Pentagon hitman or fantasist? Action!

From his cell in a notorious Afghan jail, a former US Green Beret is writing a film about his life. It might even be true
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In a luxury, Persian-carpeted cell in Kabul's dreaded Pul-e-Charki prison, Afghanistan's most notorious bounty hunter is putting the final touches to the film script about his bizarre life.

In a luxury, Persian-carpeted cell in Kabul's dreaded Pul-e-Charki prison, Afghanistan's most notorious bounty hunter is putting the final touches to the film script about his bizarre life.

Jack Idema joined the elite US special forces unit the Green Berets after watching the John Wayne movie of the same name. Now, Idema is angling for a Hollywood deal to make an action film about his own violent adventures. A suitably macho account can be expected. The 48-year-old New Yorker claims to have played a key role in vanquishing the Taliban in 2001, killing dozens of them, according to his own account. He says he tracked down Osama bin Laden twice - once at Tora Bora in 2001, and a second time on the Pakistan border this year.

Even before his arrest in July for running a private torture chamber in Kabul, Idema had been known among Kabul's hard-drinking world of security men, chancers and fantasists as one of the "larger-than-life" characters.

But it was his exploits running a freelance terrorist-hunting team that propelled him to international celebrity. A spellbound court heard how Idema had toured Kabul's streets kidnapping Afghans with long beards, whom he suspected to be Taliban, and interrogated them harshly. He was arrested only after he grabbed a Supreme Court judge by mistake. The case raised serious questions about whether Idema was really working for the Pentagon on a deniable black-ops mission, as he claimed, or whether he was a freelance loose cannon.

Kabul police claimed Idema and two other Americans were caught red-handed - with his suspects suspended upside-down from the ceiling as part of a mission to find Bin Laden. Lawyers for the bounty hunter say that is rubbish. They insist they have video evidence that proves he was working for one of the Pentagon's most controversial special operations commanders, born-again Christian General William Boykin, the former head of Delta Force.

The lawyers believe Idema may have been just one of many freelance mercenaries hunting for al-Qa'ida terrorists in Afghanistan for the Pentagon and are calling for congressional hearings into the claims, which they say are deeply embarrassing for the Bush administration.

Robert Fogelnest, attorney for cameraman Ed Carabello who was convicted with Idema, said: "The United States knew about operatives catching terrorists using methods they didn't want the world to know about. The easiest way to deal with them was to put them before a kangaroo court and leave them to rot in an Afghan prison."

According to Afghan friends, life in the prison is not so bad. Idema has become a hero to inmates and guards in Pul-e-Charki - a giant, crumbling fortress on the wind-swept outskirts of Kabul, built by the Soviets as a torture centre. Still wearing his sunglasses and home-made special forces uniform, Idema struts through its corridors before retiring to a spacious cell, provided thanks to his Northern Alliance contacts.

Afghans describe the cell as luxurious, at least compared to the stinking hellhole that most prisoners endure. Idema, on the other hand, enjoys Persian carpets, heating and satellite TV. His wing is the only one to have seen a fresh coat of paint in decades, and during the summer he was able to relax in the flower garden. He is permitted to buy food and drink from Kabul's expat shops. But one Afghan friend of Idema said: "Jack is broke these days. He used to be famous for tipping everyone with 10- or 20-dollar bills, but now he can hardly afford to pay for anything."

Prison life has its dangerous side; an al-Qa'ida inmate recently threatened to burn to death Carabello, who was jailed for eight years although he claimed simply to be making a documentary about Idema.

Idema's money problems, however, may be near solution. He has found an agent, Beau Beaumont, to tout his film idea around Hollywood. Mr Beaumont is reportedly confident. It is not known whether the film will cover Idema's days in Panama, where he had the reputation of being the craziest Green Beret in the army. He later attempted to sue George Clooney, claiming the star had based his role in The Peacemaker on him.