Local News

Fayetteville Man Gets Court Recess, Accused Of Prisoner Abuse

Posted August 16, 2004

— A Fayetteville man won a week's recess to beef up his defense after he and two other Americans are accused of torturing eight prisoners.

Jonathan Keith Idema appeared in an Afghan court Monday. Idema accused authorities of withholding hundreds of documents and videos that prove he had contact with the U.S. government.

"Those videotapes contain conversations between myself and the Pentagon, CIA and the FBI and they knew every single thing we were doing every single day," Idema said. "Because those conversations are on those tapes, now they're at the U.S. Embassy where no one will ever get to see them."

Idema is accused of running a makeshift prison at a house in Kabul where detainees were abused. Prosecutors said the other two defendants, Ed Caraballo and Brent Bennett, appeared to be journalists.

The U.S. government and the Afghans have denied ties with Idema, saying the efforts of his group were independent of any military organization.

Capt. Craig Marks, a retired special forces military analyst working with the University of North Carolina, said thousands of ex-military types work as independent contractors in Afghanistan. Marks thinks that may have been Idema's ticket in.

"You just don't drive over to Afghanistan and go up to the border and say, 'Hey, I want a job and they let you in.'" You have to have permission from somebody, either the Afghan government or most likely, our government through the embassy to get into the country," Marks said.

While his mission is uncertain, Idema was well known. In 2002, the ex-Green Beret sat down with CBS's Dan Rather for a "60 Minutes II" interview about an al-Qaida training video he said he had uncovered.

"Are their skills as good as ours as good as the U.S. Special Forces community? The answer is no," Idema said.

Idema also has a criminal history. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison for fraud.

Back home in Fayetteville, Idema was also no stranger to media attention. WRAL met all three of the defendants last fall during a

Five on Your Side

shoot at Idema's wife's pet hotel. Caraballo taped our interview with Idema's wife, and Bennett said he was an employee of the pet resort.

All three defendants face 20 years in Afghan jails if convicted. Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, said the Afghan courts adopted a new criminal code, but he would not speculate on the fairness of a trial.

"I don't want to prejudge anything about the case, but generally speaking the judicial system in Afghanistan needs a lot of reform and it is not in very good condition," he said.

In January, the Highway Patrol pulled over Idema in Wake County and arrested him for impersonating an officer. The trooper said Idema identified himself as a federal agent. The FBI said it had no knowledge of him. The home address that Idema gave the trooper belongs to someone else.

Idema's New Jersey attorney is pushing for a change of venue, saying he cannot get a fair trial in Afghanistan. Idema's wife has not returned WRAL's phone calls.

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