One Afghan's tale of torture
Traditional interrogation practices continue despite protections under Kabul's new government
The interrogator sat behind a desk, expressionless. The torturers stood in the back of the room.Skip to next paragraph
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Abdul Malik Sadiq says he sat in his chair, quietly awaiting his fate.
"I want you to tell us right here that you were a member of Hizb-I Islami, that you were part of a coup attempt to kill President Karzai, and that you are against the US forces in Afghanistan," the interrogator told Mr. Sadiq, his voice rising into a shout.
For days, Sadiq says, he was beaten and tortured in the underground interrogation center of Afghanistan's feared national security service, Amniat.
He was just a car salesman from Jalalabad, he says he told the interrogators, an ethnic Pashtun with a long beard who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He told them that he supported the war on terrorism, hated the Taliban, supported the government of Hamid Karzai, and liked Americans. After all, it was Americans who had given him guns to fight against the Soviets a decade ago.
But Sadiq's answers didn't satisfy the interrogator. Two men wearing rubber gloves placed a small alligator clip in the flesh between Sadiq's middle and ring fingers, and then flicked a switch.
The experiences shared by Sadiq and 300 other Pashtun men, picked up by Afghan intelligence agents on April 12, say human rights experts, is an unsettling sign of how little Afghanistan has changed. On paper, the Constitution guarantees civil rights such as the right of a fair trial, and freedom from torture. But in practice, there is a strong tension between the modern pro-Western promises of Afghanistan's transitional president Hamid Karzai and the practices of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, Amniat, with its mandate to protect the president from Al Qaeda attacks.
Officially, this sort of treatment of Afghan citizens is illegal. In late April, President Karzai ordered Amniat a Soviet-trained agency modeled on the KGB and other police and intelligence agencies to furnish proof of a crime before conducting arrests, a revolutionary step forward in Afghan civil liberties. But Amniat officials are abiding by this rule grudgingly, if at all.
"The constitution of Afghanistan is very clear; nobody can arrest somebody without a warrant, and if the intelligence agency does this, they are criminals themselves," says Abdul Iqrat Wasil, dean of Kabul University's department of law and political science. "But the problem is that nobody takes care of these things."
Amniat's deputy chief, Aman Khan, counters that as long as there are terrorists on Afghan soil trying to overthrow the government, Amniat should have extraordinary tools to stop them.
"If the situation continues in the same direction as Karzai has declared, where nobody can be arrested without proof, then the problem will grow more and more," warns Khan. "Al Qaeda has only been removed from the surface; now they are underground, and that makes them more dangerous."
Sadiq, a devout Muslim, with a chest-long beard, gray vest, and white prayer cap, admits that he looked out of place in post-Taliban Kabul, where most businessmen his age are wearing close-clipped beards and suits, if not baggy American blue jeans.