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Private jail: FBI accused of cover-up

August 17, 2004

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KABUL, Aug 16: An alleged American bounty hunter on trial for running a private jail, kidnapping and torturing prisoners in Afghanistan on Monday accused FBI agents of seizing evidence proving his links to US authorities.

Jonathan K. Idema told an Afghan court the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had taken from the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) hundreds of videotapes, photos and documents detailing his links with the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the US Defence Department.

"In front of the judge is the receipt that the FBI signed. Why did the judge allow the FBI to take evidence from the NDS?" Idema said, alleging 500 pages of documents, 200 videotapes and at least 400 photos detailing his links with the agencies had been seized.

"Now it's at the US embassy where no one is ever going to see it." Idema, wearing dark sunglasses and a khaki army shirt with a US flag on the shoulder, was in the dock with co-defendants Brent Bennet, also in khakis, Edward Caraballo, who wore a traditional long Afghan smock over trousers, and their four Afghan partners.

The seven men were arrested on July 5 from a house in west Kabul where they were allegedly running a private prison and counter-terrorism operation, apparently hoping to score the millions of dollars on offer for the capture of top Al Qaeda suspects including Osama.

Osama has a 25 million dollar bounty on his head. Idema accused Judge Abdul Baset Bahktiari of presiding over a sham trial, withholding the evidence he and his co-defendents needed to defend themselves, and of preventing them from calling witnesses.

"I can't defend myself like this. Just give me 15 years and let's get it over with," he said. Idema claims that he and his partners were working with the full knowledge of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to hunt down suspected terrorists.

"Everyone knew what we were doing. We were not in the United States military but we were working with the United States military," he said. Both the US and Afghan governments have disavowed any ties with Idema's outfit.

But since Idema's first court appearance on July 21, US-led coalition forces have admitted they took a terror suspect arrested by Idema into custody, later releasing him after US forces found he was not a wanted militant.

Idema claims he foiled a plot to blow up the US airbase at Bagram with fuel trucks and attempts to assassinate Afghan defence minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim and former education minister Yunus Qanooni, who is running against Hamid Karzai in October 9 presidential elections. Judge Bahktiari said Idema had to prove the legitimacy of his operation. -AFP