Strange Story from Iraq
Cyrus Kar's family says his passion for a documentary film he was making about an ancient Persian ruler brought him to Iraq in May. Potential bomb parts found inside a taxi hired by the filmmaker have kept him there, locked up in a U.S. military jail outside Baghdad.
Now relatives of the 44-year-old Iranian-American have sued the U.S. government to gain his freedom. They contend his detention tramples his constitutional rights, and that FBI officials have cleared him of suspicion.
"I'm here to beg President Bush ... to release an innocent boy," Kar's aunt, Parvin Modarress, said at a news conference Wednesday to announce the filing of the lawsuit in Washington, D.C. "He went to Iraq to do his dream work, to make a documentary."
Born in Iran, Kar became as thoroughly immersed in American culture as any native-born citizen after immigrating here as a child, according to his family.
The Los Angeles resident served in the Navy for several years. He studied marketing at San Jose State University, business at Pepperdine University, and worked in the computer industry during Silicon Valley's tech boom.
And several years ago Kar decided to try his hand at filmmaking.
With help from independent director-producer Philippe Diaz, he began working on a documentary about Cyrus the Great, a Persian king during the 500s B.C.
He interviewed experts and scholars and shot up to 60 hours of footage at archaeological sites in Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan, according to his family and Diaz.
Diaz, chairman of the Los Angeles studio Cinema Libre, said Kar had spent close to $90,000 in savings and loans so far to shoot the film. The studio had paid about $10,000 and planned to put up another $100,000 or more in post-production.
Diaz thought Kar's detention was a mistake. A staunch supporter of the Iraq war, Kar was far more right of center than many left leaning colleagues and relatives, Diaz said.
"It was always a joke because Cyrus is much more conservative," Diaz said. "He always believed in everything which is American."
Among Kar's final tasks was shooting in and around the ancient city of Babylon, one of Cyrus the Great's conquests.
On May 17, officials and family say, he was traveling with an Iranian filmmaker after leaving a Baghdad hotel when their taxi was stopped at a checkpoint.
Iraqi security forces allegedly seized several dozen washing machine timers found in the taxi - components frequently used in terrorist bombs.
"I think most people would agree that's somewhat suspicious," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. John Skinner. "All of the facts need to be thoroughly questioned. ... These are life and death situations, and when it comes to issues of security you need to be extremely cautious."
Kar's relatives say that FBI agents searched his home and that Agent John D. Wilson in Los Angeles told them weeks ago that Kar's story had checked out.
The agent allegedly told the family that Kar had passed a polygraph test, been cleared of any charges, and that the washing machine timers belonged to the taxi driver, who was transporting them to a friend.
FBI spokeswoman Cathy Viray declined to comment.
Kar is among five Americans detained for suspected insurgent activity by the U.S. military in Iraq, according to his family and government officials. Others include three Iraqi-Americans and a Jordanian-American.
Incarcerated at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport, Kar spoke several times with his family during monitored 10-minute conversations.
He sounded tired in the first call in May, irate in the second. He was frustrated that the military could hold him, saying "they had all the power," according to his family.
When his aunt asked why he was detained, Kar said, "It's because of the taxi driver," when an eavesdropping American official told him not to discuss the case.
"I'm hurt by our government," said Kar's cousin Shahrzad Folger. "I'm hurt that they would do this to one of their own citizens, to one of their veterans."