[OPE-L:7381] Captured Taleban suffocated

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Jun 13 2002 - 11:06:31 EDT

Captured Taliban suffocated on trip to jail

Prison visit uncovers tragic events in wake of revolt at fort

Carlotta Gall in Shibarghan
Wednesday December 12, 2001
The Guardian

Dozens of Taliban prisoners died after surrendering to Northern 
Alliance forces, asphyxiated in the shipping containers used to 
transport them to
prison, witnesses say.

The deaths occurred as the prisoners, many of them foreign fighters 
for the Taliban, were brought from the town of Kunduz to a prison in
Shibarghan, north-west Afghanistan, a journey that took two or three 
days for some.

General Jurabek, the commander in charge of some 3,000 prisoners 
being held in the jail said that 43 prisoners had died in half a 
dozen containers
on the way, either from injuries or asphyxiation. Three others died 
from their wounds after arrival, and were buried at the town of 
he said.

But the number of deaths may be much higher. Omar, a pale and slight 
Pakistani youth who clutched a blanket round his head and shoulders, 
through the bars of his prison wing that all but seven people in his 
container had died from lack of air. He estimated that more than 100 
had died.
Another Pakistani said that 13 had died in his container, and that 
the survivors had taken turns to breathe through a hole in the metal 

One prisoner, Ibrahim, a 30-year-old Pakistani mechanic interviewed 
in the presence of Gen Jurabek, said he thought that about 35 people 
had died
in his container. "No oxygen, no oxygen," he said urgently in 
English. The general said only five or six had died.

Faced with transporting thousands of potentially dangerous prisoners 
while a prisoner uprising in the Qala-i-Janghi fort near 
Mazar-i-Sharif was
under way, the Northern Alliance packed many of them into the sealed 
containers for the journey from Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold 
in the
north, to Shibarghan, the hometown of the Uzbek general Abdul Rashid 
Dostam. Shipping containers line the roads of Afghanistan and are 
used not only to hold and transport prisoners, but as shops.

More than 100 Northern Alliance soldiers and officers, 230 prisoners 
and a CIA agent died in the uprising at the Qala-i-Janghi fort, which 
took six
days to quell.

The logistics of detaining and transporting more than 4,000 prisoners 
- many of them foreign fighters for the Taliban - have overwhelmed 
the new
authorities in the north, who are still confronting pockets of 
Taliban resistance.

Gen Jurabek, who oversees the largest detention centre for Taliban 
prisoners in northern Afghanistan, watched from an upstairs room as a 
packed with prisoners was reversed into the prison courtyard below. 
Fifty-five more Taliban prisoners were arriving from the town of 

"I am here 24 hours a day," he said. "If I was not here, the 
prisoners would be eating each other."

He does appear to have brought order to the chaotic scenes of a week 
earlier, when thousands of dirty, hungry and hostile prisoners milled 
in the
central courtyard and guards fingered their guns nervously. Among 
those prisoners were up to 100 who were wounded, and more than 80 men 
had survived the uprising in the fort.

After several days of barring journalists on security grounds, the 
authorities have now opened the prison's gates to foreign visitors. 
The prisoners
have been registered and questioned and the badly wounded have been 
transferred to a newly secured wing of the local hospital. New 
kitchens and
barrels of drinking water have been set up for them.

They are kept in three wings around a central courtyard, 
approximately 40 men to a room off a broad central corridor.

During the media visit, the prisoners approached the bars at the end 
of the corridor to the courtyard to talk to their guards and to 
journalists. The
mood was calm as a line of prisoners was allowed out with plastic 
bowls to collect rations of rice and bread. Rubber galoshes lay in 
the corridor for
those without shoes. The prisoners are also being re-educated.

"Day by day we are explaining to them that no one will hurt them and 
that we will treat the injured," said Gen Jurabek, a Soviet-trained 
officer. "I
explained to them that Osama bin Laden is a vile hardline terrorist 
and Mullah Mohammed Omar too, because they wanted to destroy all of 
And the prisoners are changing their minds now."

Yet there remains a feeling of desperation among some prisoners. 
Eleven from Uzbekistan survived the battle at Qala-i-Janghi but fear 
that they will
be deported home, where they would face brutal treatment and even 
death under the harsh rule of President Islam Karimov.

"They are going to send us back to Uzbekistan and there we will not 
survive prison," said Abdul Jabar, 26, close to tears. "We are all 
educated. We
don't want to be returned home."

The other Arabs, some 40 who survived the fort uprising, would not 
consent to be interviewed and remain set in their opinions, Gen 
Jurabek said.

"When we mention America, they spit on us," he said. "And when we say 
their own country will serve the death sentence on them, they say, 
'Thanks be
to God'."

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