KABUL, Afghanistan – An American jailed for two years in Afghanistan on charges of torturing alleged terrorists in a makeshift jail was freed two months early on Sunday after a government decree.
Edward Caraballo, 44, from New York, waved to reporters at Kabul's international airport as he arrived in the back of a four-wheel drive vehicle accompanied by heavily armed American security personnel.
A U.S. Embassy official said an American consular officer accompanied Caraballo to the airport from the Pol-i-Charki prison, where he had been held since July 2004. He later caught a flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way back to the United States.
"I feel jubilant and happy. I am still worried that something could happen to me as I leave but I am optimistic that I will get home safely," Caraballo told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his cell before his release.
He said he was freed two months early under a decree issued by the Afghan government for prisoners with less than 12 months left on their sentences.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.
A convoy of sport utility vehicles arrived at the airport and whisked Caraballo through a gate into an area off-limits to the press. Afghan airport officials said U.S. authorities told them to prevent journalists from speaking to Caraballo.
Heavily armed U.S. Special Forces troops guarded the gate.
Caraballo and two other Americans, former soldier Jonathan "Jack" Idema and accomplice Brent Bennett, were arrested in July 2004 and convicted of running a private prison in Kabul as part of a freelance hunt for terrorists.
The Americans were arrested after Afghan security forces raided a house and discovered eight Afghan men who said they had been abused.
Afghan authorities were outraged by the jail's discovery, while claims that Idema received official American backing for his operation embarrassed Washington, which was trying to build ties with this war-ravaged country's new government while at the same time trying to catch those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Caraballo, who claims to be a four-time Emmy award-winning journalist, has consistently denied being an active member of Idema's group and said he believed he was chronicling a legitimate counterterrorism operation when he was arrested.
He said he met Idema several years before the Sept. 11 attacks and spoke with him about making a film based on his plan to open a secret prison, allegedly sanctioned by the U.S. government, to capture terrorists with knowledge of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.
Caraballo alleges that American military officials facilitated his "embedding" with Idema's team and helped make contacts with Afghan officials while in Afghanistan.
U.S. authorities have denied ever sanctioning the prison that was run by Idema, from Fayetteville, N.C., who insists he and the other Americans were tracking suspected terrorists, including bin Laden, in close cooperation with American and Afghan security forces.