I witnessed US war
crimes in Afghanistan - for all its victims justice is due
By Moazzam Begg
September 06, 2021 -- "Information
the summer of 2001, I moved with my family to
Afghanistan from the UK to work
on a project to build wells in drought-stricken regions of the
country, and to help set up a girls’ school in Kabul.
The Taliban, who
were in charge of the country, had
banned television, but a friend
of mine heard on the radio that the US had been attacked. I
understood what the Pentagon was, but I had never heard about
the Twin Towers. Initially, I thought the US had been invaded by
China, or even Cuba. But the finger was soon being pointed at
Osama bin Laden, who was also
bombing began, I saw planes dropping leaflets from the skies,
offering bounty money for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. It was
a strange spectacle, and although I’d never been there, the
description given by
then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld - “dropping like
snowflakes in December in Chicago” - seemed apt.
At first, US warplanes
bombed under cover of darkness, and I could see Taliban
anti-aircraft guns fire ineffectually into the sky. Shortly
afterwards, however, the air raids occurred during the day. I
had heard explosions during my visits to Bosnia in the 1990s,
but I had never heard any explosions like this. I learned later
that the US Air Force used 15,000lb “Daisy Cutter” bombs.
I evacuated to
Pakistan and remained there until early 2002, when I was
abducted from my home by CIA
and Pakistani intelligence agents at gunpoint in front of my
wife and children. Bad intelligence from the UK, alongside the
snowflake leaflets, had secured my fate.
I was taken back to US
detention facilities in Kandahar and Bagram, where I remained
for almost a year before being sent to Guantanamo. Several of
those held with me were Taliban members, including senior ones -
but they were not the only ones.
horrific abuses in Bagram and saw two
Afghan prisoners beaten to death
by US soldiers. One was an innocent taxi driver called Dilawar.
In Bagram, I met
Afghans who had even fought against the Taliban, but had been
sold for bounties amid tribal feuds. It was clear to me that the
Americans had no idea what they were doing, or what the
consequences of their abuses would be.
A young Afghan
prisoner told me that his father had been
buried alive by Soviet
occupation forces at Bagram. In fact, the Soviets had originally
built the place used by the US military to imprison us. I’ll
never forget when the young Afghan told US interrogators: “The
USSR killed my father right in this place; do you think his son
will submit to the USA?”
US soldiers I spoke to
then seemed proud that they’d captured Afghanistan in so little
time. But they hadn’t read the history of this land. No one
likes invaders, but Afghans have a history of defeating them -
especially when they are the world’s most powerful forces.
And torturing people
and desecrating their faith - well, that literally seals the
fate of both the resistance and the occupation.
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The years of drawn-out
conflict in Afghanistan proved that the US coalition could not
win. The Taliban were in their own homes while the Americans
were faraway, wishing they were home.
Those sent to Guantanamo had to undergo torture and humiliation
under the command of
General Geoffrey Miller. He
used government-approved “enhanced interrogation techniques” to
maximum effect. Miller went on to lead detainee operations in
Iraq, notably in
Abu Ghraib, where infamous
abuses occurred, and Camp Bucca.
Miller’s aim to “Gitmo-ise”
Iraqi prisons had devastating effects. Al-Qaeda, which moved
into Iraq as a result of the US invasion, formed the Islamic
State of Iraq (ISI) in Camp Bucca, alongside former Baath party
members close to Saddam Hussein. ISI eventually became the
Islamic State (IS); an estimated
17 top IS leaders had been held
captive in US-run prisons.
Al-Qaeda attacked the
US on September 11, 2001, for many reasons. One view is that it
sought to deal such a blow that the US would not recover. Yet,
not only did the US recover, it put everything it had into
trying to destroy al-Qaeda and anyone connected to it - real or
That’s where another
theory comes in: 9/11 happened so that the US would be drawn
into a war it could not win. In that regard, it seems Bin Laden
got his way.
celebrated the departure of US troops as a clear victory, and
they weren’t alone. British military leaders, who had commanded
tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, were
conceding Taliban victory and
describing them as people with a “code of honour” who seek an
As former victims
of Guantanamo and torture take leading positions in the new
Afghan government, it’s hard to conclude that the US’s standing
in the world hasn’t been irreversibly damaged. The
chaos at Kabul airport will
never be forgotten, having already overshadowed scenes of Saigon
as the US withdrew from Vietnam.
images of the “falling
man” will forever be linked to
the 9/11 attacks, images of three Afghans
falling from US military aircraft
at the Kabul airport will be engraved in our collective memory
of the US’s end in Afghanistan.
But that’s not
all: even as the chaotic evacuation proceeded, more than 160
Afghans and 13 US soldiers were killed in an
airport attack carried out by
IS-Khorasan. At some point, US leaders must come to terms with
the fact that
28 Taliban soldiers died while
guarding the US perimeter and the civilians and soldiers within
it - and so must the Taliban.
It took two decades,
thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars and the destruction of
the US’s reputation to conclude that negotiations were possible.
But there must also be a reckoning.
As Kabul fell to
the Taliban, so did Bagram prison. As a former prisoner of this
place, it’s hard to describe the emotions I felt at hearing this
news. The Times
describes Bagram as “the scene
of some of the darkest episodes of the US-led occupation”. But
to me, it’s the scene of countless unresolved war crimes, and
I’m an eyewitness. It is regarding those crimes that I gave
testimony to the International
Criminal Court, and for which the US government threatened to
prosecute its members.
To mark the 20th
anniversary of the war on terror, my organisation, CAGE, is
International Witness Campaign
(IWC) alongside 40 international organisations that bring
together former prisoners, former soldiers, academics and
campaigners to discuss, document and divulge to the public our
collective analyses and experiences of this historic moment.
The US’s literal
parting shot to Afghanistan was a
drone strike in retaliation for
the airport attack. It killed 10 members of one family,
including seven children. The IWC will assess the impacts of war
on millions of people. It’s not something I’m looking forward
to, but if our governments fail to learn lessons, the rest of us
are left with the task of reminding them.
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