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Top Al Qaeda Operative Escaped From U.S. Detention Facility, Pentagon Says

A man once considered a top Al Qaeda (search) operative escaped from a U.S.-run detention facility in Afghanistan and cannot testify against the soldier who allegedly mistreated him, a defense lawyer involved in a prison abuse case said Tuesday.

Omar al-Farouq (search) was one of Usama bin Laden's (search) top lieutenants in Southeast Asia until Indonesian authorities captured him in the summer of 2002 and turned him over to the United States.

A Pentagon official in Washington confirmed Tuesday evening that al-Farouq escaped from a U.S. detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan (search), on July 10. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

An Army lawyer for Sgt. Alan J. Driver, a reservist accused of abusing Bagram detainees, asked Tuesday where al-Farouq was and what the Army had done to find him in time for Driver's court proceedings.

Capt. John B. Parker, a prosecutor, said al-Farouq and three others escaped from the Bagram detention center and have not been found.

"If we find him ... we will make him available," Parker said.

Members of Driver's company, testifying by speaker phone in court Tuesday, identified the detainee Driver is accused of abusing as Omar al-Farouq, who was featured in a Time magazine cover story in September 2002. The article, titled "Confessions of an al-Qaida Terrorists," detailed his plans to carry out attacks in Southeast Asia, including a plot to bomb U.S. embassies near the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Driver's Army lawyer, Capt. Michael Waddington, questioned members of Driver's company about who had access to al-Farouq, specifically asking whether the CIA had ordered military police officers to do certain things to al-Farouq.

Al-Farouq could have been the first detainee to testify against a soldier in the Afghanistan prisoner abuse case.

Driver, a reservist from the Ohio-based 377th Military Police Company, is charged with maltreatment and assault of three detainees, including one who later died, at the Bagram facility in 2002. He is accused of slamming al-Farouq against a wall.

In earlier cases of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, the alleged victims either were dead or unidentified. Other alleged victims in Driver's case also cannot testify. One was released from custody and cannot be found, and the other has died.

Driver is one of 14 soldiers accused in the abuse investigation after two detainees died in American custody in 2002.

Military prosecutors had accused Driver of hitting one of the detainees while he was shackled in a cell.

During a preliminary hearing Tuesday, lawyers and an independent investigator heard testimony from several witnesses who said they saw Driver mistreat detainees.

Lt. Col. Roger E. Nell, the investigator, will recommend whether the case should be taken to trial or the charges should be reduced or dropped.

Six soldiers have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to abuse charges. Two soldiers, both reservists from Driver's unit, were acquitted. Charges against another reservist were dropped.