Thursday, September 16, 2004

Afghan court jails US bounty hunter who claims to have tracked down Bin Laden

By Nick Meo in Kabul
16 September 2004
The Independent

The extraordinary case of the bounty hunters, their private torture chamber and the journalist making a film about his one-man hunt for Osama bin Laden came to an end in a Kabul courtroom yesterday with long sentences in Afghanistan's dreadful prisons.

Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a former Green Beret and a convicted fraudster, insisted that he had been working all along for Donald Rumsfeld, and had been in contact with the Pentagon and high-ranking Afghan officials throughout his vigilante career, exposed during the trial as part of the murky underside of the war on terror.

Idema, who smoked cigarettes in the dock and lectured the judge about the meaning of democracy, was led away to serve his sentence in his self- designed uniform muttering obscenities, denouncing the judges as Taliban, and complaining about America.

"I knew that the American government wasn't going to help me," he said.

Earlier he had melodramatically attempted to become a Muslim before the court, recounting the Koranic verses of those seeking to convert to the faith, and trying to swear an oath on the holy book.

The judge did not disguise his irritation with Idema and seemed bemused by the aggressive style of the US trial lawyers flown in by the alleged bounty hunter.

Idema had shown video footage of himself with senior Afghan officials and claimed the FBI had confiscated all his evidence, including faxes.

It remains unclear whether he was a fantasist or whether he really did have connections at the highest levels.

Idema was sentenced to 10 years prison after being found guilty of torture, kidnapping and entering the country illegally. His right-hand man, Brent Bennett, was also jailed for 10 years and the award-winning New York film maker Edward Caraballo received eight years.

Four Afghans were sentenced to jail terms ranging from one to five years.

Caraballo appeared shell-shocked and was silent throughout the proceedings.

It was unclear where the three will be imprisoned. So far they have been held in secret police detention.

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