Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Same shame, different site: the Afghan gulag revisited

Human rights workers have consistently reported tales of abuse and torture at US-run prisons in Afghanistan: all that is lacking are the dramatic photos

By Duncan Campbell and Suzanne Goldenberg  /  THE GUARDIAN , AFGHANISTAN

"They asked me, `Do you know where you are now?' I said no. They said, `This is America. Do you accept American laws and rules?' I said: `If this is America, I will accept and obey the rules.' They said, `If a soldier orders you to take off your clothes, you must obey.' Then they took off our clothes and with gloves on they touched us everywhere they wanted."

He said that fingers were stuck in his anus.

While the detainees we spoke to described these incidents as humiliating, the Coalition authorities maintain that they are standard search techniques to ensure that prisoners do not bring weapons into jails. After 11 nights at Bagram, he was asked at two in the morning if he wanted to see his family and if he missed them.

"Then they said, `Do you forgive and forget?' I told them, `I will forgive all of you if you punish those people who reported me to you wrongly.' I told them that the reports came from people who had links with the government of the former communist regime and that they should not accept such reports. They promised me they would punish those people. They gave me a bottle of water and a box of biscuits and asked me to take them to my children."

In total, he was held for 45 days before being returned to his family.

"When I returned, my children who were studying at school had left their lessons and were working in the bazaar in the city because there was no one to feed them."

THE DRIVER'S STORY

Out in the wheat fields, not far from Siddiqi's home, a young man is helping to build a mud wall. Noor Aghah is 35, a father of four.

Wearing a kolla, the traditional hat, he comes down from the wall to talk and we sit in a field watched intently by a teenage boy with a slingshot, who breaks off momentarily to fell a bird perched in a nearby tree. Lighting a cigarette, Aghah tells his story.

He had applied for a job as a driver for a local militia commander at the end of 2001, working first in Gardez and then in Kabul before returning to Gardez. Then the commander was arrested as a suspect and, six days later, so was Aghah. After one month's detention at the Coalition center outside Gardez, a complex of fort-like mud buildings and modern metal warehouses, he was sent to Bagram, where he was to spend the next four months.

"They said, `Tell us what sort of work [the commander] used to do,'" he said of his initial detention in Gardez. "I said I hadn't seen anything. Then they forced me to drink 12 bottles of water and they didn't allow me to go to the toilet."

The interrogation continued along the same lines for one month, he said, with questions being asked all the time about his commander.

Along with other prisoners, he was handcuffed and kept kneeling in a narrow open space between two high walls with direct sun coming down on them for 10 hours during the day. This continued for 20 days until an American doctor instructed that a covering be put over the space and that the prisoners be given blankets and pillows.

"Every minute in Gardez they were beating us. Mostly they kick me," he said.

"At Bagram, we were totally forbidden to talk to other prisoners and when we were interrogated we were blindfolded," he said.

"Americans interrogated me with an interpreter. Twice a woman asked questions but it was mostly men. They interrogated me every day in Bagram for one month and then only every 20 days or so. They asked me if I was Taliban or al-Qaeda. In Gardez and also in Bagram, we were asked to take off our clothes and everyone saw us without clothes, six or seven people."

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