KABUL, Afghanistan – A hearing for three Americans charged with torturing Afghans on a private anti-terror mission was postponed on Monday for 10 days at the defendants' request after they brought in American lawyers.
Jonathan Idema (search), Edward Caraballo (search) and Brent Bennett (search), who are also charged with kidnapping and holding Afghans in a makeshift jail, were due in court Monday for what had been expected to be the decisive hearing.
But Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari said authorities granted their request for extra time to prepare their defense with the help of the newly arrived U.S. attorneys. The three men could face 20 years in prison if convicted.
"After 10 days, if they want more time, we will give it for the sake of humanity and democracy," Bakhtyari said.
The three were arrested July 5 when authorities freed about a dozen Afghans from a private home in Kabul. The men were allegedly beaten, deprived of food and doused with hot water.
Idema, a former U.S. soldier with a checkered past that includes a stint in federal prison for fraud, denies he tortured anyone and claims he was working with the approval of the Pentagon and senior Afghan authorities.
The U.S. military has described Idema as a freelancer with no connections to it whatsoever. However, it has acknowledged receiving a prisoner from his crew and holding the man for about two months. The military says it released the suspect without charge.
Idema claims to have uncovered a plot to bomb U.S. and NATO military bases and assassinate a string of Afghan leaders.
Prosecutors say Afghan officials also cooperated with Idema, who wore military-style uniforms bearing American flags, because they thought he was a legitimate agent.
Bakhtyari said new American lawyers had arrived in Kabul in recent days to defend Idema and Caraballo, while Bennett would be represented in court by an Afghan attorney.
Bakhtyari said he had refused a motion from the new defense team for the trial to be held in America. "I say no, because this all happened in Afghanistan," he said.