American Imprisoned in Afghanistan for Running Private Jail Freed, Leaves Country

An American was released from an Afghan prison and flown out of the country Saturday after serving more than two years for running a private prison as part of a freelance hunt for terrorists, officials said.

Court documents filed Friday in Washington, D.C., show that U.S. officials planned to secure Brent Bennett a passport and a ticket out of the country, and an Associated Press reporter saw a man identified as Bennett board a plane for Dubai late Saturday.

It was not clear if Bennett, 29, was free or in the custody of U.S. officials. He was held in a private room at the airport and journalists were prevented from talking to him.

Bennett, former U.S. soldier Jack Keith Idema, and Edward Caraballo were arrested in July 2004 and convicted of running a private prison in Kabul after Afghan security forces raided a house and discovered eight Afghan men who said they had been abused. Idema told the AP by phone from his prison cell Saturday that there had never been any evidence the Afghans were abused.

CountryWatch: Afghanistan

Abdul Qayum, the commander of the Policharki prison where Bennett had been jailed, said the American was in good spirits when he left Saturday.

An Afghan airport official showed an AP reporter a copy of the passport of the man boarding the plane in the name of Brent L. Bennett. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Idema, who is serving a five-year sentence, also told the AP that Bennett was being flown out of the country on Saturday. He said Bennett had been forcibly removed from his cell earlier in the week during a night of violence at the prison that included a fire being set in a cell block and gunfire from guards.

No U.S. officials in Afghanistan would comment on Bennett's case, and an American lawyer filing paperwork on his behalf said he didn't know if Bennett was free or in U.S. custody. When Bennett boarded the plane he was not wearing any restraints.

"We don't know if he was forcibly put on the plane or not because they probably knew people would be watching," lawyer John Tiffany said by phone from the United States.

Edward P. Birsner, the consul at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said in Friday's court filing that the "Embassy has no intentions of taking Mr. Bennett into custody."

A spokesman for the embassy declined to comment on the case Saturday.

Bennett's mother, Debra Bennett, said she hadn't heard from her son directly and didn't know his plans, but that Tiffany had told her he had left Afghanistan.

"We're trying to find out what's going on," said Debra Bennett of Fortuna, Calif., about 250 miles north of San Francisco. "We miss him so much."

She said family members hadn't spoken with Bennett since December and were excited to hear about his release. "We just want to see him back here in the United States," she said.

Bennett had been sentenced to three years in prison. Caraballo, who has said he is a video journalist, was released in April.