- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

BANGKOK — American bounty hunter Jonathan “Jack” Keith Idema, who is on trial in a Kabul court on charges of torturing Afghans in his own private jail, arrived in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces in 2001 and enjoyed threatening to kill journalists.

“That’s what I love about Afghanistan, if you tell someone you are going to kill them, they believe you,” Mr. Idema, a self-described former U.S. Special Forces soldier, said during several exclusive interviews in December 2001 and January 2002 in Kabul.

“If I’m in New York and I tell someone I’m going to kill them, they say, ‘Yeah? Well, I’m going to kill you first.’ But not Afghanistan. Here they believe you.”

The flamboyant, often profane, defendant has been at the center of an international media firestorm since his July 5 arrest. Mr. Idema and two colleagues — Brett Bennett, another former soldier, and cameraman Ed Caraballo — were arrested after a brief shootout in Kabul.

On Aug. 16, the three Americans appeared in court in Kabul to deny charges that they kidnapped and tortured Afghans whom they kept in a private jail. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Mr. Idema told the court he was hunting for terrorists with the knowledge of the U.S. government. The Pentagon denied Mr. Idema worked for them.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Maj. Scott Nelson, said this week that the Pentagon is looking into Mr. Idema’s claims that he had contacted U.S. officials about his operation, but strongly suggested Mr. Idema had concocted the entire exercise.

“He was operating by himself there with the delusion that he was able to do great things for the world,” Maj. Nelson said.

The U.S. military has acknowledged receiving one detainee from Mr. Idema, a man later released after he proved not to be the senior Taliban operative Mr. Idema said he was.

Mr. Idema’s contradictory, combustible personality was already on display in those interviews in the early days of the Afghan campaign.

In the winter of 2001-02, the short, stocky Mr. Idema liked to dye his salt-and-pepper hair black and show off his pistol and his Kalashnikov assault rifle, which he occasionally fired using bullets capable of piercing body armor.

He traveled with a handful of young, armed Afghan men whom he ordered about, often shoving wads of cash into their hands and waving a big hunting knife at them while laughing with maniacal glee.

In one truly terrifying display, Mr. Idema threatened to murder an American reporter working for Stars and Stripes newspaper after the journalist revealed that Mr. Idema served time in a U.S. prison several years earlier for a “white-collar crime.”

“I just might have to kill you!” an irate Mr. Idema shouted at the reporter during a December 2001 party while other foreign correspondents quickly exited the room, leaving the two men to argue amid frosted cake and drinks.

“You don’t believe me? Test me. Just test me. But get out of here now before I do.”

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