FBI accused of concealing link to mercenary jailer in Afghanistan
Declan Walsh and Kitty Logan in Kabul
Tuesday August 17, 2004
An American mercenary accused of kidnapping and torturing terror suspects in Afghanistan told a court in Kabul yesterday that the FBI was withholding hundreds of papers, photographs and videotapes showing that he was employed by the agency, as well as by the CIA and the US military.
The American government denies all links with the former special forces soldier, Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a convicted fraudster, but has agreed to return the controversial documents, the court hearing was told.
The case against Mr Idema was adjourned for a week to allow him to examine the documents and prove his alleged links with the US government.
Mr Idema, a 48-year-old former green beret, and his fellow Americans, Edward Caraballo and Brett Bennett, were arrested last month after police found a makeshift jail inside their Kabul house. Detainees claimed they had been held for days, doused in scalding water or hung from the ceiling by their feet.
The three men were charged with hostage-taking, torturing eight people and entering Afghanistan illegally.
If found guilty they face up to 20 years in jail.
They made their second court appearance yesterday, alongside four Afghans who are accused of helping them. The hearing was a confused affair, marred by emotional outbursts from Mr Idema, rebukes from the presiding judge, Abdul Bakhtari, and poor translation.
Mr Idema, who wore dark glasses and a combat uniform decorated with US flags, conducted his own defence. Turning to the press gallery, he proclaimed the trial a sham. "This is a political trial, driven by unusual political motives," he called out to the cameras.
He complained that his indictment had not even been translated into English, and said both he and his co-defendants had been beaten and tortured in police custody.
Mr Idema admitted that he had detained suspects, but said he had used "very standard" interrogation techniques. "No one was hung upside down; there were no beatings," he said.
The case, which could prove embarrassing to the US military, has highlighted the murky underworld of armed western mercenaries in Afghanistan.
Some work in the lucrative private security business; others come in search of the $50m (£27m) bounty on the heads of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida leadership.
Mr Idema's source of employment remains unclear. He was discharged from the US army in 1983 with the rank of captain and arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 after having served three years in an American prison for wire fraud.
In Afghanistan, Mr Idema sometimes worked closely with the international media, selling a videotape to the US network CBS that purported to show an al-Qaida training camp. The tape was broadcast in January 2002.
But he said his main objective was to hunt for the "bad guys" in collaboration with the US army, through links that reached as high as the office of the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
American forces in Afghanistan have denied all links with Mr Idema, but admit that he once delivered a Taliban suspect to Bagram airbase, outside Kabul.
The man was not the high-level operative claimed by Mr Idema, however, and was released two months later.
One of his co-accused, Mr Caraballo, 35, was represented by a US lawyer. Caraballo says he is a professional video-journalist who was documenting Mr Idema's anti-terror activities.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Caraballo has won several Emmy awards for his work.