A retired Air Force officer in Spokane says a series of blunders involving international airlines and a global security contractor in Iraq led to his incarceration in a vermin-infested Middle Eastern prison.
A complaint recently filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington alleges James H. Hunter followed proper procedures for transporting personal firearms on a trip to Iraq in 2008 but was jailed after an airline sent him to another country and his employer denied knowing him.
“He suffered 60 days of frightening existence in one of the world’s most notorious prisons,” said Hunter’s lawyer, Thatcher Stone, of New York. “He picked up all sorts of illnesses when he was there, some of which have cleared up and some of which he still has.” Stone is handling the case with Coeur d’Alene lawyer Nicolas Vieth.
The lawyers say Hunter endured a heart ailment, skin infections and lesions while at Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being placed in a cell designed for six inmates that was packed with 29 inmates and a barely functional toilet overflowing with human waste.
The complaint alleges that bugs and vermin crawled the floor, that inmates had open wounds on their hands, feet and faces, and that Hunter defecated on himself several times because of fright.
The complaint, filed Aug. 3, asks for at least $410 million from Global Strategies Group and associated companies.
Global did not return a phone message left at the company’s London office. The company is described on its website as a defense and national security organization with contracts worldwide.
A $360 million lawsuit filed in 2009 against two airlines, Lufthansa and Etihad Airways, is proceeding in New York.
The most recent lawsuit says Hunter first was hired by Global to work as an airport security specialist in Iraq in 2006. The company provided poorly maintained weapons, the lawsuit alleges, so when Hunter was set to return to Iraq in the summer of 2008, he arranged to bring his own firearms from Spokane.
But an unexpected airline transfer in Frankfurt, Germany, sent him not to Dubai as previously scheduled, but to Abu Dhabi, where firearms are prohibited, the complaint says.
Hunter said he was told his checked firearms would arrive in Abu Dhabi and he would take a chartered ground shuttle to Dubai.
Etihad Airways has said Hunter is to blame because he failed to declare he was carrying firearms when questioned by airline staff in Frankfurt, and he failed to get necessary approval from the Abu Dhabi government.
But Hunter says he didn’t have time to research Abu Dhabi’s customs laws and was assured the firearms transport was not a problem.
The firearms – were seized at the Abu Dhabi airport and he was taken to a police station for interrogation. He was taken to Al Wathba prison six days later.
The complaint alleges Global employee Martin Strutton, at the request of another employee, wrongly told authorities Hunter didn’t work for the company. The erroneous information was intentional, the suit says; if Global had acknowledged that Hunter was an employee, he would have gone free.
“The statements made as instructed by Strutton were malicious and made with malice, because Global has a policy of keeping a low profile in the Middle East and elsewhere,” the lawsuit reads. “Company policy is not to leave no man behind, but rather, as punishment for running afoul of any municipal legal regime, leave the man behind.”
Hunter was fired from the company after his arrest for failing to show up in Baghdad on time, the lawsuit alleges.
Without the aid of a lawyer, Hunter was convicted in an Abu Dhabi court of unlawfully importing firearms into the city and of entering without a visa.
He was released from Al Wathba after 37 days but kept in the country for another 17 days because the government alleged there might be further claims against him and wouldn’t return his passport.