Article regarding condition of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan
Jailed Taliban: Take Us To U.S.!
Conditions At Afghan Prison Prompt Unusual Taliban Request
SHIBERGAN, Afghanistan, Jan. 31, 2002 - By Brian Murphy
(AP) Jailed fighters of the fallen Taliban shout the name of their former
foe, but no longer in anger. "We want to go to an American prison," many
Anything, they say, to leave Shibergan prison in northern Afghanistan, now
jammed to more than 10 times its capacity with about 3,500 men. But unlike
the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, this has been a prison
largely out of the spotlight.
"I can't lie and say it's fine. The problems are clearly visible," said
the head warden, Gen. Jurabeg, who uses only one name. "We are
While human rights advocates and some U.S. allies have complained about
the conditions at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, the
situation in Shibergan is much more dire.
In addition to overcrowding, prisoners have to deal with shortages of
medical supplies and care, water, food and there is little to protect them
from the elements. Facing bitter cold outside and inside, they have just
the clothes they were wearing when they were captured. Many don't have
The mud-walled compound provides a lesson of sorts: with local militiamen
in charge in much of Afghanistan, there's an ad hoc approach toward
rank-and-file Taliban prisoners.
"From region to region, there are different ways Afghan authorities are
dealing with Taliban prisoners," said Samuel Emonet, who heads the Red
Cross team inspecting detention facilities in the region. "Shibergan
stands out because of its size and the uncertainty of what will happen to
The prison about 75 miles west of Mazar-e-Sharif is controlled by the
forces of Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who rules much of northern
Afghanistan. He and other militia leaders are under international pressure
to help build a credible central authority in Kabul.
But Dostum still apparently answers to no one about many aspects of his
Prison doctors have begged for medicine from Dostum's military hospital in
Shibergan. Only a few boxes of antibiotics and rehydration salts have been
sent to Shibergan, one of the largest detention camps in the country.
An official at the hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
supplies are critically low and there is little money to buy more. "The
Taliban prisoners are not a priority," he said.
Nearly a third of the prisoners at Shibergan are suffering from chronic
dysentery and other gastric problems, doctors said.
"We have no medicine. It couldn't be worse," said Dr. Abdul Bashir, one of
four prison physicians. "No, let me correct that. I will get worse when
the weather gets warmer. We could be seeing things as bad as cholera."
Under its mandate as a neutral watchdog of prison conditions, the Red
Cross cannot provide a steady supply of food or medicine - and both are
short. It does arrange daily deliveries of 5,200 gallons of water, well
below what's needed, doctors say.
"This is not a crisis?" asked Bashir. "We just can't take care of the
The worst cases - mostly bronchitis and tuberculosis - are sent to the
military hospital. Others are placed on feces-stained beds or on straw
mats in the prison clinic. One inmate carried another who had blacked out
from high blood pressure. He was put on the floor, but there was no way to
Many prisoners see their former enemy as a possible savior.
"The United States should help us. How can the world ignore us?" pleaded
Maqsoud Khan, 26, who is among about 1,100 Pakistani prisoners in
Khan wrapped himself in a blue blanket donated by the Red Cross. But it
offered little warmth against a bitter cold wind, which froze the puddles
and hardened the mud in the prison yard. There are no prison uniforms -
only the clothes the men wore when they were captured as U.S.-backed
forces retook northern Afghanistan in November.
The fortunate ones have black plastic slippers supplied by the Red Cross.
Others are barefoot.
After an hour in the prison yard, the prisoners are herded back to their
quarters: bare six-by-nine foot rooms where up to 60 men try to sleep on
icy cold concrete floors. Latrines empty into fetid swamps.
There were no claims of torture or specific abuse. The prisoners spoke,
however, of another type of agony: uncertainty about the future.
Hundreds of Taliban fighters have been freed around Afghanistan under an
ill-defined amnesty encouraged by the interim government. But there have
been no such releases from Shibergan.
"Will we be held here forever? No one can tell us," said an Afghan
prisoner, Qari Habib Rahman. "We were simple fighters. We know nothing
about the Taliban leaders."
U.S. interrogators, seeking Taliban leaders and members of Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaida terror network, moved several dozen prisoners from
Shibergan last month, the warden said.
A commander for Dostum's forces said all the other prisoners would remain
at Shibergan until the American investigations are complete. In
Washington, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem confirmed this week that "initial
interrogations" were being conducted in Shibergan and elsewhere.
Some say the conditions at Shibergan are the United States' business.
"The United States cannot wash its hands of responsibility for prisoners
whose fate from the start it has been in a position to influence or
determine," said a report by a delegation for the Physicians for Human
Rights, who visited Shibergan earlier this month.
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