Thursday July 22, 2004
The saga of "Jack" Idema, the American arrested for running a private interrogation centre in Afghanistan, took a new twist yesterday when he claimed that he was acting with the knowledge and agreement of Donald Rumsfeld's office.
Mr Idema, who has been accused of having a makeshift jail in which detainees were hung by their feet, claimed that US authorities "condoned and supported" his freelance activities.
"We were working for the US counter-terrorist group and working with the Pentagon and some other federal agencies," said Mr Idema, whose full name is Jonathon Keith Idema, before the opening of a court hearing in Kabul, according to Reuters.
He told reporters: "We were in contact directly by fax and email and phone with Donald Rumsfeld's office.
"The American authorities absolutely condoned what we did. We have extensive evidence to that ... We're prepared to show emails and correspondence and tape-recorded conversations."
From New York, Mr Idema's lawyer, John Tiffany, told the Guardian: "We have documentary evidence regarding the US government's knowledge of my client's intended activities in Afghanistan."
Mr Tiffany said his client was not denying he had taken people into custody but would claim he had done so with the authorities' full knowledge.
Mr Tiffany suggested Mr Idema would never have been arrested had it not been for the publicity over treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. But a US defence department spokesman in Washington denied Mr Idema's claims yesterday. "He is nothing to do with us," he said. "Idema does not represent the US government and we do not employ him." US military authorities in Afghanistan have also denied Mr Idema was acting with their knowledge.
Mr Idema, who has made no secret of the fact that he is hunting for Osama bin Laden, who has a price of $25m on his head, was arrested with two other men 10 days ago for allegedly detaining eight Afghans in Kabul.
One detainee, Ghulam Sakhi, yesterday said in court he had been tied upside down during some of the 18 days he was held. Another, Sher Jan, said: "They pulled me out of my house, hooded me and broke a rib with a gun ... They poured hot water on me, too."
Mr Idema denies mistreating prisoners. He told reporters he had foiled a plot to attack US forces with truck bombs and to assassinate Afghan officials.
Arrested with Mr Idema were Ed Caraballo, who was making a film about Mr Idema's activities, and Brent Bennett, who works for Mr Idema's company, Counter Group.
The three, together with four Afghans, face charges of hostage-taking and assault. The trial was yesterday adjourned for 15 days.
Mr Caraballo's brother, Richard, said yesterday that the cameraman had been working on a documentary about Mr Idema since 2002 and had gone to Afghanistan to get some final footage.
He added: "Due to the situation in Afghanistan, it was agreed that he would need to remain in the secure presence of Idema's team."