by Emran Feroz, AlterNet
After the release of the CIA torture report by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) the world is reeling in shock at the level of brutality revealed in the documents. In fact, the whole report is nothing more than a confession of sadistic procedures that could have been lifted from the diaries of Torquemada, from “rectal feeding” to nude beatings and humiliation — horrors that were well-known but not officially confirmed. But the report remains incomplete. Indeed, some 9000 documents have been withheld.
What new horrors could be discovered with the publication of these records?
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching story to emerge from Bagram has been buried in the German media and remains unknown to much of the world. Published by German author and former politician Juergen Todenhoefer in his latest book, Thou Shalt Not Kill, the account stems from a visit to Kabul. At a local hotel, a former Canadian soldier and private security contractor named Jack told Todenhoefer why he could not longer stand working in Bagram.
“It’s not my thing when Afghans get raped by dogs,” Jack remarked.
Todenhoefer’s son, who was present with him in Kabul and was transcribing Jack’s words, was so startled by the comment he nearly dropped his pad and pen.
The war veteran, who loathed manipulating Western politicians even as he defended tactics of collective punishment, continued his account: Afghan prisoners were tied face down on small chairs, Jack said. Then fighting dogs entered the torture chamber.
“If the prisoners did not say anything useful, each dog got to take a turn on them,” Jack told Todenhoefer. “After procedure like these, they confessed everything. They would have even said that they killed Kennedy without even knowing who he was.”
A former member of parliament representing the right-of-center Christian Democratic Union from 1972 to 1990, Todenhoefer transformed into a fervent anti-war activist after witnessing the Soviet destruction of Aghanistan during the 1980’s. His journalism has taken him to Iraq and back to Afghanistan, where he has presented accounts of Western military interventions from the perspective of indigenous guerrilla forces. Unsurprisingly, his books have invited enormous controversy for presenting a sharp counterpoint to the war on terror’s narrative. In Germany, Todenhofer is roundly maligned by pro-Israel and US-friendly figures as a “vulgar pacifist” and an apologist for Islamic extremism. But those who have been on the other side of Western guns tend to recognize his journalism as an accurate portrayal of their harsh reality.
Though his account of dogs being used to rape prisoners at Bagram is unconfirmed, the practice is not without precedent. Female political prisoners of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s jails have described their torturers using dogs to rape them.
More recently, Lawrence Wright, the author of the acclaimed history of Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, told National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, “One of my FBI sources said that he had talked to an Egyptian intelligence officer who said that they used the dogs to rape the prisoners. And it would be hard to tell you how humiliating it would be to any person, but especially in Islamic culture where dogs are such a lowly form of life. It’s, you know, that imprint will never leave anybody’s mind.”
I spoke to an Afghan named Mohammad who worked as an interpreter in Bagram and insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals. He told me Todenhoefer’s account of dogs being used to rape prisoners in the jail was “absolutely realistic.” Mohammad worked primarily with US forces in Bagram, taking the job out of financial desperation. He soon learned what a mistake he had made. “When I translated for them, I often knew that the detainee was anything but a terrorist,” he recalled. “Most of them were poor farmers or average guys.”
However, Mohammad was compelled to keep silent while his fellow countrymen were brutally tortured before his eyes. “I often felt like a traitor, but I needed the money,” he told me. “I was forced to feed my family. Many Afghan interpreters are in the very same situation.”
A “traitor” is also what the Taliban calls guys like Mohammad. It is well-known that they make short-shrift of interpreters they catch. Mohammad has since left Afghanistan for security reasons and is reluctant to offer explicit details of the interrogations sessions he participated in. However, he insisted that Todenhoefer’s account accurately captured the horrors that unfolded behind the walls of Bagram.
“Guantanamo is a paradise if you compare it with Bagram,” Muhammad said.
Waheed Mozhdah, a well-known political analyst and author based in Kabul, echoed Muhammad’s account. “Bagram is worse than Guantanamo,” Mozdah told me, “and all the crimes, even the most cruel ones like the dog story, are well known here but most people prefer to not talk about it.”
Hometown for soldiers, hellhole for inmates
It is hard to imagine what more hideous acts of torment remain submerged in the chronicles of America’s international gulag archipelago. Atrocities alleged to a German journalist by a former detainee at the US military’s Bagram Airbase in Kabul, Afghanistan, suggest that the worst horrors may be too much for the public to stomach.
Bagram Airbase is the largest base the US constructed in Afghanistan and also one of the main theaters of its torture regime. You have to drive about one and a half hour from Kabul to reach the prison where hundreds of supposedly high-value detainees were held. The foundations of the base are much older, laid by the Soviets in the 1950s, when the last king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir, maintained friendly connections with Moscow. Later, during the Soviet occupation, Bagram as the main control center for the Red Army.
Known as the “second Guantanamo,” even though conditions at Bagram are inarguably worse, you will find the dark dungeons, which were mentioned in the latest CIA report, next to American fast food restaurants. During the US occupation, the military complex in Bagram became like a small town for soldiers, spooks and contractors. In this hermetically sealed hellhole, the wanton abuse of human rights existed comfortably alongside the “American Way of Life.”
One of the persons sucked into the parallel world of Bagram was Raymond Azar, a manager of a construction company. Azar, a citizen of Lebanon, was on his way to the US military base near the Afghan Presidential Palace known as Camp Eggers when 10 armed FBI agents suddenly surrounded him. The agents handcuffed him, tied him up and shoved him into an SUV. Some hours later Azar found himself in the bowels of Bagram.
According to Azar’s testimony, he was forced to sit for seven hours while his hands and feet were tied to a chair. He spent the whole night in a cold metal container. His tormentors denied him food for 30 hours. Azar also claimed that the military officers showed him photos of his wife and four children, warning him that unless he cooperated he would never see his family again. Today we know that officers and agents have threatened prisoners with their relatives’ rape or murder.
Azar had nothing to do with Al Qaida or the Taliban. He was caught in the middle of a classic web of corruption. The businessman’s company had signed phony contracts with the Pentagon for reconstruction work in Afghanistan. Later, Azar was accused of having attempted to bribe the U.S. Army contact to secure the military contracts for his company. This was not the sort of crime for which a suspect is normally sent to a military prison. To date, no one has explained why the businessman was absconded to Bagram.
Most prisoners from Bagram are not rich business men or foreign workers from abroad, but average Afghan men who had a simple life before they had been kidnapped. One of these men was Dilawar Yaqubi, a taxi driver and farmer from Khost, Eastern Afghanistan. After five days of brutal torture in Bagram, Yaqubi was declared dead on Dec. 10, 2002. His legs had been “pulpified” by his interrogators, who maintained that they were simply acting according to guidelines handed down to them by the Pentagon and approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The case of the Afghan taxi driver’s killing was highlighted in the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. The film established that Yaqubi had simply been at the the wrong place at the wrong time. His family, his daughter and his wife, are waiting for justice. (Watch the full version of Taxi To The Dark Side.)
A US-backed government of rapists, warlords and torturers
The latest CIA torture report is focused entirely on the crimes of the Bush administration. But it should not be forgotten that the horrors that have plagued Afghanistan continued under Barack Obama’s watch. When Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, entered power two months ago, the first thing he did was sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US. According to the terms of this bogus deal negotiated without the consent or agreement of the Afghan public, the Afghan judiciary is forbidden from prosecuting criminal US soldiers in Afghanistan. This means that any American, whether a torturer or a drone operator who destroys a family with the push of a button, is above the law.
During the last days of his presidency, Hamid Karzai railed against the bilateral agreement, while other Afghan critics described it as a “colonial pact.” Karzai knew that his signature on the deal would damn him in the annals of history. On his way out, Karzai condemned the US occupation and remarked that Bagram had become “a terrorism factory,” radicalizing waves of men through torture and isolation. The responsible hands in Washington did not look kindly on Karzai’s sudden transformation into a man of the people.
Now that Karzai is gone, Ghani is doing all he can to prove his absolute obedience towards the US. According to different reports, currently he sits down for tea each week with various NATO commanders and generals, listening to their concerns and doing all he can to accommodate them. Ghani has reversed Karzai’s decrees regarding night-raids and NATO bombings and encouraged the Afghan National Army — a corrupt and criminal gang built and trained by the US military — to fight “terrorism” without mercy. Regarding the torture report, Ghani said that the described practices are “inhuman,” even as his actions bely his empty protestations.
On Dec. 10, 2014, exactly 12 years after the brutal murder of Dilawar Yaqubi and just one day after the CIA torture report’s release, the US Defense Departement announced it has closed the Bagram detention center once and for all. Yet it is not known how many secret prisons still exist in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, most elements in the Afghan government are absolutely loyal to the United States and know that they would lose power and financial support without them. The country’s new Vice President, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is a widely reviled warlord and militia leader who killed, tortured and personally oversaw the rape of countless Afghan civilians. His crimes are well documented by the world’s leading human rights organizations. Alongside other warlords notorious for human trafficking and sundry crimes operate alongside an Afghan intelligence service (NDS) that regularly engages in brutal abuse while tendering US salaries.
In an Afghanistan still dominated by Western interests and American power, the torture never stops.