a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University and a master's degree from Pepperdine University. For the past three years, he had been working on a historical documentary and manuscript about the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Kar and his cameraman Faraji had traveled to Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey and Afghanistan and collected dozens of hours of film. Kar lacked critical footage of Babylon and entered Iraq only after securing appropriate permits and visas from the U.S. and Iraqi governments and from Kurdish authorities. He has now learned that the government destroyed all his recent footage and his equipment.
"The government cannot hold someone indefinitely without access to family, without access to lawyers, and with no charges, especially after the FBI has cleared him of any and all wrongdoing," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. "This trashes the constitution."
The lawsuit will proceed until Kar is safely home in Los Angeles. Attorneys in the case are international law specialist and former Chair of Amnesty International USA Paul Hoffman, Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky; Rosenbaum, Ahilan Arulanantham and Ranjana Natarajan of the ACLU of Southern California; Legal Director Steven Shapiro and Ben Wizner of the national ACLU; Lucas Guttentag and Lee Gelernt of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; and Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.