- KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -
Three Americans accused of torturing Afghans in a private jail were found
guilty Wednesday in a Kabul court after a trial denounced by the defense
as failing to meet basic international standards of fairness.
- The three-judge panel sentenced accused ringleader Jonathan
Idema, a former soldier with a past fraud conviction, and his right-hand
man, Brent Bennett, to 10 years in jail. Edward Caraballo, who said he
was filming the two for a documentary on counterterrorism, received an
eight-year term. Four Afghan accomplices were sentenced to terms ranging
from one to five years.
- Idema has claimed to have high-level contacts at the
Pentagon in his group's efforts to hunt down terrorists, but the U.S. military
says the men were freelancers operating outside the law and without its
- Presiding Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari issued the unanimous
verdict after a 7-hour session.
- Idema, who attended each hearing wearing sunglasses and
khaki fatigues bearing a U.S. flag, denounced the decision as a throwback
to the times of the hard-line Taliban movement.
- "It's the same sick Taliban judges, the same sick
sense of justice," Idema said as he was led, handcuffed, out of the
courtroom. "I knew that the American government wasn't going to help
- Idema spent three years in jail in the 1980s for allegedly
bilking 60 companies out of more than $200,000. He and Bennett are from
Fayetteville, N.C.; Caraballo is from New York.
- The lawyer for Idema and Caraballo said they would appeal.
It was unclear whether Bennett, who was representing himself, would follow
suit. It was also unclear what would happen to the four young Afghans,
one of whom broke down in tears after the verdict.
- The group was arrested July 5 after Afghan security forces
raided a house in downtown Kabul and discovered eight Afghans who said
they had been detained by the Americans and tortured.
- Wednesday's proceedings were the most orderly yet in
a trial mired by chaotic procedures, dismal translation and constant outbursts
- The defense was given no chance to cross-examine witnesses
but was allowed to play several videotapes shot by Caraballo showing Idema
meeting a man identified as a U.S. Army captain coordinating counterterrorism
operations in Kabul, and speaking by phone to officials Idema said were
at the Defense Department and the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
- The supposed captain said on tape that Idema's group
was "rolling up AQ (al-Qaida) like it's nobody's business."
- Other footage showed them being greeted at Kabul's airport
by its director and the city police chief, and meeting with commanders
of the Afghan government's militia forces.
- The three said their entry was arranged by Afghanistan's
ambassador to India, a senior member of the Northern Alliance who has known
Idema for several years, although they acknowledged not having visas.
- "It's ridiculous to claim they entered illegally
under these circumstances," defense lawyer Robert Fogelnest said.
- But Bakhtyari said the videos showed they had only "private"
contacts with Afghan leaders, and that they failed to demonstrate any official
links to the American military.
- Officials had said the charges - kidnapping, torture,
theft and illegal entry into Afghanistan - carried a maximum 20-year sentence.
Bakhtyari didn't say precisely what the men were found guilty of.
- Earlier, Fogelnest also argued that the Afghan legal
system was so badly devastated by more than two decades of war that it
wasn't fit to carry out the trial.
- This entire proceeding "doesn't meet international
standards and should be halted," he said. The judge quickly cut off
him off, insisting he stick to discussing the charges against his clients.
- Idema claims to have unearthed a plot to bomb the main
American military base north of Kabul and assassinate Afghan leaders. In
an interview with The Associated Press, he also claimed to be hot on the
trail of Osama bin Laden.
- The U.S. military in Afghanistan has admitted receiving
a prisoner from Idema and holding him for about two months.
- NATO forces also cooperated briefly with the three, sending
explosives experts to assist in three arrest raids in the Afghan capital.
They found traces of explosives and suspect electronic components in one
- But Idema has since been denounced by the alliance and
the American military as an impostor, and disowned by Afghan leaders and
the Defense Department.
- The U.S. military had no comment Wednesday on the convictions.
- Several of the group's former prisoners have told the
court they were beaten, burned with scalding water and deprived of food
- Idema says the prisoners were subjected to "standard
interrogation techniques" but no abuse.
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