The New York Times, July 22, 2004

Ex-G.I., Charged in Kabul, Says He Was on US Mission


A former member of the United States Special Forces, charged here on Wednesday along with two other Americans with running their own vigilante war on terrorism, said he had been on a secret mission approved by the Pentagon at the highest level -- even as an Afghan prosecutor said the men had maintained under questioning that they had no connection with the government.

Talking to reporters on Wednesday before the court session began, the defendant, Jonathan K. Idema, said that he had been in direct contact with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's office ''five times a day, every day'' and that he had e-mail messages, correspondence and tape recordings to prove it.

''We were working for the U.S. counterterrorist group and working with the Pentagon and some other federal agencies,'' he said. ''We were in contact directly by fax and e-mail and phone with Donald Rumsfeld's office.''

He added, though, that he had declined an offer from a Pentagon official to go to Afghanistan under contract.

The comments expanded on his claims in a pretrial hearing on Sunday that he had arrested and interrogated men while working directly with American and Afghan officials.

The American Embassy and the international force headquarters in Kabul have both maintained that Mr. Idema -- a former Green Beret who was on active duty for three years in the 1970's -- has no connection to any United States government or military body. The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said last week that the American government ''does not employ or sponsor'' any of the men.

Mr. Idema and the two other Americans, Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo, a television journalist, stood for two hours as the Afghan prosecutor, Muhammad Naeem Dawari, formally laid out the charges against them to a packed courtroom of about 300 journalists and members of the public in downtown Kabul.

The three men are accused of hostage taking, holding people in a private jail, illegally entering the country and being in possession of illegal weapons. Additionally, the prosecutor said they should pay compensation to the victims they detained. Four Afghan men arrested with them -- two interpreters, a cleaner and a guard -- are being charged as accomplices in hostage taking.

Mr. Dawari said the three Americans had set up their own antiterrorism unit to arrest suspected members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Security forces found eight prisoners in their house, who all said they had been subjected to torture, he said. He identified men who had been held prisoner in the house, three of whom gave the court, by special request of the judge, an account of their detention.

The prosecutor told the court that Mr. Idema had said under interrogation that he had no connection with any American governmental department and that he had entered Afghanistan from India without a proper visa. Mr. Idema had admitted detaining men in his house, saying that they were members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, Mr. Dawari said, and that that he was intending to hand them over to the Afghan or American authorities.

Mr. Bennett had also said he had no formal connection to any American government agency, telling the authorities that he had come to work for the counterterrorism center but only answered to Mr. Idema, the prosecutor told the court.

Mr. Caraballo had told questioners that he was in the country to work on a video documentary on the fight against terrorism there.

Mr. Dawari said that the two Afghan interpreters had admitted under questioning that the Americans had held prisoners and tortured them, and that the Afghan defendants had taken part in the detention of the prisoners. The judge, Abdul Baset Bakhtiari, gave the defendants 15 days to arrange legal representation and prepare their defense. Only Mr. Caraballo had an American lawyer present to represent him. Mr. Bennett asked the court for more time for his defense lawyer to arrive from America. It was not clear if Mr. Idema was also seeking legal counsel. Judge Bakhtiari said he would consider a further extension if necessary.

Michael Skibbie, the American lawyer representing Mr. Caraballo, said his client would plead not guilty to all charges. Despite the fact that the proceeding was a pretrial procedural hearing, the court then invited three men who said they had been held prisoner by the Americans to give their accounts of being detained. The men -- who were identified as Ghulam Sakhi, a shopkeeper; Maulavi Muhammad Siddiq, a primary court judge; and Sher Jan -- said that they had been held for days, hooded and given little to eat. They said they had been beaten and kicked, had scalding water poured on them, and had their heads immersed repeatedly in a bucket of water to the point that two of them said they had passed out.

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