KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three Americans accused of torturing prisoners at a private jail played videos at their trial yesterday showing a top Afghan official pledging his full support to the alleged vigilantes, then sending his security force on a raid with them.
The videos, and one showing NATO peacekeepers in a separate raid, were part of the defense's effort to prove that the counterterrorism operation had the backing of the Pentagon and Afghan officials and was not a rogue mission as the prosecution alleges.
Jonathan Idema, Brent Bennett, and Edward Caraballo face up to 20 years in jail if convicted on charges of kidnapping and torture. Four alleged Afghan accomplices are also on trial.
The crowded courtroom was chaotic and often farcical, with poorly trained translators struggling to keep up with a stream of shouted commentary from Idema, the prosecutor, and witnesses sitting in the gallery. At times, the translators got caught up in the moment and offered opinions.
Idema is conducting his own defense and frequently shouted objections based on his interpretation of the Afghan Constitution and criminal code.
Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari had planned to issue a verdict yesterday, but instead adjourned the trial for a week to allow Bennett more time to get a lawyer.
Michael Skibbie, a lawyer for Caraballo, showed a video of former education minister Yunus Qanooni offering Idema his help in arresting terrorists. Another video showed a raid involving Idema's team and a man identified as Qanooni's chief of security.
"Any cooperation, we are ready. We have a small security group," Qanooni says on the tape in broken English. The tape was recorded sometime between Idema's most recent arrival in Afghanistan, in April, and his arrest July 5.
Qanooni is an influential figure in the Northern Alliance, which helped the United States oust the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001, and is one of the main rivals to President Hamid Karzai in the election scheduled for Oct. 9.
Caraballo, the journalist, says he believed he was chronicling a legitimate operation.
Idema contends his activities were sanctioned by high-level Pentagon officials and says the Afghan government backed him.
Dawari said the Afghans mistakenly believed Idema was legitimate.
The US military insists the defendants were operating without its knowledge and outside the law. NATO peacekeepers say they were duped into helping Idema.