- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The U.S.-led coalition has detained five men thought to be American citizens on suspicion of insurgent activities in Iraq and is determining whether they will come under the Iraqi or American justice system, or be released.

The Pentagon declined to provide their names but confirmed that they were picked up separately and are being held at “theater level” detention centers, which include Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca in southern Iraq and Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport.

A defense official, who asked not to be named, said the detainees are the only Americans who have been arrested in Iraq since coalition forces ousted Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

Because they are thought to be Americans, the five will be entitled to a review by a three-officer board. The board will determine whether the men were enemy combatants, criminals or innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Among the detainees is an Iranian-American, Cyrus Kar, 44, a U.S. Navy veteran, said family members who contacted the press this week. His relatives said he was in Iraq filming a documentary and is not an insurgent.

The defense official said Mr. Kar was riding in a taxicab that, at an Iraqi checkpoint, was found to contain dozens of washing-machine timers. Insurgents use such devices in improvised explosive devices, which have killed hundreds of U.S. troops, Iraqi forces and civilians.

Another is a Jordanian-American captured in August. U.S. officials think he became part of the terror network led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi.

The other three are Iraqi-Americans picked up in April, May and June. One is suspected of being involved in a kidnapping, another is accused of having prior knowledge of an insurgent attack, and the third is accused of “suspicious activities.”

“All were engaged in activities that authorities felt merited their apprehension and detention,” the defense official said.

Washington has faced similar decisions in two cases of Taliban fighters: John Walker Lindh of California and Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Louisiana-born citizen who grew up in Saudi Arabia. Lindh pleaded guilty to aiding the enemy and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Hamdi gave up his American citizenship and was released to his family in Saudi Arabia.

The five in Iraq, none of whom was born in the United States, face an uncertain future. They could be held and tried in Iraq’s Central Criminal Court. The system has tried 518 detainees, resulting in 342 convictions.

The defense official said the Justice Department, which has representatives in Iraq, could decide that the five be transferred to the U.S. court system. Another possibility is that the three-officer board may recommend release for some or all of the five.

The Multi-National Force - Iraq is holding more than 10,000 people at the three detention centers. The vast majority are Iraqis, with about 400 foreigners.

Under a system established last year, a Combined Review and Release Board of Iraqis and Americans is reviewing the status of each prisoner. The goal is to conduct an initial review within 120 days of arrest and subsequent reviews every 180 days.

The board has reviewed 14,781 case files and recommended 2,772 detainees for outright release and 5,448 for release to someone who vouches for them. An additional 6,561 were recommended for continued detention.

“We’re dealing with life-and-death situations over there, so it’s important to be very thorough,” the defense official said.

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