From Detroit to Baghdad: Intimations of Ed Seitz
October 27, 2004
When Ed Seitz was killed in the shower by a bomb lobbed into Camp Victory, near Baghdad airport last weekend, I thought the name was familiar. Seitz, described in news stories as a 41-year-old State Department special agent in the Diplomatic Security Service, had been in Iraq for less than three months. He was billed as the first U.S. diplomat to have been killed in Iraq. The story I remembered put him in Detroit back in late February 2002, which is when John Clarke, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) sent to the counterpunch.org Website I coedit with Jeffrey St. Clair a vivid account of an encounter with Seitz in the early afternoon of Feb. 19, 2002.
Clarke had crossed the international bridge between Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron, Mich., on his way to a speaking engagement that had been set up by students at Michigan State University. He never made the gig. Instead, after border agents had checked him out on the computer, and searched him and his car, he was held in "a controlled reception area."
"After about an hour and a half," Clarke wrote, "a man entered … and passed by me into the inner offices. He was carrying a big folder and a pile of files. It struck me that he carried them the way a highly skilled worker might carry his or her precision tools. He spent some time in discussion with the local officers, and then I was brought into an interrogation room to deal with him. He introduced himself and gave me his card. His name was Edward J. Seitz of the State Department of the United States Diplomatic Security Service, and his rank was Special Agent. I found him to be an impressive and fascinating character. It was immediately obvious to me that I was dealing with a specialist in interrogation methods. He told the admiring locals at one point that he had been stationed in Yemen, and I avoided speculating on how he had employed his talents there."
In a scenario worthy of Joe Orton, the admiring Clarke described how Seitz expertly shifted from role to role. First, the pose of Inspector Bumble, "extremely affable in his manner and striking a pose of mild confusion that was designed to make me underestimate him." The "basic strategy … apart from general intelligence gathering, was to try and set me up to tell him something false that would place me in the situation of violating U.S. law."
Clarke gave forthright answers, and Seitz's demeanor abruptly changed. Inspector Bumble disappeared. Seitz gradually shifted his chair closer and closer to Clarke, barking out well-informed interrogatories. "Was I personally an anarchist or a socialist? (In the interests of anti-capitalist unity, I won't say which one of these I acknowledged I was.) Seitz had a huge file on OCAP with him that included leaflets from public speaking events I had been at in the United States. He knew the name of the man I stayed with the last time I was in Chicago."
Suddenly, the mask of affability went back on. Seitz told Clarke he was a 'gentleman' and he didn't want to lock him up. He told Clarke he would have to ban him from the U.S. but he could go to the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and apply for a waiver. He could just take a seat in the waiting room while they prepared some paper work but Clarke would soon be on his way.
"I had not been sitting out there long, however, before the special agent came out to try a new tack that I had heard of in the past. Essentially, his plan was to make me think he was utterly mad and, thereby, rattle me to the point where I lost my judgment. I assume the method works better if it is used after serious sleep deprivation. Then came the most astounding part of the whole interrogation. Out of the blue, Seitz demanded to know where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. I knew where he was, he insisted. If I grew a beard, I would look like Bin Laden. I was holding back on telling him why I was going to the university and who I was going to meet there. If I didn't want to go to jail, it was time to tell him the real story. I replied that I had been quite open with him about my intentions and that sending me to jail was now up to him. He laughed and told me there were no problems. I could go home after all. Did I drink tea or coffee? Would I have a coffee with him if he came up to Toronto? I told him I would, which was the only lie I told that day, and he gathered up his files and left."
Work got busier for Seitz. Soon he was involved in what ultimately became a humiliation for the Department of Justice prosecutors and for security agents like Seitz. This was the Koubriti case (otherwise known as the "Detroit Sleeper Cell case"), the first case to proceed to trial on terrorism-related charges following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The case arose from a Sept. 17, 2001, search of an apartment in the greater Detroit area. Detroit Joint Terrorism Task Force ("JTTF") agents went to the apartment in an attempt to locate and question Nabil Al-Marabh, an individual on the FBI's "watch list" of suspected terrorists. Although Al-Marabh's name was listed on the mailbox, he was not actually living at the apartment at the time of the search. Instead agents found defendants Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, who were living as apparent transients with little or no furniture.
Life very rapidly became a nightmare for these three, charged with being a sleeper cell of Al Qaeda, spying out the terrain for another terror attack. They were tried and convicted. Then, on August 31 of this year, Eric Strauss, the U.S. attorney in Eastern District of Michigan, filed a motion agreeing with the defendants' counsel that the prime charges be dropped and a new trial ordered.
In fact, the 60-page motion is a rare, very rare, but nonetheless estimable (and extremely readable) testimony to the capacity of the Department of Justice to research and then disclose how a case was won by all too familiar lying, concoction of false testimony, use of false witness (the jailhouse snitch), withholding of potentially exculpatory testimony, and so forth, by government officials, some of senior rank.
What was almost certainly the casual scribble of a demented man, previously lodging in the apartment of the accused, was offered in evidence as the detailed map of a U.S. base in Turkey. A tourist home movie in Las Vegas was brandished to the jury as Al Qaeda espionage. The U.S. attorney's motion to dismiss seems to agree with the defense translator who had contended that a portion of the videotape's soundtrack that the government's translator claimed contained a direct threat and derogatory remark about America actually contained an old song about eating a duck.
Seitz was in the middle of all this. What was he doing in Baghdad? Clarke's speculation about Seitz's past in Yemen makes one wonder. I'm glad Clarke, who thought Seitz was an impressive man, made that vivid sketch that breathed life into what would otherwise have been a brief, dry news item about one more death in a doomed mission.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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