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U.S. contractor illegally detained in Afghanistan, officials say

Afghan officials release David Gordon after intervention by three U.S. congressmen, who allege he was held unlawfully and beaten because of his company's contractual dispute with a Kabul firm.

April 05, 2013|By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., right, seen with Rep. Bobby Scott in February, said of the contractor's detention: "Justice has not yet been served. Those who unlawfully detained him need to be held accountable, especially given that this occurred at the hands of those who are supposed to be our ally."
Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., right, seen with Rep. Bobby Scott in February,… (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)

KABUL, Afghanistan — An American contractor was detained illegally for 24 hours in an Afghan prison, beaten, denied more than basic medical help and told he wouldn't be released unless his company paid $2.4 million, according to three U.S. congressmen and his employer.

Contractor David Gordon was released Friday afternoon after the congressmen wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and after the company's attorney in Afghanistan appealed to U.S.-led coalition forces. Gordon, of Tamerlane Global Services based in Reston, Va., is in need of medical attention and hopes to return to the U.S. soon, his Kabul-based attorney added.

"Justice has not yet been served," said Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.). "Those who unlawfully detained him need to be held accountable, especially given that this occurred at the hands of those who are supposed to be our ally."

Gordon was in Afghanistan installing tracking devices designed to prevent fuel pilferage on fuel trucks used by coalition forces, according to congressional and company officials. On Wednesday, he was detained by the Afghan deputy attorney general, Rahmatullah Nazari. Nazari is from the same tribe as the leaders of GHL, a Kabul-based company with whom Tamerlane has had a long-standing contract dispute, Tamerlane officials said.

"It was unrelated to the work he was doing," said Ryan Kelley, the company's senior attorney, in a telephone interview. "He was just someone they could drag in and use to apply pressure."

Officials at the Kabul attorney general's office declined to comment. "I don't have any information about this issue," said Basir Azizi, an attorney general spokesman. Kabul's police chief, Mohammad Ayob Salangi, confirmed that Gordon had been arrested and imprisoned in the capital. "I don't think the guy was beaten by anyone," he added.

Officials at GHL could not be reached for comment.

Tamerlane's attorney in Kabul, Kimberley Cy Motley, said Nazari acknowledged in her presence that the detention order had no legal merit given that this was a contractual civil dispute between Tamerlane and GHL and not a criminal matter but that he signed it anyway.

Motley said that Nazari wanted to let GHL staff members take Gordon down to the detention facilities. "I got between them and my guy and shouted," she said. "I said, 'Are you kidding me?' and went off on them," at which point they backed down and had Afghan authorities take Gordon away.

In prison, Gordon was let into the yard where he was ambushed by other inmates, his attorneys and company officials said. A glass was broken over his head and he was slashed and beaten by an Afghan prisoner, they added, as Afghan guards looked on before dragging him back to his cell, where he was left to bleed overnight.

The next day, Gordon was taken to a hospital by six armed guards and given stitches but none of the needed blood tests, and doctors seemed rushed and intimidated by the guards, Motley said.

"They wouldn't even let the doctor really treat him," Kelley said. "They just removed him back to the jail almost immediately after bandaging him superficially."

Motley, who said she has handled about 30 Americans imprisoned in Afghan jails in recent years and that none were assaulted, called this treatment "highly irregular." Kelley added that the treatment in prison suggested possible collaboration between Afghan authorities and GHL. "The treatment he received when he was brought into the yard raises eyebrows," Kelley said.

Gordon's wife, pregnant with their third child on a family visit to Ireland, was distraught on hearing the news of his detention, Tamerlane officials said.

At the company's request, Rigell and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) sent a letter asking Kerry to intervene and expressing serious concern over the lack of protection Gordon was receiving. The pressure appeared to work, with the Afghan attorney general's office agreeing to release him Friday.

"It appears there's been a good result," said Dan Scandling, chief of staff at Wolf's office.

During Gordon's initial detention, U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul didn't seem to push Gordon's case aggressively, Kelley said, only ensuring that he was being fed in the prison. And when Afghan officials turned him over to the Americans, the U.S. military was present but embassy officials weren't, added Motley, who praised the military's role.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson said the diplomatic mission's offices provided all appropriate consular assistance and engaged with the Afghan government as soon as it became aware of Gordon's case. Asked about the company's concern that the embassy was slow to react, the spokesperson said the embassy didn't agree with that characterization.

Tamerlane officials said the contract dispute with GHL over money had dragged on for an extended period, with the total amount claimed by the Afghan company changing over time. Tamerlane has its own damage claims against the Afghan company, Kelley said.

Tamerlane, which provides global project management and logistics services and operates in about 15 countries, said it planned to pursue redress through various channels.

"This is completely unacceptable," Rigell said. "It's not rule of law, and it's a direct violation of the Afghan Constitution."

mark.magnier@latimes.com

Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.

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