NATO Aided U.S. Vigilantes

Keith Idema former Green Beret talks with Dan Rather for segment on Afghanistan terrorist trainin tapes 60 Minutes II
A group of Americans arrested on a freelance counterterror operation and found to be running a private jail in Afghanistan duped international peacekeepers three times into assisting their illegal raids, the NATO-led force said Wednesday.

The three have been charged with hostage-taking and assault, officials said. If found guilty, they could be confined to Afghanistan's rudimentary jails for up to 20 years, Attorney General Abdul Fatah told The Associated Press.

Afghan security forces arrested the three, led by a former U.S. soldier named Jonathan K. Idema, on July 5 after finding eight Afghans in a makeshift holding facility in the capital, Kabul.

Cdr. Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, said Idema called in ISAF bomb-disposal teams complete with a sniffer dog to check buildings three times in June.

He said ISAF troops were deceived by the men's "American-style" uniforms, complete with U.S. flags, and their apparently professional approach — also in handling prisoners.

ISAF troops "believed they were providing legitimate support to a legitimate security agency," Henderson said.

The teams found traces of explosives in two of the buildings, and suspicious electronic components in another, Henderson said. He wouldn't say whether they could have been used to make bombs.

The U.S. military has said the three have no connection to either the American military or government. The U.S. Embassy has checked that the men are being treated properly, but there is no sign of an attempt to remove them from the country.

Fatah said the charges raised against the Americans, as well as four Afghans arrested with them, carry jail terms of 16-20 years.

Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, a senior judge at Kabul's lower court, said it received the case Wednesday, but that it would be several days before a trial could begin.

"It will be a public trial," Bakhtyari told AP. "They can bring lawyers from whichever country they want,"

He said Idema would remain in Afghan custody.

Afghan officials say they freed all eight illegal prisoners, though residents from an area of Kabul where one of the raids occurred say five men have not returned.

An Afghan security official has told the AP that prisoners were found hanging from their feet in the private jail and showed signs of being beaten.

Henderson insisted that none of the peacekeepers had witnessed any abuse of detainees seen at the three buildings searched for explosives.

Idema has run into legal problems in the past. He served a three-year federal prison sentence for defrauding dozens of companies by setting up a fake firm to order goods for his military supplies business. The companies were shorted more than $200,000.

According to local press accounts, Idema claimed the government was prosecuting him because he knew secrets that would be embarrassing to the intelligence community.

Idema is listed in the Bureau of Prisons database as a 48-year-old white male who was released from custody in 1997.

While imprisoned, he filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging his incarceration, but lost in court. He also appealed his case to the Supreme Court, but the justices did not accept the appeal.

In 1997, Idema sued CBS and the program CBS News' 60 Minutes as well as U.S. News & World Report, alleging that they had breached a contract with him by failing to run stories based on information he had provided. The case was quickly dismissed.

In July 2000, a witness in the murder case of a retired Army colonel identified Idema as one of two men who harassed him. Idema was reported to be a supporter of the retired colonel. He was not charged in the incident.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Idema appeared on television several times. On Fox News he was identified as a "counterterrorism adviser" and a "civilian adviser to the Northern Alliance." He was also interviewed by local television in Los Angeles.

Earlier in 2001, he did media interviews about his plans to clone a pet.

In 2002, Idema provided to CBS News' 60 Minutes II tapes he said he discovered in Afghanistan apparently showing al Qaeda training sessions. The program identified him as "a former member of the U.S. special forces" and a "Green Beret."

On April 23 of this year, Idema filed a motion in the federal court for the Western District of North Carolina to quash subpoenas in a case titled USA vs. Idema. It was not clear what that case involved.