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Alleged Vigilante Says FBI Withheld Proof of U.S. Ties

Jonathan Idema tells Afghan court that papers show his links to American government.

August 17, 2004|Hamida Ghafour | Special to The Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — An American facing charges that he ran a private jail in Kabul and tortured detainees said in court Monday that the U.S. government had withheld vital documents he claimed would prove his links to the CIA, FBI and Pentagon.

Jonathan K. Idema told the court that FBI agents had seized 200 videotapes, 300 photographs and 500 documents that were taken by Afghan intelligence at the time of his arrest and had refused to hand them over so he could mount a defense.

Idema, a former Special Forces soldier, appeared with co-defendants Edward Caraballo, a New York journalist who was making a documentary, and Brent Bennett, another former U.S. soldier, along with four Afghans.

"If I had those documents given back to me, I could show every bit of this -- I have documents from the Pentagon, back and forth with senior officials at the Pentagon, the CIA, FBI -- and of everything else this court would need to know," Idema said. "While we were not in the United States Army, we were working for the United States Army."

The defendants were arrested July 5 after a shootout with Afghan authorities at a Kabul house that appeared to have been used as a jail. Eight Afghan detainees, who have since been freed, were found inside.

Several of them said they had been strung up by their feet, tortured by having hot water poured over them and denied food for days in an attempt to extract information about the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The documents, videotapes and photographs were found in the house. Michael Skibbie, Caraballo's lawyer, said that he had repeatedly requested that the FBI hand over the material but that it was returned to Afghan intelligence just hours before Monday's hearing.

"The reason for the FBI's interference is unknown, and we don't know if the evidence has been changed while in possession of the FBI," Skibbie said. "Returning a substantial amount of evidence after a trial begins shows insult to the Afghan justice system, the court, and it is an insult to this trial."

The judge adjourned the trial for seven days so the defendants could seek an opportunity to view the documents.

The defendants have denied the charges. Monday's session was the second court appearance for the men since the trial began last month.

The case has cast light on the shadowy world of mercenaries and private security contractors searching for Al Qaeda militants and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who has a $50-million U.S. bounty on his head.

Idema said American authorities disowned him after a local radio station broadcast allegations that torture was carried out at the house where the raid occurred.

"As soon as the word 'torture' hit the Afghan airwaves, the U.S. government said, 'Woo-hoo, we don't want anything to do with these guys,' " Idema said, insisting that his team "used very standard interrogation techniques."

During the eight-hour session Monday, the courtroom was packed with spectators, journalists and families of the alleged victims. Idema wore dark sunglasses and a khaki jacket with an American flag on the left arm.

Several times he dared the judge, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, to sentence him to 15 years in jail, and at one point he lectured the Afghan jurist on the finer points of democracy.

Idema also read from a document that he said was an e-mail exchange he had with a Swedish military liaison officer with the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, the peacekeeping mission in Kabul.

The ISAF and U.S. forces have denied that Idema and his colleagues worked on their behalf. However, the U.S. military acknowledged last month that it had detained, and later released, an alleged Taliban militant turned over by Idema's group.

ISAF officials also have said their troops were duped into carrying out three raids with Idema, whom they said they believed was an American soldier.

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