Rep. Peter King calls for probe as contractor returns

Dec 30, 2011 Issues: -

Newsday -- by Nicholas Spangler

A former Green Beret from West Babylon who was held this month by the Iraqi army has come home, and a Long Island congressman is calling for his detention to be investigated.

Queens native Alex Antiohos, 32, flew into Kennedy Airport Thursday night.

He was released along with two other foreign contractors -- a Fijian and a National Guardsman from Savannah, Ga. -- who had been held with 12 Iraqi contractors for more than two weeks.

The contractors said they believed they had been detained because of discrepancies in the paperwork documenting the cargo they were escorting.

Conditions in which they were held were "deplorable" and "filthy," Antiohos said Friday at a news conference at the Massapequa Park office of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who is seeking a federal probe. King identified Antiohos as a former Green Beret.

The men were occasionally menaced by their captors, Antiohos said, and the day they were released, Antiohos and companion Jonas March, 32, of Georgia, said they saw Iraqi soldiers beating prisoners.

The contractors were held south of Baghdad from Dec. 9 to Tuesday but were never charged, King said. The detention occurred as the last U.S. troops left Iraq.

Antiohos would not answer questions about his employer, but March identified the company as Virginia-based military contractor Triple Canopy.

In a statement, a Triple Canopy spokeswoman wrote that contractors "were in communication with family and the company at all times" and attributed their release to the resolution of "procedural issues between local Iraqi government entities."

Circumstances of the men's release remain unclear.

King's office became involved after Dec. 19, when Antiohos' wife, Melissa, called for help. King said his office contacted the Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department and the Iraqi government, even sending a staffer to hand-deliver a letter for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the nation's Washington embassy.

With the departure of the U.S. military, the State Department has taken over Iraq operations. That portfolio includes oversight of contractor operations.

King said there was little response from the State Department until he threatened to send a staffer he said has Central Intelligence Agency experience to Baghdad.

"Nobody from the embassy went out to see them," King said about the contractors. The department's initial response showed "cruel indifference," he said.

A State Department spokesman said privacy constraints prevented his commenting.

Iraq's Washington embassy had no immediate comment.

Antiohos said that without King's intervention, "the odds are very high we'd still be in captivity."