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.

"After one month, I started to hear again; I had been completely deaf. I told my friend, 'If you really want to do a favor for me, find a way that I may escape from here.' He said, 'Be patient until this cruel donkey (the new Taliban commander) goes away.'"

Barikzy waited. His friend avoided bringing him out for any more torture, but Barikzy says he saw the Taliban's worst punishments of other prisoners: "For Uzbek people, they wanted them digging in the mountain without having any purpose. Forty people digging a big hole in the side of the mountain. Then they asked them to go inside the hole, and they exploded it, and all of them died in there.

"The Massoud followers, they told them, 'Because you live in a mountainous area, you are used to cold weather,' and then tied them upside down on trees and put lots of water on them. By the next morning they were all dead, their bodies iced.

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

"Then there were 50 or 60 Hazara (an ethnic minority from central Afghanistan). They tied their hands and feet and put them in line, and a man had a hammer and nails, and he was beating the nails into the heads of the people. As soon as the nails got in, the blood rushed from their mouth and nose and they died."

Last he describes a military pilot suspected of being a spy. "They put a butcher's hook in his throat and hung him, pretending that he was a sheep and calling out, 'Who wants to buy sheep meat?' and the others were mocking him, saying, 'I want 2 kilo of the leg,' and they would cut the leg and pretend to sell the meat."

More than two years passed. Finally, in the fall of 1998, his friend came to him and said, "Congratulations, the cruel donkey has left." Barikzy wasn't heartened; he couldn't imagine anyone decent replacing the commander. But a mild "middle mullah" arrived, and soon Barikzy's friend was back, asking, "Is it possible for you, if I talk to this new commander, to give him some money?"

"I told him, 'As much as he wants, I can find.' But he wanted 500,000 Pakistani rupees. I said, 'I can't -- they burned my house, so I cannot sell it, and I don't even know where my wife and children are. Then I said 100,000 rupees, and he accepted." They sent someone to the house of his uncle-in-law, a friendly shopkeeper in Kabul, where he hoped (correctly) his wife was staying. "When they brought my uncle-in-law back with them, he didn't recognize me," Barikzy says ruefully. "Then he started crying. I said, 'Don't cry now, just go back in a hurry, tell my family I am OK and borrow 100,000 so they will release me!"

The family sold his car, a dilapidated '73 Volga, and his wife's Iranian gold, a dowry present from his family. His in-laws donated some money, and they borrowed the rest. In October 1998, Barikzy was released.

When his wife saw him, she froze. Then she fell to the ground and started beating herself, crying and shouting. "Before prison, I was a very healthy man, a handsome man," he explains matter-of-factly. "I came back with a terrible face. My body was smelling very badly because of the wounds; my hair and beard were long; my nails were like an animal's. My in-laws all started crying and shouting, and I told them to please stop, we were still in Taliban area; they shouldn't know that I was there."

A doctor came to the house every day for a month, changing dressings and giving periodic blood transfusions. Then, barely strong enough to walk, Barikzy arranged passage for his family across the border to Quetta, Pakistan.

It took one year for Barikzy to regain enough strength to discuss his future with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which had granted him shelter and treatment in Quetta. Finally, two men came to the shelter and asked his plans for the future. "I told them to send me overseas," he says. "They asked where I wanted to go, and I said, 'To the United States, because there is good security there and I feel safe.' So they sent a transcript of their interview with me to the American counsel in Islamabad."

That winter, an officer at the U.S. Embassy sent for him and interviewed him in person, took photographs, told him they would be sent to the United States but that the family would have to wait some time. Barizky says, "They put us in a shelter in Islamabad and told us we shouldn't go outside the shelter. It looked like it was run by Pakistani people, but the U.S. Embassy was in charge -- I think they rented the house for political refugees."

On April 4, the entire Barikzy family boarded a Pakistan International Airlines flight to New York. (The U.S. government had to contract with PIA, explains Barikzy, because terrorist hijacking had made KLM, the Dutch airline that usually flew the refugees, nervous enough to cancel.) One hour after they landed in New York, the Barikzys were on a TWA flight to St. Louis, one of the nation's major resettlement centers for refugees.

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