- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan — The trial of three Americans accused of kidnapping, detaining and torturing prisoners in Afghanistan was halted dramatically yesterday after the FBI returned a “substantial” amount of evidence to Afghan authorities.

Judge Abdul Baset Bahktiari adjourned the trial for seven days to allow the three American and four Afghan defendants time to study the evidence, which prosecutors said had been held by the FBI for more than 20 days.

“We received the documents 10 minutes ago,” Mohammed Naim Daiwari told the court’s afternoon session.

The defendants, arrested in July on charges of running a private prison and counterterrorism operations in Kabul, had accused the FBI of withholding evidence proving their links to U.S. authorities.

Accused American Jonathan Idema said 500 pages of documents, 200 videotapes and at least 400 photos detailing his links with U.S. agencies had been seized.

Michael Skibbie, attorney for journalist Edward Caraballo, who, he said, was making a documentary about Mr. Idema’s operations, told reporters: “Returning a substantial amount of evidence after a trial has begun constitutes an insult to the Afghan justice system.”

Mr. Skibbie said the FBI’s reasons for interfering in the trial were unknown but added: “We do know that evidence was taken away before any of the defendants had a chance to examine it, and we also don’t know if the evidence was changed or parts of it were lost while it was with the FBI.”

Mr. Idema, wearing dark sunglasses and a khaki army shirt with a U.S. flag on the shoulder, was in the dock with co-defendants Brent Bennet, also in khakis; Mr. Caraballo, who wore a traditional long Afghan smock over trousers; and their four Afghan partners.

The seven men face jail sentences of 16 to 20 years if found guilty.

Mr. Idema says he and his partners were working with the full knowledge of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to hunt down suspected terrorists.

U.S.-led coalition forces and NATO-led peacekeepers said they were duped into helping Mr. Idema’s team, who wore U.S.-style uniforms, believing that the men were legitimate Special Forces operatives.

Mr. Idema said the U.S. government severed its links with him after Afghan radio broadcast a report saying he had tortured Afghans.

U.S. forces already are under fire from rights groups because of accusations that they mistreated detainees in Afghanistan, several of whom have died in custody.

In another war-related development yesterday, more than 1,500 Afghan national army troops accompanied by their U.S. military trainers were deployed to western Afghanistan after the latest bout of deadly factional fighting to hit the country, officials said.

The troop buildup was prompted by protracted clashes between local warlords just eight weeks before Afghans go to the polls to choose a president.

The fighting between forces loyal to Herat Gov. Ismael Khan and his longtime rival Amanullah Khan began early Saturday at Shindand’s small airport, about 400 miles west of Kabul, and spread into surrounding areas.

No official death toll from the violence has been released, but at least 22 persons have been killed. One Afghan official said as many as 60 had died.

Tensions in the region continued to run high yesterday when forces loyal to Ismael Khan surrounded a key district after capturing it briefly overnight, officials said.

Ismael Khan rules Herat with an iron fist and has brought order and prosperity to its streets since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

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