Truth-Telling Prize Recipient, 2007

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran, had been a long-time supporter of the war in Iraq. But that changed last April when, serving as a security contractor in Baghdad, he was detained by U.S. forces and held without charges for more than three months at Camp Cropper, one of Iraq’s most notorious military prison camps. There, Vance and a colleague, Nathan Ertel, were denied counsel and were largely prevented from communicating with the outside world. They were held in isolation in extremely cold cells without adequate clothing or blankets. Vance was also subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogation for hours and periodically denied food and water for long periods. The U.S. military eventually released both Vance and Ertel without explanation, admitting that they had done nothing wrong.

Vance secretly kept notes on his time at Camp Cropper and smuggled them out in a Bible. He took his story public in December, offering a detailed and verifiable account of his experiences to the New York Times. His report has provided a rare and credible inside account of the Pentagon’s detention operations — and is one of only a few stories to emerge since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Vance has also filed a lawsuit in federal court, charging former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the government with torture and violating Vance’s rights of habeas corpus.

Ironically, Vance was arrested in a military sweep that he helped to instigate. An employee of Shield Group Security at the time of his arrest, Vance had been working as an unpaid informant for the F.B.I., sending reports about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including possible illegal weapons trading. When American soldiers raided the company, Vance and Ertel were arrested and detained with the others. For reasons that are still unclear, the military failed to believe or act on Vance’s story, holding him even after the F.B.I. confirmed Vance’s activities were legal and that he had been acting in the interests of the U.S. government.

Vance, a resident of Chicago, joined the U.S. Navy after graduating high school. He started doing security work in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad. He is working on a book about his experiences in Iraq.

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