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3 Americans on Trial for Running Private Jail in Afghanistan - 2004-07-21

Three Americans are on trial in Afghanistan for allegedly imprisoning and torturing Afghans they accused of being terrorists.

Afghan prosecutors say Jonathan Idema and his two colleagues entered the country illegally using Indian passports in April, and set up a vigilante counterterrorist operation in the capital.

The three U.S. citizens, along with four Afghans, are said to have arrested and imprisoned at least eight people in houses they rented. Several of the alleged victims say their captors tortured them with boiling water and fed them very little.

The U.S. government and military have denied any connection to Mr. Idema.

But Mr. Idema says the denials are false.

"We are prepared to show e-mails and correspondence and tape recorded conversations that show that is not true," he said.

He says his group was in contact with the U.S. Department of Defense, and repeatedly turned over suspected terrorists to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

He says a U.S. general offered to hire him under contract for his work, but he turned her offer down.

"We did not want to go under contract, because that meant we could not work with the assets and ? people we were working with," he said.

Mr. Idema responded with swear words to the official U.S. denials of any association with his group. He says the captives found in his prison were terrorists, sponsored variously by the al Qaida terror network, Afghanistan's deposed Taleban regime and Pakistani intelligence.

But prosecutors say that one of the captives was a judge, while the others were regular Afghan citizens, including a shopkeeper and a taxi driver. The former captives testified Wednesday that they had no ties to terrorist groups.

After the first day of proceedings, the trial was adjourned to await the arrival of the defendants' lawyers from the United States.

Facing charges of kidnapping, physical assault, and illegal entry, the Americans could face more than 20 years in an Afghan prison if convicted.

The charges come as the United States faces criticism for the apparent mistreatment and torture of detainees in both Iraq and Afghanistan.