Vance, a two-time George W. Bush voter and Navy veteran, recounted the events of his imprisonment and the grief of his fiancé and family. They did not know if he was alive or dead, he said. They were already making inquiries to the U.S. State Department on how to ship his body home.
He then drew a wider circle around his ordeal to include the countless others who have been held falsely without charge and denied normal legal constitutional protections under law. "My name used to be 200343," Vance said recalling his prisoner ID. "If they can do this to a former Navy man and an American, what is happening to people in facilities all over the world run by the American government?"
Vance's nightmare began last year on Apr. 15 when he and co-worker Nathan Ertel barricaded themselves in a Baghdad office after their employer, an Iraqi private security firm, took away their ID tags. They feared for their lives because they suspected the company was involved in selling unauthorised guns on the black market and other nefarious activity. A U.S. military squad freed them from the red zone in Baghdad after a friend at the U.S. embassy advised him to call for help.
Once they reached the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, government officials took them inside the embassy, listened to their individual accounts and then sent them to a trailer outside for sleep. Two or three hours later, before the crack of dawn, U.S. military personnel woke them. This time, however, Vance and Ertel, Shield Security's contract manager, were under arrest. Soldiers bound their wrists with zip ties and covered their eyes with goggles blacked out with duct tape.
The two were then escorted to a humvee and driven first to possibly Camp Prosperity and then to Camp Cropper, a high-security prison near the Baghdad airport where Saddam Hussein was once kept. Vance says he was denied the usual body armour and helmet while traveling through the perilous Baghdad streets outside the safety of the Green Zone or a U.S. military installation.
So . . . any comments from those who want to argue that the Iraq occupation is going well, and that our conduct is all above board? Anybody? How about I quote just a bit more, OK?
In a lawsuit now pending against former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and "other unidentified agents," Vance and Ertel accuse their U.S. government captors of subjecting them to psychological torture day and night. Lights were kept on in their cell around the clock. They endured solitary confinement. They had only thin plastic mattresses on concrete for sleeping. Meals were of powdered milk and bread or rice and chicken, but interrupted by selective deprivation of food and water. Ceaseless heavy metal and country music screamed in their ears for hours on end, their legal complaint alleges.
They lived through "conditions of confinement and interrogation tantamount to torture", says the lawsuit filed in northern Illinois U.S. District Court. "Their interrogators utilised the types of physically and mentally coercive tactics that are supposedly reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants."
Rumsfeld is singled out as the key defendant because he played a critical role in establishing a policy of "unlawful detention and torment" that Vance, Ertel and countless others in the "war on terror" have endured, the lawsuit asserts, noting that the former defence secretary and other high-level military commanders acting at his direction developed and authorised a policy that allows government officials unilateral discretion to designate possible enemies of the United States.
But darker allegations are included in the complaint over false imprisonment. Because he worked with the FBI, Vance contends, U.S. government officials in Iraq decided to retaliate against him and Ertel. He believes these officials conspired to jail the two not because they worked for a security company suspected of selling weapons to insurgents, but because they were sharing information with law enforcement agents outside the control of U.S. officials in Baghdad.
"In other words," claims the lawsuit, "United States officials in Iraq were concerned and wanted to find out about what intelligence agents in the United States knew about their territory and their operations. The unconstitutional policies that Rumsfeld and other unidentified agents had implemented for 'enemies' provided ample cover to detain plaintiffs and interrogate them toward that end."
It may take some time to sort out the allegations as the legal process grinds forward, but, in the meantime, Vance is raising new questions about his detention. He still wonders why his jailers didn't just call the FBI and have him cleared. They had access to his computer and cell phone to determine if his claims were true.
"When I told them to do that, they just got angry and told me to stop answering questions I wasn't being asked," Vance said. "I think they were butting heads with the State Department. I just snitched on the wrong people. I took the bull by the horns and got the horn."
Since Vance is a Navy veteran, does all this sound like "Supporting Our Troops"? Who will be the next victim of this surreal treatment? You know, if you look at me neo-Earth map, you'll notice that someone in Tehran checked in once; also Jerusalem, China, Colombia . . . How soon will it be before someone gets wind of this, and I end up having to listen to Gretchen Wilson at 100dB for hours on end (the very definition of torture; if they choose to play Tool, I'll probably just sing along)? I ask this in all seriousness because the end of this entire policy is the ability to act this way with impunity.
I am glad that Vance and his partner were released, and I wish them well in their legal actions. More important than any of that, however, is the simple fact that his story is out now for all to read and hear and consider - are there any other Vance's and Ertel's out there? Who else will be Vance and Ertel? Does the fact that it hasn't happened to you or you or you (I have heard this tired, nauseating line over and over again) mean nothing now that we all know it has happened to one of us, an American citizen doing his job and his duty as an American and former military person? What will it take to end this insanity?