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 Dasht-i-Laili, 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, said 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 wall. 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 frequently 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 container packed with prisoners was reversed into the prison courtyard below. Fifty-five more Taliban prisoners were arriving from the town of Balkh. "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 who 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 Afghanistan. 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'."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Jul 02 2002 - 00:00:05 EDT