Tue, Jul 20, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Three men on trial for private `war on terror'

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KABUL

The three Americans who were arrested by the Afghan police on July 5 on suspicion of operating an illegal jail in Kabul appeared in court here on Sunday and, at a preliminary hearing, were also charged with robbing, beating and torturing their detainees.

The three men, wearing plain clothes and combat boots, said they were Jack Idema, a former member of the US special forces; Edward Caraballo, a journalist; and Brent Bennett, who gave no profession. Idema said he intended to call high-level Afghan officials, generals, corps commanders and ambassadors in his defense and said he had been working with Afghan and US forces, contentions that Afghan and US officials have denied.

"We were working directly with them and for them," Idema said, referring to the officials he said he wanted to call as witnesses.

He said that he worked for a secret counterterrorist unit directly responsible to the Pentagon and that the US Embassy would not know of his activities. He said he fought beside anti-Taliban forces in 2001 and returned to Afghanistan this year.

He denied mistreating prisoners and said he only held suspects in his house until he could deliver them to US or Afghan forces.

Caraballo, wearing a black T-shirt, said he had come to follow Idema's unit around, with the aim of writing a journalistic account. Bennett, who was younger and wore a khaki T-shirt, looked anxious and did not speak to the court. Nor did the Afghan defendants.

Idema, who answered questions from the judge and prosecutor for the whole group, said the four Afghans arrested with him included two interpreters, a housecleaner and gardener and a man who had come to him for a job as a guard.

Idema and the others were arrested in a raid on a private house in a central district of Kabul after the US military issued a media advisory that a man calling himself Jonathan Idema was suspected of representing himself as a US government and/or military official.

"Idema does not represent the American government, and we do not employ him," the notice said.

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