The US media has reported the death of Jonathon (“Jack”) Idema, the former Special Forces soldier and convicted fraudster who was sentenced in 2004 to ten years imprisonment in after being found guilty of kidnapping and torturing Afghan citizens in his own private prison in Kabul. Following his release, Idema left Afghanistan for Dubai and then Mexico, where he died of AIDS last week.
Idema (named only as “Jack”) plays a major role in “Absurdistan”, the memoirs of ABC correspondent Eric Campbell – unsurprisingly, since Idema took up residence in the ABC quarters in Kabul and was the source of the purported al Qaeda training videos that won Campbell a Logie for the best news stories of 2002. After Idema’s conviction, Mediawatch ran a story questioning Campbell’s use of him as a source and a counter-terrorism “expert”.
Mediawatch stopped short of questioning the authenticity of the al Qaeda videos that were a highlight of Campbell’s career. Campbell himself in both his correspondence with Mediawatch and in his memoirs claims to have verified the tapes beyond any doubt during his visits to the location concerned. Other analysts have been more sceptical, however, and Idema’s obituaries simply describe the tapes as “bogus”.
As for Idema’s expertise,Campbell says that he “knew for certain how close he was to senior Afghan officials”.
However, Idema seems to have established connections by playing off the various targets of his cons against each other. In his memoir “Absurdistan”, Campbell relates how “Jack had another treat for us at the Spinghar Hotel – an exclusive interview with the newly returned pro-American warlord Hazrat Ali. Dozens of news crews were camped out tryinig to get to him but he’d agreed to speak only to Jack’s group out of respect for his being a military adviser to theNorthern Alliance. The other crews were outraged as we walked in.”
However, Robert Young Pelton provides a different account of how Idema was able to provide a press confence for “his” journalists:
“Jack told CIA-backed warlord Hazrat Ali that he needed to brief an important delegation of Pentagon officials at the Spin Ghar Hotel. The “officials” turned out to be reporters Idema had charged $100 to attend an “exclusive” briefing by Hazrat Ali.”
Eric Campbell cut his journalistic teeth on unmasking con artists as the host of the ABC’s consumer affairs show The Investigators. But Idema was a con artist of a different order – and one whose personal fantasy of himself matched the media fantasy of the terrific source and the colourful character.