These conversations indicate that Idema's terrorist-hunting operation was known of at high levels in the Pentagon. But Idema did not have written authorization from either government for his activities, and in the end that would prove to be his undoing. As Mohammed Nahim Dawari, the prosecutor in the Idema case, explained to me, "Idema presented himself like a film star. He tried to deceive Afghan officials. He used the ID of the U.S. government to pretend he was an American soldier. If Idema wanted to come on a mission in Afghanistan, then he needed proper authorization from the U.S. government. If he had the proper authorization, then we would not have arrested him."
On September 15th, 2004, Judge Bakhtiari sentenced Bennett and Idema to ten years each. Idema's wife told me that when she heard the news, "I just fell to the floor. I just fell to the floor drunk. For two days straight." Caraballo was sentenced to eight years. His punitive sentence was especially perplexing. "All Eddie did was document what Idema was doing," said Robert Fogelnast, his lawyer. "Eddie got an all-access backstage pass to the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. The American government has chosen to bury Eddie Caraballo alive." Puzzlingly, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the New York organization that is supposed to advocate for mistreated journalists around the world, has done nothing to protest Caraballo's sentence.
In an effort to try and clear up some of the mysteries surrounding the Idema case, I interviewed Afghan Supreme Court Justice Siddiqullah, the most prominent of Idema's former prisoners. Siddiqullah, a jovial, heavily bearded forty-nine-year-old cleric, was wearing Islamic dress and a white turban shot through with gold filigree when I met with him in the spacious downtown Kabul office where he resolves tribal disputes. He described the morning last June when Idema arrested him. At 6:30 A.M. there was a bang at his front door, he said. The judge then stood up and mimed out how somebody "acting like James Bond"-Idema, of course-came into the house waving a weapon, shouting, "Hands up! Hands up!" Also taken into custody were two of Siddiqullah's brothers as well as four other relatives and a family retainer – the eight prisoners who would be discovered by Afghan authorities when they later busted Idema's jail. Siddiqullah told me, "The first night, around midnight, I heard the screams of four people. They then poured very cold water on me. I tried to keep myself from screaming, but couldn't. Then they played loud, strange music. Then they prevented me from going to the bathroom; a terrible situation. I was hooded for twelve days."
I asked the judge why he thought his family had been targeted by Idema, to which he replied, "No clue." When I asked him if I could meet with any of the other members of his family who had been abused by Idema, he became strangely evasive. Eventually he said that I could come to his home. Once there, he pointed out the bullet holes in the ceiling that Idema's team had made the morning of the arrests. Siddiqullah then introduced me to his brother Malikyar, whom Idema had said is a terrorist. Siddiqullah told me that Malikyar had been tortured, that his rib was broken and that a cigarette was stubbed out on his hand. But Malikyar behaved in a weirdly hostile manner to me and refused to answer any questions about his treatment by Idema. Then Siddiqullah admitted in an aside that he himself was once affiliated with Hezbi-Islami, the party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a onetime U.S. ally who has been branded one of the most wanted terrorists in Afghanistan. Now I was getting seriously confused, especially when I thought back to Siddiqullah's earlier suggestion to me that, as far as he was concerned, the whole Idema case could have been resolved if his family were paid 900,000 Afghanis in compensation, about $20,000
My discussions with Siddiqullah added to my growing skepticism about aspects of the case against Idema and his colleagues. I traveled back to Kabul in January to interview the three judges who were hearing the appeals of the members of Task Force Saber 7. Sitting in their office in the Supreme Court, we all huddled around a wood stove that was barely warding off the intense chill of Kabul's winter. The chief judge, Mohammed Ismail Abid, explained that the whole Idema affair had mushroomed needlessly out of control because of all the attention it had received in the media. "In my opinion, Jack was trying to help against Al Qaeda and terrorism," said the judge. "We did not want to make this a big case. We wanted to deal with it diplomatically." It seemed to me that the judges were broadly sympathetic to Task Force Saber 7's case and were keeping an open mind about the evidence. The judges said that they had recently ordered the release of four Afghans who had been helping Idema, all of whom were employees of Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense and one of whom was a major. This admission established that the Afghan government had given some kind of official sanction to Idema's activities. One of the judges also conceded that one of the people Task Force Saber 7 had detained, a man named Sher Jan, was concealing explosives when he was picked up, an indicator that Idema's terrorist-busting operation had met with some success. However, one of the judges, who had said nothing during the conversation as he fiddled with his prayer beads, finally turned to me to ask, "I have one question for you: Can Afghans open a private prison in the United States?" The question wasn't really meant to be answered.
I then went back to Pul-e-Charkhi prison to spend another couple of days with Idema and the others. Their cell had now taken on the comfortable look of a frat-house rec room. Scores of DVDs lined a shelf near a television, and a selection of Christmas cards decorated a table. The comfort of the cell belied the fact that two weeks earlier, the three Americans had been the target of an Al Qaeda-led prison riot that resulted in the deaths of four guards and four prisoners. According to a guard named Torialy, an Iraqi prisoner who went by the name of Bokan recruited three Pakistani prisoners to seize weapons from prison officials in an operation to take out the Americans. "If we didn't kill them, they would have killed Mr. Jack," Torialy said. Another guard told me, "Two of them were Osama's men." As prison officers traded automatic-weapons fire with the rioting Al Qaeda prisoners, the members of Task Force Saber 7 barricaded themselves in their cell. After a twelve-hour standoff, the four Al Qaeda prisoners were killed, along with the Afghan guards who, Idema said, "died defending our lives."
Despite the recent efforts by fellow Iraqi and Pakistani prisoners to kill them, the members of Task Force Saber 7 remain cautiously optimistic that the appeals process might eventually spring them from Pul-e-Charkhi. Indeed, in April an appeals court cut Idema's sentence from ten years to five, Brent Bennett's from ten to three, and Ed Caraballo's from eight to two. They are now all appealing their cases to the Afghan Supreme Court. Caraballo told me that whether he gets out of jail soon or at the end of his sentence, he intends to complete his Idema documentary "if the FBI doesn't find some way to send me to Guantánamo or somehow stop me from making my film."
When I asked Idema what he planned to do once he was finally released, he said, "Go home and see my wife. Come back... because I have total sense of mission. That's all I fucking see... One day, I'll finally get bin Laden in front of a machine gun."
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