U.S. Envoy Urged to Ask Afghans to Drop Torture Case Against 3

By CARLOTTA GALL

New York Times

September 9, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 8 - Lawyers representing two of the three Americans accused of running a private jail and kidnapping and torturing prisoners said Wednesday that they had asked the United States ambassador here to request that the Afghan authorities drop the charges.

The lawyers, John Edwards Tiffany, who is representing the suspected ringleader, Jonathan K. Idema, and Robert Fogelnest, the lawyer for Edward Caraballo, said Afghan prosecutors had told them they would withdraw the charges if the ambassador requested.

A spokeswoman at the United States Embassy in Kabul confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan, had received a letter from the lawyers and had forwarded it to the State Department in Washington for guidance on the issue. The third defendant, Brent Bennett, is not represented by an American lawyer, and has yet to be assigned an Afghan lawyer, but he would presumably also be included in such a deal.

The two lawyers argued that the Afghan legal system did not have the resources to handle the case, because it was in a process of reconstruction after war. They also said there had been problems with translations, and with finding a satisfactory lawyer for Mr. Bennett. They stressed, however, that the Afghan judges and prosecutors had been courteous and cooperative.

It is not clear if American authorities would try to prosecute the men if they were released from Afghan custody. The embassy spokeswoman, who asked not to be named, said this was a matter for the F.B.I. to decide.

Shortly before the men's arrest in Kabul on July 5, the United States Army in Afghanistan issued a statement saying that Mr. Idema was impersonating an American government or military official, and neither represented nor was employed by the American government. Mr. Idema has asserted that his actions were approved by American military and intelligence authorities.

The lawyers briefing journalists here on Wednesday in Kabul said they could easily rebut one of the lesser charges, that the three men entered the country illegally. They provided a videotape, shot by Mr. Caraballo, a cameraman who was following Mr. Idema to Afghanistan to make a documentary of the campaign against terror, that showed the men arriving at Kabul airport on April 15 or 16. They were greeted by Afghan officials, and filled in immigration forms and handed their passports to a uniformed border guard. "It shows without equivocation that they entered lawfully and were processed," Mr. Tiffany said. Among the officials were the chief of the airport, Haji Timor, and the police chief of Kabul, Gen. Baba Jan. The general said Wednesday he had been there to meet his son, who was on the same flight.

The lawyers declined to comment on the more serious charges of kidnapping and running a private jail and said they were reviewing the evidence before the trial's resumption, scheduled for Sunday.

They repeated previous complaints by Mr. Idema and another legal representative for Mr. Caraballo that the F.B.I. had removed evidence from the Afghan authorities and may have tampered with it. Mr. Tiffany said no inventory had been made of the material seized at the time of the men's arrest, and that their clients complained that some of the material, including documents, photographs and videotapes, as well as the passports of Mr. Idema and Mr. Bennett, were missing. The lawyers added that Mr. Idema said he had been tortured while in custody and that Mr. Caraballo had an injury that appeared to have been caused by beating the soles of his feet.