Torturing the Whistle Blowers: The Case of Vance and Ertel in Iraq, Substantiated by Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs

Posted on 5 November 2010 by


Full credit for this story goes to Ishtar Enana, an Iraqi citizen journalist and blogger who has undertaken the monumental task of translating the Wikileaks Iraq War Logs into Arabic. Through her in depth digging through the logs, Ishtar reported (here, here, and here) that she found evidence in the war logs to substantiate the case brought forth in 2007 against Donald Rumsfeld by two American “security contractors” employed in Iraq. The two, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, were abducted and imprisoned by U.S. forces, where they experienced a range of American torture and abuse along with Iraqi inmates. The suspicion was that they were whistle blowers concealing a greater amount of information than they had revealed, and all rights were denied to them. Very little about this case has been previously publicized, this one being one of the leading accounts (a few more at the bottom).

As Vance and Ertel make clear in their lawsuit, in 2006 they were “indefinitely detained without due process of law in a United States military compound located on foreign soil. They were not charged with any crime, nor had they committed any crime” (p. 1). They were denied access to an attorney and were subjected to abuse. They specifically point to Donald Rumsfeld for instituting a series of unconstitutional policies that would deprive anyone deemed to be an “enemy combatant,” even if American, any of the rights inherent to due process.

So what started the ball rolling against Vance and Ertel and why were they targeted? They were whistle blowers, the details of which are produced from pages 11 through 24 of their lawsuit, and on page 27. Their revelations implicate independent American military contractors who set up a corrupt weapons trade in Iraq, and even a State Department employee who simultaneously had business dealings with one such private entity, Shield Group Security. Vance and Ertel also uncovered the “beer for bullets” program (p. 20), organized by American contractor Josef Trimpert, where Trimpert would use SGS money to buy imported liquor, which was then given to U.S. troops in exchange for weapons and ammunition, which were then sold locally.

As Vance and Ertel stated, “while working as civilians with privately-owned companies operating in Baghdad,” they “came into contact with political, financial, and operational information,” that they “considered to be suspicious and potentially indicative of corruption. Fulfilling what they “believed to be their patriotic duties as American citizens,” Vance and Ertel “reported these irregularities to employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’), the State Department, and other federal government officials. Both Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel undertook this reporting for their country, even though they knew full well that the disclosures could result in serious, if not deadly, retaliation by those on whom they were informing” (p. 5). However, it seems that the information they uncovered could have implicated U.S. personnel in corruption. As Vance and Ertel found, falling under suspicion by “certain low-level bureaucrats in the federal government” who “apparently came to believe, quite incorrectly, that Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel might have even more information,” those employees “set out to extract it from them.” Because those low-level bureaucrats “hoped to discover information useful to their personal and professional agendas, and because Defendant Rumsfeld imbued them with unchecked authority to detain and interrogate even American citizens as they please,” those officials decided to arrest Vance and Ertel. They held Vance “incommunicado for three months,” and Ertel “incommunicado for over one month,” in order to engage in “torturous interrogations, which revealed only that Plaintiffs were innocent civilians who had already volunteered everything they knew to the federal government” (pps. 5-6).

The case seemed so preposterous that even some of the American soldiers who were their captors were surprised to learn that these two detainees, Vance and Ertel, imprisoned with Iraqis labeled as “security internee” and “enemy combatant,” were actually Americans. This puts an end to simplistic assertions that this treatment could never be meted out to American citizens–it can and it has.

One of the striking things brought forth in the lawsuit by Vance and Ertel is that once they had severed ties with SGS, they were effectively stranded outside the “Green Zone,” and kept within this SGS compound–and when they called the U.S. Embassy for help, and troops were sent to “rescue” them, that is when they were taken into custody by their “rescuers” and then brought first to Camp Prosperity and then Camp Cropper. Eventually they were submitted to the same kind of abuse that some might have thought had been reserved for Iraqi “terrorists” only. The further irony is that they were being accused of the very activities about which they leaked information, that corrupt American contractors at SGS were involved in an illegal weapons trade that likely benefited insurgents.

Had this all been just the word of Vance and Ertel, some might have sought to dismiss their claims. However, the Wikileaks Iraq War Logs contain a document that lends weight to their claims. That document states that two American civilians were being held captive in a compound and were rescued by coalition forces, and that a large weapons cache had also been found. These two Americans are identified as employees of Shield Group Security, held by SGS against their will. The document also states that the weapons cache belonged to SGS–there is no mention of any suspicion that wrongly connected Vance and Ertel with that stockpile, like their later accusers would allege. SGS is classed in the document by the U.S. Embassy as a “bad employer.”

Perhaps even more shocking and unbelievable is that anyone would dare to argue that the Wikileaks disclosures were a “bad” thing, when such critical information about various crimes–as must be disclosed, and prosecuted–is now receiving attention. Arguing against the leaks is arguing to cover up crimes.

Update: For more on the lawsuit by Vance and Ertel, see the following report from March 2010:

Related reports and web sites:

  1. Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment” (Michael Moss, The New York Times, 18 December 2006)
  2. The Story of Prisoner 200343” (Joel Roberts, CBS News, 18 December 2006)
  3. My Name Used to Be #200343” (David Phinney, Inter Press Service, 07 April 2007)
  4. Donald Vance: 2007 recipient of the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize” (The Ridenhour Prizes)
  5. Illinois Judge Refuses to Dismiss Rumsfeld Lawsuit” (08 March 2010)
  6. Donald Rumsfeld on Trial” (Now Public, 31 August 2010)
  7. Donald Vance (Wikipedia)