Duggan, 54, is a former US marine corps pilot who retired from the military in 2002 with the rank of major, married an Australian woman and became an Australian citizen, simultaneously giving up his American citizenship.
From 2005 to 2014, he lived in Australia, where he founded top gun Tasmania, a company that offered flights on military jets for tourists. In 2014, he sold the business and moved to Beijing to work as an aviation consultant. It was in Beijing that he took a job as an instructor at a South Africa-based flight school, where he trained Chinese fighter pilots.
Apparently to the Justice Department, that constituted a major crime. The DOJ maintains that Chinese pilots are on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. Prosecutors stated further that the address that Duggan and a Chinese partner used was also on a sanctions list briefly in 2014 and 2016. As a result, Duggan was charged with arms trafficking and money laundering because of the training. The odd thing is that literally nobody else associated with the school has been charged with any crime.
Duggan, however, has been held in an Australian maximum-security prison for nearly a year, classified as an “extremely high-risk restricted inmate.” Much of his time has been in solitary confinement, even though he has not been charged with any crime in Australia and none of the other people at the aviation consultancy has been charged with any crime.
His wife and legal team filed a complaint with the United nations human rights council. saying that his incarceration was unjustified and was causing him severe psychological distress. Furthermore, he is not receiving appropriate care for a condition he has called benign prostatic hyperplasia.
A clinical psychologist called the conditions in which he’s being held “extreme and inhumane.” Earlier this year the Australian inspector general for intelligence and security announced that he would conduct a formal inquiry into Duggan’s detention. That’s a decent start, but it’s not going to solve anything.
In the meantime, he’s still facing extradition to the United States.
Dan Duggan is facing the same heavy-handed tactics that Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Daniel Hale, and others caught in the U.S. government’s overzealous national security dragnet have faced. He’s looking at the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. He’s looking at spending much of that in a system that uses solitary confinement in such a way that the United Nations has declared it to be a form of torture. He’s looking at being isolated in a maximum-security prison, where he will receive substandard medical care and animal-grade food. And for what?
The deeper problem is that this is not at all a clear-cut case of a person violating national security law. Duggan is just a guy caught up in big state politics. The issue here is that the U.S. government is engaged in a cold war with China, whether it’s over trade, Chinese successes in Africa, the Belt & Road Initiative, espionage and counterespionage, or placating the military-industrial complex.
Dan Duggan is a victim of that cold war. He’s a victim of a Justice Department that’s gone hog wild in its prosecution of low-hanging fruit, especially in national security cases. It’s a Justice Department where eager young prosecutors get promoted by prosecuting you, not for not prosecuting you. It’s going to be a long road for Duggan and his family. We can only hope that his legal team has the wherewithal to fight that fight.
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