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The last in our series of extracts from None of us were like this before by Joshua E. S. Phillips. The book explores the legacy of torture in the “War on Terror,” told through the story of one tank battalion.

Afghan detainee led away by US troops


Dilawar and Habibullah weren’t the only detainees to suffer such a fate. To date, human rights researchers have found that roughly a hundred detainees have died during interrogations; some were obviously tortured to death. For former detainees, the sluggish pace of the investigation into the Dilawar case (and other similar cases) seemed to signal more than a slow bureaucratic response. For these torture victims, it indicated that the US wasn’t genuinely trying to stamp out torture; to some, it even seemed to suggest a kind of sanction.

When Wahid and I interviewed former Bagram detainee Qader Khandan in Khost, he told us that military investigators visited him while he was incarcerated in Guantanamo from 2003 to 2006 and asked him about what happened to Dilawar at Bagram. He sketched out pictures of the holding cells, and the ways in which military personnel suspended prisoners with chains. His drawings looked strikingly similar to the ones that US troops submitted to investigators from the US Army’s CID.

Khandan was certain the investigation would help bring justice to those responsible for the torture and demise of Bagram’s detainees. It didn’t. After we finished our interview with Khandan, we broke to eat lunch together and I told Wahid what ultimately transpired with the investigations and court martials. Few soldiers, and even fewer officers, involved in the deaths of Dilawar and Habibullah saw the inside of a courtroom.

Military investigators recommended that twenty-seven Army personnel be criminally charged for the Afghans’ deaths and related abuses that occurred in Bagram around the same time. In the end, only four troops were sentenced to jail time. None of the sentences exceeded five months. “I will not translate this to him,” said Wahid, referring to Khandan. I nodded in agreement. We both knew such news would only worsen his grief.

The stories of Dilawar and Habibullah represent only two examples of US detainee abuse in Afghanistan in 2002. Yet they were also two of about 128 cases that year in which Afghans were seriously abused in Bagram and at US bases in Afghanistan—often with the very same techniques that were applied to Dilawar and Habibullah.

I later asked Wahid if I could quote him when writing about our experiences in Khost for Americans back home. Yes, he said. “Tell them that after this I will not support them ... I will not trust them.” It was a halting remark. And it was then that I finally understood the enduring legacy of Dilawar’s experience.

Extract from Joshua E. S. Phillips, None of us were like this before (Verso 2010)

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Stop the War Coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative have called a demonstration against the increasingly bloody, expensive and failing war in Afghanistan.

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#1 Remarkable readthoughtful reader 2010-11-08 13:48
This is a very strong bit of a text. I always assumed that there were ways in which the Americans lost allies through torture, but this is a whole different take on the issue. At least its one that I hadn't earlier considered. It does appear that the book captures something unique and powerful, and especially tragic. Thank you for sharing bits of it.

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