This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Idema’s lawyer, John Edwards Tiffany, says that by the end of April Idema had arrested his first prisoner, whom he turned over to U.S. officials on May 3. But two months later the man was released after the United States Central Command determined that he was not the high-ranking Taliban official Idema had claimed he was. The command began to investigate Idema, and shortly thereafter Wanted posters for Idema went up in Kabul. He and his cohorts nevertheless made a series of arrests in June, according to Tiffany. It wasn’t until July 5 that Afghan police finally nabbed him, along with Caraballo, the former U.S. soldier Brent Bennett, and four Afghans who were working with them. At the time, the Abu Ghraib scandal was raging. Idema claimed he was working with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. government (something the Central Command and the State Department adamantly deny) and presented some evidence to support this claim during his trial. But none of it seems to point to definitive links to the Afghan or U.S. governments. Among the material is a video of meetings between Idema and two Afghan ministers. But both reportedly said they met with Idema to discuss his claims about the taxi-bomb plot only because they believed he was a member of the U.S. military. Tiffany also played tape-recorded conversations of Idema purportedly talking to officials in Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William G. Boykin’s office. In one of the conversations, recorded after the Wanted posters for him went up, Idema threatens to give some unidentified material to the press. “Someone’s got to do something within twelve hours or I’m going to e-mail this fucking thing to Dan Rather,” he warns. “Do you think I would rot in prison if there’s a problem?”
Most of the evidence, though, is one-directional communication, with Idema offering information or asking for assistance. There may be a reason for this: According to Bumback, and Idema’s own e-mails, Idema had been trying desperately to secure a Pentagon contract, but hadn’t been able to do so. Bumback says that’s why Idema largely relied on the media to fund his operations. “Somebody had to replenish the till,” he says. “Uncle Sam wasn’t doing it”
Despite his problems, including a December shootout in his cell block, Idema continues to hatch ever-more creative schemes to ensure that history portrays him as a swashbuckling hero. From his jail cell he is telling associates that he plans lawsuits against Tod Robberson of The Dallas Morning News and the freelance journalist Stacy Sullivan, two reporters who have written investigative pieces about him since his arrest in Afghanistan. Idema made it clear in a recent letter to one of his attorneys (who was instructed in the letter to distribute it to other members of Idema’s inner circle) that his goal was to influence future coverage. “Whatever we sue them for doesn’t matter,” he wrote. “It puts all the others on notice that 1) we will and can sue; 2) I still have fangs, and lawyers, even from an Afghan prison cell; 3) other people better check their stories ” Idema is also apparently trying to sway coverage by making reporters sign detailed contracts in order to get an interview with him. Tiffany, Idema’s attorney, says at least one journalist has already done so. Idema wouldn’t speak with CJR because the magazine refused to sign such an agreement.
Meanwhile, Idema is negotiating with an agent regarding a film about his exploits. And Strong, Moore’s former agent, recently received a 12,000-word installment of Idema’s book, which she said she has already discussed with dozens of publishers. Its working title: Army of One.
Perhaps these developments explain the optimism pouring out of Idema’s Afghan prison cell. “When Caesar crossed into Italy with his legion he said, ‘let the dice fly high, “he wrote in a recent letter. “Well, we did, and although we are down, I know I will prevail in the end.”
Additional reporting by A. G. Basoli, Afghanistan