Afghan Case Get 8 to 10 Years in Prison
New York Times
By CARLOTTA GALL
September 16, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 15 - Three Americans
were sentenced here on Wednesday to 8 to 10 years in prison for
running a private jail and torturing prisoners, after a panel
of three Afghan judges rejected their claim that they were working
for a Pentagon counterterrorist group led by Lt. Gen. William
G. Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Jonathan K. Idema, 48, a former member
of the Special Forces, and Brent Bennett, 28, an Army-trained
forward air controller, were sentenced to 10 years, and Edward
Caraballo, 42, a journalist filming a documentary about them,
was given 8 years.
Four Afghans working for the men were given
sentences of one to five years. The Americans stood still as they
heard the sentences relayed by an interpreter. Behind them, the
youngest defendant, a 15-year-old Afghan translator, began to
The Americans immediately said that they
had had been abandoned by their American masters because they
had become a political liability. "This can only have been
staged by the U.S. government - we were an embarrassment,"
said Mr. Caraballo, an award-winning cameraman who says he was
filming Mr. Idema's counterterrorist operations.
General Boykin was the subject of a Pentagon
investigation that in August determined that he had violated military
regulations by giving speeches while in uniform in which he cast
the Bush administration's war on terrorism as a battle between
Christianity and Islam and claimed that Muslims worship an idol
and not a "real God." The speeches came to light the
Lawyers for the Americans had tried to
introduce a videotape as evidence that Mr. Idema had a relationship
with counterterrorism officials in the military, and particularly
with General Boykin's office. But the lead judge, Abdul Baset
Bakhtiari, apparently intent on wrapping up the trial before the
end of the day, cut short their defense and barely watched the
The taped conversations, handed out to
journalists by defense lawyers after the trial, could have provided
evidence that the men were working for some special unit with
the knowledge and cooperation of people in the Pentagon. But there
was no immediate way to verify the authenticity of the tapes.
American Embassy officials have said since
the arrests on July 5 that as far as they knew neither Mr. Idema
nor anyone in his group was working for a government agency. The
military has issued statements saying Mr. Idema was impersonating
government or military officials and did not represent either.
Yet the videos, recorded by Mr. Caraballo
in Kabul in the months after their arrival in April of this year,
seem to show Mr. Idema talking on two occasions to people in General
Boykin's office. In one conversation Mr. Idema is heard telling
Jorge Shim, an aide to General Boykin, that he is close to rounding
up a whole cell of terrorists.
The aide responds: "I told General
Boykin that you called. I gave him the information and to the
D.I.A.," apparently referring to the Defense Intelligence
Mr. Idema says, "There are more bombs
and more bombers, and we are hitting them in five hours."
The aide replies, "Five hours? Jack,
I'm going to have someone from the D.I.A. contact you on your
cell number, so give me a few minutes."
In another conversation, which the defense
represented as having occurred days before the men were arrested
by Afghan authorities, Mr. Idema is clearly asking for some help.
General Boykin's aides explain that they had been trying to separate
the general from Mr. Idema's activities to avoid any attention
from the news media.
Mr. Idema says, "Someone's got to
do something within 12 hours or I'm going to e-mail this [expletive]
thing to Dan Rather. Do you think I would rot in prison if there's
Then a man who says he is "George's
supervisor" comes on the line and says, "I don't know
what happened. I don't know how this happened." The speaker
refers to "J2," which Mr. Idema said in court was an
umbrella group of top officers in military intelligence, as he
explains that people were trying to put Mr. Idema in touch with
J2 intelligence officials so he could work with them.
The speaker says, "We passed all your
information to the J2 staff here and to the D.I.A., and we were
trying to protect our boss from getting associated with it because
he does not need any other scrutiny right now by the press. So
we are trying to put a firewall between your efforts and him because
we did not want to connect anything there and there is no need
to do that."
In Washington, a Defense Department official
acknowledged that Mr. Idema had called several Pentagon officials,
including General Boykin's assistant, Mr. Shim, seeking to pass
along intelligence information. That information would have been
sent through the appropriate intelligence channels for review,
just like any other unsolicited tip.
The official said, however, that Mr. Idema
was not employed by the Pentagon, and his activities had not been
directed or encouraged by General Boykin or any other defense
The Pentagon official did not dispute the
veracity of the tape-recorded conversations that Mr. Idema produced,
but said he and other defense officials could not immediately
confirm that the conversations had actually taken place or the
assertion in one of the recordings that General Boykin's aides
were trying to dissociate their boss from Mr. Idema.
Other evidence presented by the defense
but not shown to the court included 70 pages of documents, mostly
faxes and correspondence from Mr. Idema to Pentagon, C.I.A. and
F.B.I. officials, providing reports on suspected terrorist groups.
Two documents show some return correspondence,
but nothing that directly ties them to the Pentagon during the
men's time in Afghanistan.
Judge Bakhtiari ruled that the men had
failed to provide documentary evidence of authorization from Washington
or the Afghan government for their work.
He seemed to have trouble understanding
the taped telephone conversations, which were indeed hard to follow
and not fully translated. Eventually, he cut short the defense,
saying that the videos were inconclusive and that he needed more
concrete, documentary evidence.
Mr. Idema's lawyer, John Edwards Tiffany,
and Robert Fogelnest, who is representing Mr. Caraballo, said
the three men had been abandoned by the United States and left
to their fates in an Afghan court to avoid the far greater publicity
of an American trial.
Mr. Fogelnest asked: "Is this a secret
that the Americans have secret ops? How many other Jacks do they
have floating around?" He used Mr. Idema's preferred first
The case will automatically go to an appeals
court within two weeks, Judge Bakhtiari said, and if the appeals
judges wish, they will call the defendants back to court. After
that, the defendants may appeal the case to the Afghan supreme
court. Mr. Fogelnest said they would appeal.