US now linked to 'vigilantes' in
Afghanistan By Andrew Tully
WASHINGTON - During a press briefing on
Wednesday at the US State Department, spokesman Richard
Boucher repeated that the United States had had no
official contact with Jonathan Idema, the leader of
three US civilians on trial in Afghanistan accused of
kidnapping and torturing suspected Afghan resistance
"I'd like to make clear, the United
States did not and does not employ or sponsor these
men," Boucher said. "Our embassy's made that very clear
in Afghanistan, as well." The US military and North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officials in
Afghanistan have also repeatedly denied they were
connected in any way with Idema's group.
Thursday, Major Jon Siepmann, a spokesman for coalition
forces in Afghanistan, admitted that the US military
held for a month an Afghan man who had been handed over
by Idema's Counter Group. But Siepmann denied Idema had
been working for the US military. Siepmann said the
detainee was someone the Pentagon had identified as a
potential terrorist. Siepmann gave no details of the
detainee's identity, alleged crimes, or current status.
Siepmann said Idema had appeared "questionable"
when he presented the detainee, and that suspicion grew
when, a month later, the man turned out not to be the
top suspect that Idema had described, according to the
Associated Press (AP). "That doesn't mean at the time
that we knew Mr Idema's full track record or other
things he was doing out there," Siepmann said.
Speaking with reporters after a court session in
Kabul on Wednesday, Idema insisted that the US Defense
Department supported the activities of his group in
Afghanistan. "We were in touch with the Pentagon,
sometimes five times a day, at the highest level, every
day," Idema said.
Idema, a former US soldier,
said his group was in direct fax and e-mail contact with
the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and
with his top aides. He said a four-star official in the
Pentagon named Heather Anderson "applauded our efforts".
But AP reported that there are no four-star female
officers in the entire US military, and that no one by
that name is listed in the Pentagon telephone book.
During the court testimony in Kabul, several
Afghans said Idema's group - impersonating US military
officials - kidnapped and abused them, evidently in an
effort to extract information about suspected resistance
One witness, taxi driver Ahmad Ali,
testified that the Americans repeatedly dunked his head
under water, beat his abdomen and feet, and fed him only
two pieces of bread for an entire week. He said the
Americans kept showing him photographs - presumably of
resistance fighters - and asked him if he knew them.
Two other witnesses testified that the Americans
put them in showers under scalding water. One said he
was held for 18 days.
Ghulam Sakhi was one of
the witnesses. The three Americans "poured boiling water
on us, and beat us, and asked us to show people who they
suspect to be terrorists", Sakhi said. "They tortured us
several times. There were Afghan translators, and some
other Afghans who are not here right now. [Those
Afghans] were armed. And they were also torturing us,
beating us, pouring boiling water on us."
gave no testimony during the hearing, but afterward told
reporters that he and his colleagues had arrested people
he described as resistance fighters who were planning to
use fuel trucks as mobile bombs to attack the US
military base at Bagram, north of Kabul. He said the
fighters also had planned to assassinate several Afghan
Idema scoffed at Sakhi's account of
torture. He said he and his colleagues would be
exonerated by a videotape showing the Americans
questioning Sakhi. "There is a videotape in the
prosecutor's possession, and that videotape is the
entire interrogation of Ghulam Sakhi," Idema said. "That
interrogation was taped for two-and-a-half hours
straight. He's not hit. He's not beaten. He's not
assaulted. Nothing is done to this guy. OK?"
Idema also said his group captured a Taliban
intelligence official two months ago and handed him over
to US officials. It is unclear whether this is the
detainee the US military now admits to having received
Three judges are hearing the case
against Idema, his two American colleagues, and four
Afghans accused of helping them. During the court
session, the presiding judge granted the defendants a
recess of at least two weeks so they could prepare their
cases. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.