AFP/ July 21, 2004
KABUL (AFP) - A US citizen in court charged with running a private "war on terror" in Afghanistan ( news - web sites ) claimed he and two other Americans were working with the full knowledge of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Jonathan Idema, who denies charges he detained and tortured Afghan citizens without US government consent, said they were hunting terrorists under the auspices of the Pentagon ( news - web sites ) and said they had since been abandoned by US authorities.
"The American authorities absolutely condoned what we did, they absolutely supported what we did. We have extensive evidence of that," said Idema, who is on trial with his subordinates Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo.
US-led coalition forces have disavowed all ties with Idema, while international peacekeeping troops said they were duped into helping Idema's team, who wore US-style uniforms, believing they were legitimate special forces operatives.
Judge Abdul Baset Bahktiari allowed the three men and four Afghan associates on trial with them to delay proceedings for up to 20 days to allow them to prepare a better defense and find adequate translators.
The adjournment came after two Afghan interpreters struggled to translate comments from the judge, prosecution and witnesses, and Idema protested that he and his associates would not be able to get a fair trial.
"It is impossible for us to know what's happening," he said.
US and Afghan authorities allege that Idema's freelance counter-terror cell illegally jailed and tortured eight Afghan citizens without government authority.
The three US men and four Afghans face jail sentences of between 16 and 20 years if found guilty.
Idema said that he had been running a counter-terrorism operation under deep cover for some months and had handed militants he had detained to US-led coalition forces for further questioning on several occasions.
The group had emails, faxes and recordings to prove their links with senior US Defence Department officials, he added.
"We were in contact directly by fax, and email and phone with Donald Rumsfeld's office, with the Deputy Secretary of Defence for Intelligence, and with Kevin Anderson, a four-star rank officer level at the Pentagon."
Idema said that Anderson had offered his group a defence department contract but he had declined.
"We did not want to go under contract because that would meant that we couldn't work with the access to Northern Alliance people we were working with," he said.
He claimed to have handed the Taliban intelligence chief of the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad to the FBI ( news - web sites ) for questioning and to have foiled bomb plots and assassination attempts on senior Afghan government officials.
Although the trial was formally adjourned, three witnesses who had been held in Idema's private torture chamber gave statements to the court.
Ghulam Sakhi said he was seized while in a taxi en route to Kabul from northern Laghman province. The vehicle was searched and he was bound, hooded and taken to a private jail by Idema and his Afghan associates.
While in captivity Sakhi was scalded with boiling water, had his head repeatedly forced under water and was kicked so badly on his chest he was left with breathing problems, he told the court.
Kabul shopkeeper Sakhi said he gave his captors the name of fellow detainee Mohammed Arif Malikyar, an Afghan Education Ministry official, in an attempt to stop repeated beatings after he failed to recognise any of the pictures of terror suspects Idema's group had showed him.
US news reports said Idema was a bounty hunter who had spent time in jail for fraud, formerly fought with Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan and may have been hunting senior Al-Qaeda leaders in the hope of claiming the substantial rewards on offer.
US forces here are already under fire from rights groups for their mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan, one of whom died while in custody.