The case of Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel reads like Catch-22, updated for an even sillier war. In a 2006 profile of Vance for the New York Times, Michael Moss laid out the story: Vance was "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 FBI 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 [Ertel] were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents." . . .The spread of torture and detention without trial under the Bush administration was not just a threat to dangerous brown-skinned people, as most Americans seem to think. Vance and Ertel, American citizens trying to do the right thing, were sucked into the morass of Bush's illegality and immorality, and we all ought to be frightened by that. Which is why I want this trial and every other similar trial to go forward, to force our legal system to confront the mass illegality of our government in the war on terror. Maybe in this case, at least, some justice will be done.
Overnight, Vance and Ertel went from U.S. contractors to "enemy combatants," and both were allegedly subjected to sleep deprivation, aggressive interrogation, blindfolding, shackling, hooding, and "walling." Both were denied access to legal counsel for their appearances before the Detainee Status Board, and neither was allowed to see the evidence against them.
I especially liked this line from Judge David Hamilton, dismissing the claim from Rumsfeld's lawyers that he could not have known that the treatment he authorized was unconstitutional:
On what conceivable basis could a U.S. public official possibly conclude that it was constitutional to torture U.S. citizens?Lithwick explains why it is vital that somebody be held accountable for these abuses:
A country in which nobody is ever really responsible is a country in which nobody is ever truly safe.