Behind the Reporting of the Taliban’s Secret Prisons

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It was a throwaway line in a grim Human Rights Watch report that despatched me on my quest: “The Taliban run dozens of unacknowledged prisons.” Right here, for me, was a brand new and sinister side of the sort of parallel authorities that this rebel group has constructed in Afghanistan.

Bombings and shootings have been written about at size. These prisons have been an ignored factor within the Taliban’s terror marketing campaign: a below-the-radar community of incarceration that’s ready to arbitrarily swallow up and punish residents who’re thought of enemies of the group.

Because the Kabul bureau chief for The New York Occasions, I surmised that this community will need to have affected a considerable variety of Afghans. My objective was to explain the bodily options of those prisons as intently as potential, the circumstances underneath which the Taliban’s prisoners are held and the psychological aftermath. What adopted was a visit north, to Badakhshan Province, and a collection of wrenching accounts of beatings, privation, despair and lingering trauma, culminating in a single interview I’ll keep in mind for a very long time.

A dignified man of about 60, already previous by Afghan requirements, informed me how he had watched the Taliban slowly put to loss of life his 32-year-old son, Nasrullah, a military officer, in one in every of their makeshift prisons.

The daddy, Malik Mohammadi, was allowed to go to Nasrullah thrice over 9 days, throughout which his son was disadvantaged of meals and medication for his epilepsy, and was systematically crushed. All of it happened in an deserted home.

“They chained him to a column. He was on a wood mattress body. The chain was tight on his palms and legs. He was dying,” Mr. Mohammadi mentioned.

Nasrullah lapsed into unconsciousness and died on his tenth day of detention.

This painful story, which I wrote about in an article in late February, was recounted with nice calm. Mr. Mohammadi was not making an attempt to realize my sympathy. He merely wished to bear witness to what had occurred to his son.

A resigned half smile performed on his lips as he talked, as if he acknowledged the futility of talking — his son would nonetheless be useless, it doesn’t matter what he mentioned.

On the finish, I did one thing I hardly ever do, as a journalist who, over practically 40 years of reporting, has heard many horrible tales, and been witness to quite a lot of: I put my arms round Mr. Mohammadi and gave him a hug.

The rule is all the time, don’t get entangled within the tragedies of others. It’s not a part of the job. Typically although, not usually, the rule is bent. Mr. Mohammadi appeared very alone in his grief. He accepted my gesture with out embarrassment and took his depart.

The interview with Mr. Mohammadi happened on a resort balcony within the northern provincial capital of Faizabad. A buzkashi match — a tough recreation of mounted polo wherein the headless corpse of a calf or goat is chased by riders round an immense subject — was unfolding noisily beneath us.

Earlier than the interview, I had ranged far and broad within the mountains of Badakhshan on the lookout for ex-prisoners of the Taliban, with my small and glorious workforce of colleagues: the photographer Kiana Hayeri; a reporter within the Kabul bureau, Najim Rahim; and an ideal Faizabad freelance journalist and driver (who requested to not be named).

Considered one of our locations was a forlorn rural outpost of an ineffectual pro-government militia in Jorm District. We have been informed as quickly as we arrived that we must make the interviews fast, because the Taliban had gotten wind of our arrival. So we hurried, and afterward the Faizabad colleague sped our small automobile by means of the hills to get us out of there.

As we have been making our manner again, we might see the white flag of the Taliban fluttering throughout the river. After we arrived again on the town, our colleague informed us with grim humor that the final stretch of street was recognized domestically as “the valley of loss of life” as a result of Taliban kidnappings weren’t rare.

Simply the week earlier than, he informed us, a decide from Faizabad had been kidnapped on it.


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