3,000 Forgotten Taliban Prisoners are Slowly Dying

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 07:47:30 -0000

With no medicine and little food, detainees are slowly dying 

SHIBARGHAN, Afghanistan On most days, lunchtime at the Jowzjan Jail
opens with a macabre display of the sick and dying Taliban prisoners,
carried from their cells and laid in the dirt for a few moments of fresh
air and sun. 

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Splayed in silence atop baby blue blankets, the men appear dead. But
then a limb moves or a groan rises, and the guards understand that this
prisoner or that is well enough to be hauled back inside when lunchtime
is done. 
"Every 15 days or so, one of them dies," said General Jura Beg, the
warden. "We don't have enough food for them anymore. We don't have
So unfolds the fate of the 3,000 Taliban prisoners brought here after
the U.S.-backed campaign against them. Most were captured in Kunduz,
where thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda soldiers threatened to fight to
the death but surrendered instead. 
At the time, there was talk of handing the men over to the United
Nations. There were promises, by Afghans with little experience in the
matter, that the prisoners would be treated handsomely. Now, nearly four
months later, most such talk has died away. With the war still
smoldering and Afghanistan led by a fledging government, few people of
consequence appear to have time for the prisoners now. 
The Americans were here in the beginning, photographing and tagging the
inmates, trying to select the worst ones. They took about 100 to
Guantanamo, the U.S. base in Cuba, Afghan officials said. The Uzbek
government took at least 10 of its citizens. The warden freed about 250,
most of them either very old or very sick, before the Muslim Eid al-Adha
celebration last month. 
The remaining prisoners, all of them Afghan or Pakistani, appear to have
been largely forgotten. "Everyone thinks: Maybe today, maybe tomorrow,"
said Makhsood Khan, 26, a Pakistani captured at Kunduz. "We count the
Standing outside his cell the other day, Khan reeked of the narrow cell
he shares with about 50 of his unbathed brethren. Khan, like so many of
those captured with the Taliban, portrayed himself as a largely innocent
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Khan said, he was enlisted by his
cousin, Nasir Ahmed, a journalist for a militant newspaper called
Islamic Attack, to join him on a trip to Afghanistan. His cousin needed
a photographer. 
Khan, an illiterate auto mechanic from Islamabad, said he had seen in
his cousin's invitation a way to fulfill his duty to be a good Muslim.
"I was a photographer for the jihad," he said. "Jihad has many aspects:
fighting, newspapers and taking photographs." 
Khan and the other Pakistanis imprisoned here, about 800, face an
especially uncertain future. As foreigners who took part in a civil war,
they will have to depend not just on the persistence of Pakistan to get
them out but also on the mercy of the Afghans to let them go. Some
Afghan officials have talked of putting the men on trial in Afghanistan,
or of turning them over to Pakistan. 
Beg, the warden and a friend of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord
who controls the prison, said no decision had been made about the
prisoners' fate. 
From his office overlooking the prison yard, Beg sighed like a man who
had long ago given up. He has 3,000 men in 40 cells, in a prison
designed to hold 800. He has had to reduce food rations for the
prisoners, he said, because of government cutbacks. Lacking medicine,
the handful of doctors available at the jail are able to do little more
than provide comfort for those who have fallen ill. 

Source:  International Herald Tribune

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