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Americans held over 'fake prison'


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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan authorities have arrested three American citizens accused of running a fake prison in Kabul, U.S. State Department and Afghan officials say.

Afghan government officials raided a rented house in the capital late Sunday where the three Americans lived. They found a private prison inside the building that contained eight prisoners, a Ministry of Interior official said Friday.

The raid came after Afghan citizens reported their family members missing over the past several months.

At a news briefing Thursday, State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher identified all three as American citizens, noting "the U.S. government does not employ or sponsor these men."

He identified two of the men as Jonathan Idema and Brent Bennett, but could not release the name of the third because he had not signed a Privacy Act waiver.

Idema and his colleagues told Afghan authorities they were operating the prison because they wanted "to take part in the war on terror," the Afghan official said.

The Americans did not torture their prisoners, but did administer "some beatings," the official added.

The three men are being interrogated by Afghanistan's intelligence agency. They are not being held in prison but in a residential area.

The eight prisoners are also being debriefed by the agency, and the government is trying to find several Afghans who were allegedly helping the Americans, the official said.

The arrests came as the U.S. military investigated allegations of detainee abuse in Afghanistan at the hands of American jailers.

That investigation was prompted by outrage after photographs of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison captured international media attention.

Boucher said officials from U.S. consular offices in Kabul visited the Americans on Tuesday and Thursday.

When asked if they were being treated fairly, he responded "we're monitoring their welfare."

Idema and his colleagues rented the house near Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, and told neighbors that they were operating an export company that traded Afghan rugs, the Afghan official said.

The Americans were mainly detaining men with long beards on the outskirts of Kabul who they suspected -- based on their appearance -- to be members of al Qaeda, the interior ministry official said.

Idema and his two colleagues would then interrogate the prisoners in an attempt to get them to confess they were members of the terrorist network, the official said.

If charged, the official said it was unlikely that Idema would be tried in the Afghan judicial system, but would be handed over to U.S. custody at some point.

The official said the story would "definitely have a negative impact on the image of Americans" among Afghans.

CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen in Kabul contributed to this report.


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