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.

The interpreter begins the next session with an apology: She has looked and looked for an English equivalent to "the torture place" but cannot find one. Barikzy describes the place as being in a mountain valley north of Kabul, near the village of Shakardara. "They dug holes into the ground about 2 meters and covered it with reeds to keep people from getting wet. There were about 50 prisoners in each hole, and they put a blanket over the door that kept light out, so it was too dark even to see each other. They crossed two big wooden beams over the door so nobody could open it. When they locked the door, we would talk to each other. I soon figured out that all of them were educated people -- not all Communists, but clear-minded, independent people. Even they brought a mullah there, because he had told them, 'What you are doing to women is not according to Islamic commands.' So they tortured him, too.

"I couldn't sleep at all that night, maybe half-an-hour. People were moaning from their torture; one man had his fingers cut off. The next morning a man came in with a lamp in his hand, looking to see who was dead and who was alive. They told us to get out of the pit, and as each of us stepped out they had a rope and made links around our necks, tying us in a line. They led us to an open area, and I saw many people from other pits, most tied with rope like we were. They sat us in a circle around a wood platform, and they brought out the mullah they were going to torture. Actually they had already started: They made a big hole in his nose and put a very big piece of wood inside. The nose was swollen, and they were pulling him by a rope through the wood. They said he was not really Muslim; he'd been trained in America, where they had a school that trained people to come in the cloak of Islam but work against Islam. It was clear for me that everything was false, because I know Muslim people like I know my hand. But the illiterate people could easily believe them.

"Then they said, 'America has two purposes for the world. The first was to destroy communism. The second is to destroy Islam.' They ordered guards to pull at this mullah's hair and beard, and after half-an-hour I saw no more hair on his head, only blood. He was shouting, 'All you say is false; I just told about Islam.' Then they took him away."

Abhaseen Barikzy wears dark glasses even indoors, shielding his 2-year-old daughter, Silsila, from his wounds
Jennifer Silverberg
Abhaseen Barikzy wears dark glasses even indoors, shielding his 2-year-old daughter, Silsila, from his wounds

Days passed. Barikzy says they were allowed outside only to relieve themselves and for mandatory prayer, when "they made us get water from the wheel and clean our bodies." Asked to demonstrate the ritual, he springs to his feet, takes down the prayer rug and kneels rapidly. "They are doing as if they are doing gymnastics," he says over his shoulder. "There is nothing in their heart." Demonstration finished, he returns to his chair, breathing hard. "For me," he says, "it was another kind of torture."

Days later, he says, they received news that the war between the Taliban and rebel leader Ahmad Shah Massoud had gotten worse: "The group holding us wanted a hiding place in case they were attacked. They gave us spades and told us to dig a trench 2 meters deep and 4 meters wide in the rocky ground. Whoever went slowly, a commander with a long rubber hose was beating them."

The prisoners dug and dug, and then the fighting burst upon them. "Of course, we were not fighting, but a lot of prisoners were dead because of the bombing and rocketing," Barizky says. "There was a big deck, and when the prisoners would die, they threw the bodies up there. But for themselves they made graves."

Barikzy says the fighting lasted more than 10 days, and nobody won: "Before that, I had totally lost my hope, but then when the fighting started I was thinking maybe somebody from the opposition might recognize me and be my friend, or the fighting might get worse and we could find a way to escape." Instead, they had to move camp, trudging through the cold for almost a month, heading toward the end of the valley, at the base of a small mountain. "There we started digging again in the rock, using the side of the mountain as one wall and building a stone wall on the other side, with branches for a ceiling. It was so cold that when we were washing our hands to pray, the water would freeze. I told the mullah it was not good for me to wash, because Islam says when you have a wound you cannot wash your body. He said the washing wasn't so I could worship, it was for more torture."

Barikzy says he and many other prisoners caught fevers before finishing the shelter. Luckily for him, one of his captors was from Qandahar, his home province, and their common Pashto language was a bond. "He gave me tablets for the fever and told me that nobody should know. Then we were told that mullahs from Pakistan were coming to meet us. 'Maybe these mullahs will forgive some of you and release you,' they said. 'Maybe some of you will go for execution.'"

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