Bringing democracy and justice to Iraq

| Outstanding!
The Times runs the story of Donald Vance, a US contractor in Iraq who was an informant for the FBI and then was captured when the company he worked for was raided:
The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.


Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.

The story told through those records and interviews illuminates the haphazard system of detention and prosecution that has evolved in Iraq, where detainees are often held for long periods without charges or legal representation, and where the authorities struggle to sort through the endless stream of detainees to identify those who pose real threats.

"Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had", said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. "While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves."

A spokeswoman for the Pentagons detention operations in Iraq, First Lt. Lea Ann Fracasso, said in written answers to questions that the men had been treated fair and humanely, and that there was no record of either man complaining about their treatment.

She said officials did not reach Mr. Vances contact at the F.B.I. until he had been in custody for three weeks. Even so, she said, officials determined that he posed a threat and decided to continue holding him. He was released two months later, Lieutenant Fracasso said, based on a subsequent re-examination of his case, and his stated plans to leave Iraq.


The military has never explained why it continued to consider Mr. Vance a security threat, except to say that officials decided to release him after further review of his case.

In case it's not obvious, this is why the ordinary criminal justice system doesn't allow people to be held indefinitely without access to counsel or habeas corpus hearings. If your job is to catch and detain security threats, you don't have a lot of incentive to let people if you aren't totally sure about them. For that matter, you don't have a lot of incentive to sort out who's a security threat and who's not. The point of an adversarial system is to institutionalize that kind of incentive. Of course, in this particular case the suspect is an American citizen so he had family who could make a fuss (though as you can see above, it's not entirely clear why Mr. Vance was released, I imagine bad PR is something even the American military cares about.) I suspect that having your average Iraqi family upset about the fact that their son is being held incommunicado probably isn't quite as effective.