Afghan court jails US bounty hunter who claims to have tracked down Bin Laden

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The Independent Online

The extraordinary case of the bounty hunters, their private torture chamber and the journalist making a film about his one-man hunt for Osama bin Laden came to an end in a Kabul courtroom yesterday with long sentences in Afghanistan's dreadful prisons.

Jonathan "Jack" Idema, a former Green Beret and a convicted fraudster, insisted that he had been working all along for Donald Rumsfeld, and had been in contact with the Pentagon and high-ranking Afghan officials throughout his vigilante career, exposed during the trial as part of the murky underside of the war on terror.

Idema, who smoked cigarettes in the dock and lectured the judge about the meaning of democracy, was led away to serve his sentence in his self- designed uniform muttering obscenities, denouncing the judges as Taliban, and complaining about America.

"I knew that the American government wasn't going to help me," he said.

Earlier he had melodramatically attempted to become a Muslim before the court, recounting the Koranic verses of those seeking to convert to the faith, and trying to swear an oath on the holy book.

The judge did not disguise his irritation with Idema and seemed bemused by the aggressive style of the US trial lawyers flown in by the alleged bounty hunter.

Idema had shown video footage of himself with senior Afghan officials and claimed the FBI had confiscated all his evidence, including faxes.

It remains unclear whether he was a fantasist or whether he really did have connections at the highest levels.

Idema was sentenced to 10 years prison after being found guilty of torture, kidnapping and entering the country illegally. His right-hand man, Brent Bennett, was also jailed for 10 years and the award-winning New York film maker Edward Caraballo received eight years.

Four Afghans were sentenced to jail terms ranging from one to five years.

Caraballo appeared shell-shocked and was silent throughout the proceedings.

It was unclear where the three will be imprisoned. So far they have been held in secret police detention.

Afghanistan's prisons include the notorious Soviet-built Pul-e-Chorki, full of Taliban detainees, and one of the world's biggest. The prison, on a dusty plain outside the capital, is guarded by anti-aircraft guns.

Conditions are described as appalling, with widespread cases of dysentery and other diseases. It is said to be seriously overcrowded and sexual abuse of young prisoners is rife.

Inmates are crammed into fetid rooms which are stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in winter. Prisoners sleep on metal bunk beds; they share stinking, overflowing lavatories; and cooking facilities consist of little more than stoves in prison corridors.

Life is considerably better for those with money to buy their own food and medicines.

Colin Berry, a former British soldier who was released from jail in Afghanistan last year after he was found in Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel with two Afghans who had been shot dead, said he had been lucky to survive his ordeal.

Jonathan Idema had been caught with "terrorist suspects" hanging by their feet from the ceiling of a house in Kabul, including the senior cleric of one of the city's biggest mosques.

Idema insisted the cleric had been implicated in plots foiled by his team, who called themselves Task Force Sabre Seven.

With Kabul awash with armed men in and out of uniform, both Nato and the US military were duped by Idema. Nato sent personnel on his raids and the US military accepted a "terrorist suspect" from him.

Idema claimed to have personally stopped terrorist plots to assassinate President Hamid Karzai and blow up the massive US military base at Bagram near Kabul with fuel tankers.

From prison, he said he had tracked down Osama bin Laden to a village just over the border in Pakistan. His credibility was not helped, however, when it emerged that he had tried to sue the Hollywood actor George Clooney over his role in a film, The Peacemaker, as a special forces soldier who averts a nuclear attack on Manhattan.

Idema claimed to have stopped nuclear terrorists himself before joining the Northern Alliance as a freelance fighter soon after 11 September 2001.