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U.S. Knew All About Private Jail in Kabul, American Tells Court

Seized Material Is Said to Show 'Constant Contacts'

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 17, 2004; Page A10

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 16 -- Jonathan "Jack" Idema, the American accused of illegally detaining and torturing prisoners in a private jail in Afghanistan, testified in court Monday that he could prove U.S. and Afghan authorities were fully aware of his actions and accused the FBI of confiscating evidence that would support his claim.

Idema, who frequently interrupted the judge and laughed in apparent disgust at the proceedings, said FBI agents in Kabul had seized hundreds of documents, photographs and videotapes from his base here that showed "constant contacts" between him and U.S. military and intelligence officials this spring and summer.

Jonathan Idema, left, a U.S. citizen accused of running a private jail in Afghanistan, takes notes as his trial opens in a Kabul court. He and his American co-defendants Brent Bennett, standing, and Edward Caraballo are accused of imprisoning and torturing eight Afghan citizens. (Musadeq Sadeq -- AP)

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"They knew every single thing we did, every single day," he said.

Idema, who claims to have been running an anti-terrorism operation, said FBI agents had questioned several Afghans after he took them prisoner and confirmed that the agents knew of a plot to kill two Afghan cabinet ministers. He also read from a printed e-mail about his operations that he said had been sent to him from the Kabul office of the multinational peacekeeping force.

U.S. military and intelligence officials here have repeatedly denied any affiliation with Idema, although they acknowledge having received one prisoner from him. International peacekeeping officials in Kabul say they cooperated with him briefly until learning he was an impostor.

Idema and two American associates, along with four of their Afghan employees, were arrested July 5 and have been charged with entering the country illegally, operating an illegal jail, detaining and imprisoning eight Afghan citizens, kidnapping and torture. If convicted, they could face 20 years in Afghan prisons.

Idema, 48, a flamboyant, burly man from Fayetteville, N.C., claims to be a former U.S. Army Special Forces operative and says he has been involved in various conflicts across the world. He served prison time for fraud in the United States on charges related to his mail-order military supply business.

In listing the charges Monday, the prosecutor said police found "torture equipment, bloody clothing, handcuffs, blindfolds and stored water" when they raided a building used by Idema to hold his prisoners. He said Idema's detainees had all proved to be "innocent Afghan citizens."

Although Idema did not deny holding a group of Afghans prisoner, he adamantly denied having tortured them, saying, "I assure this court, no one was burned with cigarettes, no one was hung upside down, no one was beaten, no one was in body bags. . . . None of this happened."

Noting that his operations this spring coincided with the allegations of abuse by U.S. military guards and interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, he said: "Everyone was very concerned about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. . . . We were very careful to use standard interrogation techniques."

At an initial court hearing in July, several Afghans testified that they had been detained and abused by Idema and his group and were hung by their feet and doused with extremely hot and cold water. The alleged victims, including a senior religious judge, were all present in court Monday.

A second American suspect, Edward Caraballo, testified quietly that he had acted only as a journalist and had accompanied Idema here to film his operations. He said he was "very sorry for any pain I caused the people of Afghanistan by my involvement in a mission I believed to be sanctioned by the American and Afghan governments."

Caraballo's American lawyer, Michael Skibbie, described his protracted and unsuccessful efforts to obtain the documents and other evidence taken by the FBI. He said the evidence might have been tampered with or lost in the agency's custody, and he called the FBI's actions "insulting to this court."

The third American defendant, Brent Bennett, stood silently all day in the dock.

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