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

After six hours of testimony that was by turns contentious and inaudible, Judge Abdulboset Bakhtiary postponed the trial a week to allow Idema and his co-defendants time to examine the evidence taken by the FBI, which Skibbie said had finally been returned to Afghan intelligence police on Sunday.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said Monday night that he had no information about the FBI's role in the case. He said the embassy had had little contact with Idema except to ensure that he, Bennett and Caraballo were being treated well in custody.


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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Another defendant, a young Afghan named Abdul Wahid, told the court he had been introduced to Idema by an Afghan military commander, had witnessed him meeting senior Afghan officials and believed he was acting on orders from the U.S. intelligence services.

Wahid, 19, said he had worked as an interpreter for Idema but had committed no crime. He said he had seen prisoners kept in bathrooms, tied in chairs, covered with hoods and immersed in cold water until they started choking. "The first time I saw this, I was shaken and shocked," he said.

Standing in the dock with the other defendants, Wahid also apologized to the religious judge Idema had arrested -- a turbaned, bearded man who sat in the second row of the courtroom.

"I was rude to him as a clergyman," Wahid said. "I told him to put up his hands. I hope he forgives me."

But Idema, wearing military-style fatigues and acting as his own defense attorney, aggressively interrupted Wahid and every other speaker, including Bakhtiary, Caraballo and the prosecutor. He insisted that the men he had arrested were terrorists involved in plots to kill senior Afghan officials by planting bombs in taxis.

"This is insane. . . . This is crazy. . . . This is a classic case of an unfair trial," Idema burst out at frequent intervals.

"Just put me in jail for 15 years, and let's get this over with," he exclaimed sarcastically several times. Each time the public address system failed, he loudly demanded to have the testimony repeated.

Bakhtiary, robed in red and black, never reprimanded Idema but repeatedly asked him to return to the central issues of the case. The judge said that even if Idema had arrested terrorists, thereby doing Afghanistan a service, he still had to answer whether he had been acting under legal Afghan or U.S authority at the time.

Idema repeatedly responded that if he were allowed to view and present the confiscated evidence, he could prove he was acting with official consent.

He complained that he and his co-defendants had not been allowed to see written or translated copies of the charges against them, and he said they had been regularly beaten in jail until the prosecutor ordered the abuse halted.


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