The Torture Place

He was a godless communist journalist in Afghanistan -- so they took his eye, cut his ear and splashed acid all over his body. Now he is safe in St. Louis. But still burning.

One crucial battle site was Khost, a garrison city 34 kilometers from the Pakistan border, cross-hatched by several routes to the Afghan interior. In Khost, the taxis are horse carts, and instead of running water or electricity, there is symbolism. Two men had fought hard for this strategic town: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose rebels received the bulk of U.S. arms, and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who scoffed at political negotiation, insisting that "only jihad (holy war) will produce an Islamic government in Afghanistan" (New York Times, April 16, 1991).

In April 1991, after 16 days of fierce battle, the mujahideen took Khost. Barikzy traveled there, "wearing the cloth of the local people" and taking cover with a friend who worked for the mujahideen. Haqqani and Hekmatyar had come to Khost to receive a reward from Pakistan for their victory, says Barikzy, and once there, they announced a fatwah against the people of the town, promising their soldiers, "You can kill 160 men, and you can keep the women and whatever you get from their houses." He says they went to "the center of the city, an area people call a park, but there was no grass on it. They put the men in a line, and one of the leaders said, 'Whoever kills them, God will praise and reward.' Then they machine-gunned them, and all the men fell down dead.

"Some cut a special part of the women's bodies, an abdominal part," he adds. "Then a general in ISI came and rewarded the commanders for their victory."

The bodies of former President Najibullah and his brother
Haider Shah/REUTERS
The bodies of former President Najibullah and his brother

Barikzy had seen enough. He fled to Kabul and wrote accounts of the massacre for both the army paper and the Communist paper.

A month or so later, someone threw a warning message into the walled garden of the house in Khushul Mina, the green, well-kept suburb of Kabul where Barikzy lived with his wife and children. "It said, 'According to Islamic law, you must be executed, because you talk against Islam,'" he says. "I hid it and didn't tell my family, just went to the office and reported it. I became a little careful."

In April 1992, the Communist government fell, leaving Afghanistan to a scattered array of fundamentalist groups. For Barikzy, "careful" was no longer enough: "I had friends who were working with the mujahideen, and they told me I was safe," he says, folding his arms high and tight across his chest. "Unfortunately, the different mujahideen groups started fighting against each other." They were divided, as the country always had been, by geography and tribal ancestry -- but the old harmony, the old unifying council, was gone.

For the next two years, the mujahideen fought each other, bombing even residential areas into rubble. In 1994, the Taliban (from taleb, "religious student") entered the fray, promising to destroy the corrupt mujahideen groups and win Afghanistan back to the 1,000-year reign of pure Islamic law. The Taliban's version of Islamic law, promulgated by a few fiery-eyed mullahs, proved the harshest and bloodiest the world had ever seen -- but it would take years for the world's powers to notice.

In spring of 1995, the war brought Barikzy's enemies to his door. When his neighborhood, Khushul Mina, became a battleground for two of the warring mujahideen groups, he took his family to live with his in-laws, then took a taxi back to his house. He wanted to gather up any papers that showed his Communist activities.

The houses on his street were dark, empty shells -- their occupants had fled, and the electricity had been cut. The only people he saw were mujahideen with guns on their shoulders. Swiftly unlocking the garden gate, Barikzy went straight to his bedroom and rifled through drawers and files, pulling out his article on Khost, another article about Pakistani intervention in Afghanistan, his party-membership card, photos of him with Russian journalists, his army-officer ID, a medal from the Communist government. As he stuffed them into his big black fake-leather briefcase, he heard the rocketing coming closer, until the explosions shook the windows. He couldn't leave now, he realized. He'd have to spend the night.

He found an old oil heater, brewed some tea and, around midnight, went to bed. "I was almost asleep when I heard someone knocking at my gate very violently," he says. "Suddenly the door broke and a large group of people carrying guns came in. 'Are you Abhaseen Barikzy?' they said. 'Is this your own house?' I said, 'Yes, this is my own house.' Then the commander commanded the other people to close my eyes with a turban. They wrapped it very hard, beating me with their fists and also with guns, and pulled me to the room where I'd been sleeping. The commander said to search around the house to find out if I had guns."

Barikzy wasn't worried about guns -- he was worried about the briefcase, which he'd set carefully in the corner, ready to take with him the next morning. One of the men found it almost immediately. "There's lots of papers here," he called.

"I was feeling very terrible and dizzy, thinking, 'I was a clever man, but they took me just when I'd collected all those things myself,'" recalls Barikzy. "We have a parable: A very clever bird will fly away from the nest for something to eat and then lead the hunters back to the nest." He smiles wryly. "I'm thinking they had already found my house, and maybe someone was looking when I went back."

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