Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US admits that it accepted Afghan from `vigilantes'


The US military yesterday acknowledged it had held an Afghan man for a month after receiving him from three US counterterror vigilantes who have since been arrested on charges of torture at a private jail they ran in the Afghan capital.

The US military has tried to distance itself from the group, led by a former US soldier named Jonathan Idema, insisting they were freelancers working outside the law.

But spokesman Major Jon Siepmann acknowledged that the military had received a detainee from Idema's group at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, on May 3.

Siepmann said Idema had appeared "questionable" the moment he presented the detainee, and that suspicion grew when, one month later, the man turned out not to be the top suspect that Idema had described.

"That doesn't mean at the time that we knew Mr. Idema's full track record or other things he was doing out there," Siepmann said.

"This was a person who turned in a person who we believed was on our list of terrorists and we accepted him," he said.

Siepmann did not release the detainee's name or say what crimes he was wanted for.

He suggested that the military was initially taken in by Idema, who officials say had been posing as a US special forces soldier.

Afghan security forces seized Idema, two other Americans and four Afghans on July 5 after freeing eight prisoners from a makeshift jail in Kabul.

The arrests came only after international peacekeepers contacted the US military about their own suspicion of Idema's group, which duped the NATO-led force into helping in three raids late last month. The seven defendants went on trial in Kabul on Wednesday, charged with hostage-taking and torture.

Idema said on Wednesday that 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, Idema said that he had been in direct contact with US Secretary of Defense Donald 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 US 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 said.

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