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3 Americans Found Guilty of Running Private 'Anti-Terrorism' Operation in Afghanistan - 2004-09-15

An Afghan court has sentenced three Americans to up to 10 years in jail on charges including torture, illegal detention, and running a private "anti-terrorism" prison operation in Afghanistan. Defense lawyers are questioning the fairness of trial.

After eight hours of final proceedings, Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari announced the unanimous verdict.

Jonathan Idema and Brent Bennett, both former U.S. soldiers, were sentenced to 10 years in Jail. Their journalist colleague, Edward Caraballo, received an eight-year term, and four Afghan co-defendants received sentences ranging from one to five years.

The three-member court found Idema and Bennett guilty of detaining locals in an illegally established prison in Kabul.

Defense lawyer Robert Fogelnest denounced the verdict, saying war-ravaged Afghanistan's legal system is not fit to carry out a fair trial.

"Despite the best efforts and aid from the international community the legal system in Afghanistan is not yet fully functional and the rule of law is not yet fully established," Mr. Fogelnest says.

Afghan authorities arrested the three Americans in July, when they were found to be holding eight Afghans prisoner. They were reported to have rounded the men up in raids around Kabul.

The defendants insisted they were carrying out genuine anti-terrorist operations in coordination with the U.S. Defense Department and Afghan authorities, a claim denied by both governments.

Some reports suggested the Americans were interested in collecting multi-million-dollar rewards offered by the United States for the capture of senior terror suspects, including Osama bin Laden the chief of the al-Qaida terror network.