August 18, 2022

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At Afghanistan’s ‘Guantanamo’, ex-inmates recount abuse, torture

Bagram, Afghanistan – Hajimumin Hamza walks by a protracted, darkish hall and thoroughly inspects the world as if he has by no means seen it earlier than. Today, the 36-year previous bearded man in a black turban and a conventional two-piece garment is a information to fellow Taliban fighters within the place whose identify he would slightly overlook. His eyes cease at a solitary chair standing on the pathway.

“They used to tie us to this chair, our hands and feet, and then applied electric shocks. Sometimes they used it for beatings, too,” Hamza says, recounting the torture he underwent throughout his captivity in Bagram jail between 2017 and the onset of the autumn of Kabul final month, when he managed to flee.

The United States arrange the Parwan Detention Facility, referred to as Bagram, or Afghanistan’s Guantanamo, in late 2001 to deal with armed fighters after the Taliban launched a insurrection following its removing from energy in a army invasion.

The facility situated throughout the Bagram airbase within the Parwan province was meant to be momentary. But it turned out in any other case. It housed greater than 5,000 prisoners till its doorways had been pressured open, days earlier than the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.

Sultan, who was jailed at Bagram between 2014 and August 2021, says he misplaced his tooth throughout what got here to be referred to as enhanced interrogation methods that rights teams say amounted to torture and violated worldwide regulation. The 42 12 months previous, who doesn’t share his surname, opens his mouth to display the injury.

The Geneva Convention

The group of Taliban members passes a big plaque situated on the jail’s wall with the phrases of the Geneva Convention in English and Dari however no person cares to learn it.

“The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever (…). Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” it reads.

But all of them know that in Bagram, none of those guidelines utilized. As the previous prisoners say, if you happen to entered Bagram, there was no manner out. And if you weren’t an enemy fighter earlier than touchdown there, you’ll certainly depart as one.

None of the hundreds of inmates who handed by the location over the 20 years of the American battle, obtained the standing of prisoner of battle.

Previous inmates and Taliban fighters examine the chair which was used for torturing prisoners [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

In 2002, after the loss of life of two Afghan prisoners in detention, the centre got here below scrutiny and 7 American troopers confronted expenses. The abuses, nevertheless, continued and shortly grew to become a part of the “Bagram handbook”.

Hamza remembers way more than the electrical shocks. Hanging the wrong way up for hours. Water and tear gasoline being poured on sleeping prisoners from the bars on a cell’s ceiling. Confinement in tiny, windowless, solitary cells for weeks or months with both no mild or a vibrant bulb switched on 24/7.

‘Black jail’

According to the previous inmates, none of those that skilled solitary confinement, the so-called “black jail”, whose existence the US has denied, left the cells psychologically wholesome.

“There were a lot of different forms of torture, including sexual abuse. They used devices to make us less of a man,” Hamza says, with out giving particulars. “It is psychologically hard for me to recall all that was happening. The torture was mostly done by Afghans, sometimes the Americans. But the orders came from the US.”

Hamza joined the Taliban on the age of 16 following the US invasion. In his eyes, the Americans had been invaders occupying his land. He noticed preventing in opposition to them as his obligation as a Muslim and Afghan. He could be given coaching in bomb and IED-making after his lessons on the agriculture division on the Kabul University.

Hamza’s former cell [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

He was detained in summer season 2017 and first transferred to Safariad jail in Kabul. He then was despatched to 2 different detention amenities earlier than ending up in Bagram 4 months later. As he says, he was tortured in all of the jails he handed by. In the top, he was sentenced to 25 years.

“Eighty-five per cent of people in Bagram were Taliban, the rest were Daesh [ISIL, or ISIS] members. When the American and Afghan forces conducted their operations and couldn’t find any Talibs, they would capture innocent people. Some of them were kept here for years before they were released due to lack of evidence,” Hamza says.

The former prisoners, together with a gaggle of Talibs, stroll by the cells within the jail’s barracks and take images of what stays. Clothing, private gadgets and tea cups lie scattered on the ground. According to the prisoners, the cells had as much as 34 inmates. The partitions bear writings in Pashto and Dari.

“People were writing memories, like a diary. We did that because we wanted to leave a testimony in case the Americans kill us. So that people know that we were here,” Hamza says.

A typical orange jail uniform and a cup cling on a cell wall. There had been as much as 34 prisoners in a single cell and never sufficient area, so many inmates used to hold their private gadgets on the partitions [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

“In the beginning, we only had orange clothes but we protested against the colour and then were given white and black, more traditional garments. One piece of clothing per person. We had only one blanket each, even though it was cold in the winter months. Sometimes we had to share them with new prisoners. Some people waited months to get theirs.”

Prison guidelines

In entrance of a cell, a big plaque in Dari and English explains the jail guidelines.

Rule 1: NO THROWING. No throwing or assaulting guards with any object or liquids. You is not going to throw something at my guards.

Rule 3: NO SPITTING. You is not going to spit on my guards or different detainees.

Rule 7: NO DISOBEDIENCE. You will comply with all orders of the guard power. There aren’t any exceptions.

But the principles weren’t at all times adopted.

“I bought a phone from a guard for 1,000 Afghanis ($11.50), we found a hole in the wall and when we had a connection, we made phone calls,” Hamza says. “I had it for two years. It was found a few times, but I always managed to get another one.”

It was the telephone that finally helped the prisoners escape. As the US forces left the bottom on June 2 with out informing the Afghan authorities and the Taliban intensified its army offensive, Bagram was left with little supervision.

“One of us felt sick and we were calling for help. But no one came. There was only silence,” Hamza says. “This was when we decided to run away. We broke the bars with the metal plates our food was served on.”

A Taliban fighter inspects solitary confinement cubicles within the ‘black jail’ [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

After getting out of their cells, the inmates took the weapons left behind by the US Army and captured the few Afghan guards who had been nonetheless left. They finally freed them, in addition to different inmates.

“More than 5,000 prisoners escaped but I’m not sure how many. The corridors were full of people. I took my phone, found a place to charge it and made a phone call,” says Hamza.

Shortly afterwards, his brother got here to choose him up. But the fact exterior was unfamiliar.

“When we went out we couldn’t recognise anything, especially the kids. We spent a lot of time with adults only, we hadn’t seen our families. People, cars, everything seemed foreign,” Hamza says.

‘We are not like the Americans’

It is the primary time that Hamza has returned to the jail after fleeing. A jail that he by no means thought he would depart. He walks by the grounds of the previous US airbase, the place private gadgets of troopers and prisoners, meals and parts of armour, lie in a disordered mess and he says he’s glad that he’s now free.

The prisoners scribbled messages on the partitions [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

He doesn’t specify what occurred to the Daesh fighters who served time together with the Taliban.

About 65 kilometres south at Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi sits on a chair in a jail workplace. The Taliban chief has been lately appointed as the pinnacle of Afghanistan’s jail system, the identical operate he had below the earlier Taliban authorities within the Nineties. He returned to Afghanistan after 20 years of exile in Pakistan, the place many Taliban officers took refugee standing following the US invasion.

“Our deeds will show that we are not like the Americans who say that they stand for human rights but committed terrible crimes. There will be no more torture and no more hunger,” Turabi says, as he explains that the brand new jail employees will embrace members of the previous system and the Taliban mujahideen.

Three Taliban members stroll across the Bagram airbase [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

“We have a constitution but we will introduce changes to it and, based on those changes, we will revise the civil and criminal codes and the rules for civilians. There will be much less prisoners because we will follow the rules of Islam, humane rules.”

Turabi doesn’t touch upon the killing of 4 folks through the protest in Kabul on September 10, or mounting proof of the torture in opposition to journalists and civilians nonetheless being carried out in prisons.

When requested whether or not the brand new justice system will mirror the earlier Taliban order, he solutions with little hesitation.

“People worry about some of our rules, for example cutting hands. But this is public demand. If you cut off a hand of a person, he will not commit the same crime again. People are now corrupt, extorting money from others, taking bribes,” he says.

“We will bring peace and stability. Once we introduce our rules, no one will dare to break them.”

A hall of Bagram jail with a solitary chair that was used for torturing inmates [Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska/Al Jazeera]

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