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.

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Abhaseen Barikzy sits alone in the bare living room, still as a wounded lion.

His eyes are hidden by dark glasses and his chest is covered by a Forest Park Balloon Race T-shirt, but on his brown forearms, huge blotches shine pale pink where the acid splashed. He holds his head stiffly to one side, his left shoulder hunched close to his neck, drawn by tightening scars. His skin shows thick in patches, hard with the collagen his body flooded over untreated wounds.

Barikzy dutifully checks in at the BJC medical and psychiatric clinics, but he's uninterested in his own healing. "This is not my terrible face," he tells them. "This is the terrible face of Islam."

The Barikzy family (not their real name) has been in St. Louis since April, but the house the family is renting is still sparse and immaculate, with mattresses on the floor of the dining room for the six kids and a prayer rug on the wall. A gift from the local mullah, the rug is a reminder of the other, kind and temperate face of Islam, and Barikzy's wife still uses it to pray. Abhaseen cannot. Every morning he walks the older children to the school bus, then sits in a large donated chair in the dim living room. There, backlit by the window, his face in shadow, he slowly -- with the help of a translator he barely trusts -- releases the story he's waited two years to tell.

Barikzy grew up in the dusty village of Khak-raiz, in the southern desert province of Qandahar, Afghanistan. He was Pashtun, the ethnic majority, and like 99 percent of his countrymen, he grew up Muslim. At 11, he started noticing the contradictions between school, "where we learned about the world, about luck, humor, love, progress, technology" -- and the village's strict mosque, "where we were told we shouldn't live for this world, this is just for two days. They said the technology in the world was for pagans but for Muslims there was another world: paradise."

Barikzy was too interested in this world to dismiss it so easily. Nor could he accept the way his father treated his mother, lavishing love and kindness on a second wife (traditional Islamic law allows as many as four) and leaving Barikzy's mother to do all the housework, take his beatings and gratify his desires. "When I was 12, she died because of too much suffering," he says, "and that bothered me a lot. I felt like an orphan."

Two years later, a young woman in his village left her father's house and went to the house of the man she loved. "When they brought the girl to the mosque, people gathered to see how the mullah would punish her," recalls Barikzy. "He said she should be put in a bag, and they put a cat with her and tied the bag and started beating her." Barikzy says they struck her 80 times: "When they finally opened the bag, she was covered in blood, and the cat was dead."

So was his faith in God. He decided that conservative Qandahar, birthplace of Afghan kings and, more recently, the Taliban, was full of "dark-minded" people. The next year, 1966, his family moved north to the city of Kabul, where the Afghan Communist Party was beginning to take hold. As soon as Barikzy heard the Communists start talking about women's issues and progress, he joined them.

The party handpicked Barikzy to study journalism at its institute in Kabul. By the time they took power in 1978, he was an officer in the army, writing for the defense ministry's army newspaper and, often, the party's paper as well. A few months after the takeover, he says, he attended a huge party meeting at the Kabul headquarters, where officials accused Pakistan's ISI (Interservices Intelligence Directorate) of assassinating a party leader. Originally they'd blamed the king. Now, someone had produced a note allegedly written by, and implicating, the ISI.

While the party was sorting out its suspicions, it was continuing to welcome Soviet advisors at various government offices. Their alien, heavily accented presence stung Afghans loyal to Islam and to their traditional governing council. Fundamentalist rebels, or mujahideen, banded together to oppose the godless Communists. In 1979, the Soviet military entered Afghanistan in force.

The Soviet Union, alert to the millions of Muslims within its own borders, could not risk the contagion of chaos in a client state. The U.S., about to elect Ronald Reagan president, could not sit still while the Soviets bolstered their "evil empire." We backed the mujahideen, pronouncing them "freedom fighters" and channeling arms to them through Pakistan, the bordering Islamic country where democracy had never quite taken hold. Busy opposing communism, we failed to notice the growing religious extremism our support was fueling.

Barikzy spent these years as a Communist war correspondent. "Whatever the party commanded me, with passion and with love I accepted," he recalls. Notebook in hand, he traveled to the ever-changing "front," villages along the jagged Hindu Kush mountains (elsewhere known as the Himalayas), where the God-fearing, U.S.-armed mujahideen battled his party, fighting both a holy war and a proxy war between the Soviets and the U.S.

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."

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."

He says the commander's men briefly translated the articles, first for two Arabs in their party and then into Urdu for a man from Pakistan. Then, he says, they started beating him, saying, "You are a very stupid man. Nobody will flee from Islam. You see that God gave you to us. We were looking for you in the higher, but we found you on the earth."

They took him outside and carried miniature paintings and other valuables out to their small Japanese trucks. Shoved into the yard, Barikzy heard the commander tell his men to pour petrol throughout the house and burn it.

They drove for about two hours, north into the mountains, and when his captors untied him from the truck, Barikzy says he heard "very faint moaning, like a sick dog," and smelled a sick-sweet rot. As he walked, his feet brushed against what he knew instinctively were bodies, and they did not move. "For half-an-hour, there was silence all around me; they went somewhere to pray and worship God," he says. "I was crying, imagining what would happen to me. It was morning now -- I could feel the sunshine -- and because they tied my eyes so tightly I was feeling very much pain in my eyes." He also felt someone watching him, and then a prickle of alarm heralded the others' return from prayer: "The commander, whom they called Mullah Anwar, said my eyes should be opened. When they took off the turban, my face was all swollen, everything was cloudy, but after a few minutes I could see everything clearly. The commander was tall, with a long black beard, and he wore a long white shalwar (dress tunic) and a white turban. He told me to look around and see all the different kinds of tortures. I saw naked bodies -- old people, young people, women, children. Some were still alive. Suddenly I started shouting and crying loudly because they had not taken me to a court for any trial; they just brought me straight to the torture place. I said, 'If I am a criminal, why don't you punish me according to the law?' and the commander said, 'This is the law of Islam.' He asked if I knew what would happen to me, and I said, of course, he would kill me. Then he told me, 'Whoever fights with pen against Islam, they should not be killed suddenly. We will kill you gradually.' He told one of his men to get a bayonet and take out my eye."

Gesturing for his wife to take their 2-year-old, Silsila, into another room, Barikzy removes his glasses. His face is expressionless, the eye socket the bright red of fresh blood. "They took a syringe and shot acid into the eye that was bleeding," he continues, voice dull. "I started jumping -- it was boiling. Then they put pepper and salt in there, and I passed out. They said for three days and nights I was passed out."

When he woke up, they brought him a glass of tea and a little bread, gave him a cloth to clean his face and a tablet to relieve the pain and a fresh tunic, because his had been torn and blackened. "They were never friendly; they kept insulting me the entire time," he adds. "I did not understand why they did those kind things until later, when another prisoner told me they offer tea and bread so we survive longer and they may torture more and get more blessing. They think they are doing the jihad for God's sake, so for them, a person like me, a Communist who didn't believe in God, it was a pleasure for them to torture me.

"Later that day, the commander came with two Arab men and said they shouldn't give me a big torture today, just two simple ones. They cut my earlobe off. I said, 'Why don't you cut the whole ear off?' and they said the next time they would. They put the lobe in my hand and said, 'Look at this.' Then they put salt and pepper in the wound, and for almost half-an-hour I was crying and shouting and they were looking at me, laughing." He falls silent, and the muscles in his jaw and arms clench until they quiver. "It was better for me to die than for them to laugh like that."

Finally, he says, "Another man came who had a very terrifying face. He filled the syringe with acid and injected on the inside of the forearm." He holds out his right arm, turning it to show the welt. "I was burning and shouting, 'Please give me water!' but they wouldn't. When they injected it, I felt like they were pounding a bunch of nails into me. Minutes later I was losing the skin, and the meat, the flesh, it was bubbling and there was a big hole, very red, as if a dog had taken out the flesh.

"Then they told me that for one week I could relax."

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."

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.'"

Barizky was pretty sure which fate would be his.

The mullahs came two days later, says Barikzy, along with several Arabs claiming to be from Osama bin Laden's party. (Two years later, bin Laden would become the U.S.'s archenemy, his terrorist network blamed for bombing two embassies in Africa. In an impotent attempt to "get" him, we dropped bombs outside Khost and in Sudan -- succeeding only in fanning the anti-U.S. sentiment he'd helped ignite throughout the Islamic world.)

Barikzy says he recognized one of the mullahs as Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, leader of the Pakistani fundamentalist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and an outspoken defender of bin Laden. (Rehman claims the U.S. is bent on destroying the true Islamic state of Afghanistan; in a rally last year, he vowed to wage war against us, and last month, he opposed the Pakistani government's plan to expel illegal Muslim immigrants wanted for terrorism in their home countries. "Pakistan should protect these people," he insisted, "as they came here as our guests to participate in the Afghan jihad" (Agence France Presse, July 13, 2000).

"They got the prisoners together in one place," continues Barikzy, "and Fazal-ur Rehman read verses from the Koran and said, 'We will forgive some of you on condition. We have some Muslim prisoners in the U.S. Who can make these prisoners get released? Or find a way that they may escape? That is one condition. Another is, who has relatives in the U.S. and will make some bomb explode there? America is the first enemy of Islam.'

"All of us were crying for them to forgive us," says Barikzy, "but nobody could say, 'Yes, we can do this.' Then Fazal-ur Rehman said to the commander, 'I want to kill a very bad pagan among the prisoners to receive more blessing from Allah,' and the commander said to another man, 'Bring six new prisoners from the Massoud party.' They put the six close to the mountain, and the two mullahs and four other men took Kalashnikovs, lined up and shot them one by one."

A month or so later, Barizky says, the prisoners were told that a representative of the Taliban was coming to talk to them. "This group and the Taliban kissed each other and compromised with each other -- both spoke Pashto -- and the commanders of this group announced that from this moment on, they were Taliban. We were also told that all the expenditures for this group were paid by 'Amir-ul-Islam,' and when we asked who is that (amir means 'leader of leaders') they said, 'Osama bin Laden.' Then we were told that Kabul had been captured by the Taliban and Dr. Najibullah had been hanged."

(On Sept. 27, 1996, Najibullah, the former Communist president -- who'd sought sanctuary four years before in the United Nations compound -- was dragged from the compound and killed. The Taliban placed an unlit cigarette between his fingers and hung his bloodied body in a public square alongside his brother's, announcing from mosque loudspeakers that they had taken control of Kabul. Press reports around the world repeated the Taliban's claim that they had assassinated Najibullah, but Barikzy believes he was already dead when they hung him, killed for strategic and not ideological reasons by Pakistan intelligence. Because Pakistan's ISI is widely credited with training and directing the Taliban, it's almost a moot point.)

"When I was told that Dr. Najibullah was hanged, I washed my hands from life," continues Barikzy. "When we lost Najibullah, we lost Afghanistan.

"From that moment on, it looked like the sky was raining stones. The commander went, and a new one came from the Taliban. This new man got together all the prisoners; he said, 'I want to see each person by name, and I want to know what are their crimes and how have they been tortured.' When it was my turn, the man asked, 'What was his torture?' and they said, 'We burned him by acid and blinded one of his eyes and cut one of his ears.' The man said, 'In all this time you only give him this much torture?' Then he asked them to bring more acid and told me to lie down." In a single fierce gesture, Barikzy mimes the ripping open of his shirt. "They opened the bottle and dumped acid as if pouring water on the ground (he inverts an imaginary bottle and swirls it) all over my chest. He said, 'People, do torture like this, learn from me.'

"The next day I woke up and saw my stomach -- it was just like red meat, and I passed out again. I lost my mind and my emotions. I couldn't stand; when I was standing I was falling down, and my body was bleeding and I was talking in a very bad way. I couldn't control my tongue. The others told me later that I was talking nonsense, but I couldn't remember."

Once again, another Pashtun from Qandahar took pity on him (Barikzy was one of the few Pashtun prisoners) and brought him some ointment, bandages and antibiotic tablets. "He told me to put it on at night and take it all off in the morning so the commander didn't see it. He also told me, 'When you passed out, I did another favor for you, I put water on you; otherwise the acid was very strong and would keep working and make a hole.'

"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.

"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.

They've had a strained three months, trying to feel their way into safety in a new culture and be honest about their experiences without hurting devout Muslims who would not dream of swirling acid onto pagan flesh. Barikzy's wife is terrified of reprisals against their family; her thin, elegant face lined with pain and fear, she brings bread and tea but refuses to speak for the article. Barikzy is terrified, too, yet speaking is the only healing he can fathom.

From Afghanistan's tortuous history comes a parable: "As long as the root touches the water, there is hope." Barikzy insists he has no hope. "I believe that nobody can cure me, heal me. All I know is, I need to be in a kind of front against Islamic terrorism and torture." The week he arrived, he begged the International Institute to arrange a meeting with a U.S. politician -- "not from the White Palace but a small one. I have lots of ideas about terrorism and torture that would be helpful for the U.S. government."

That mission, spliced by physical pain, nightmares and burning waking memories, has replaced virtually everything else. "I had a strong love for my family before I got tortured," he says. "Right now I have interest in them; I can't say love. The torture took the place of love in my mind."

Joy also vanished. "I was very happy as a young man, in the hope that our party would gain power in Afghanistan, and I had a great time with my family and friends, my thoughts and beliefs, my work. When I came here, disappointment took hope's place in my heart. There is a parable: 'The voice of a drum is interesting from a distance.' This is my parable for America. From a distance, the name of America is a glory. People think when they arrive they will suffer no more. But I see many other difficulties here. It is like honey in a bottle, and the bottle is very tight, and we cannot open it."

He occupies his days caring for his family, making the obligatory clinic visits, worrying about family back in Afghanistan and writing a book, The Role of Fundamentalism in Terrorism. He is trying to make sense of the atrocities, fit them into his mind's compartments so they do not dance in front of his eyes forever, like macabre corpses there's no place to bury. But before he can put the memories away, he needs some sense of justice.

"It is not enough," he says abruptly, "if people read this and say, 'Oh, sorry.'"

For more information, see The Official Story

Related Links:
Taliban's own official site: Human-rights reports (Amnesty International site):
Counterterrorism data (U.S. State Department site):

Transcripts from the July 20 Senate subcommittee hearing available through the Federal Document Clearing House.

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