In sympathy with

 

Noor Mohammad Lala, father

Wali Mohammad, 27, son

33 other abducted villagers

abducted and humiliated, June 23-26, 2004

 
A chilling example of what takes place out in the Afghan countryside beyond the eyes of independent observers (and hotel journalists) has been provided by Australian film maker, Carmela Baranowska (CB). In late June 2004, Baranowska accompanied a group of U.S. Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) into some smaller villages in the area of Deh Rawod, Uruzgan Province. The Marines were based at Forward Operating Base Ripley just outside Tarin Kot. The following text is a transcript taken from Baranowska’s award-winning documentary movie, Afghanistan – Taliban Country.”[1] The scene takes place in the village of Passau, Uruzgan, in early July 2004, where the Marines arrested 35 villagers on June 23, 2004.

 

…the US Marines had conducted a major operation in the village of Passau. The elder begins to tell us what happened.

 Village leader: (trans) This is a helpless land. Never in the world have the Taliban come to us, nor have we helped them or set eyes on them. We have tribal enemies. We have no place in government and no role in voting. The skies have fallen upon us over and over. The hardships we’ve suffered this time round would never be suffered by infidels. I myself asked the interpreter “what crime have we committed?” This is based on tribal issues but it’s as if we’re harbouring Al-Qaida.

Man: (trans) Three to five helicopters were there and three over there. The Americans had a sledgehammer this big to force open the gates. They broke down the gates.

Village leader: (trans) They broke the windows, everything in the house. They broke the china and other things. They broke into the chests. They used axes. They took us over into they open. Then they turned to the women. We couldn’t tell what happened there. They searched everyone and took their picture.

Village leader: (trans) Only 35 of us were arrested. Over there the entire village was arrested.

Carmela: When they were up in the mountain what did the American soldiers say to them?

Man 1: Cuba. Guantanamo. Cuba. Guantanamo.

Man 2: (trans) People were taken away in three rounds by helicopter.

CB: (trans) At the forward operating base the Marines processed and tagged the 35 villagers.

 
VILLAGER HOLDS UP CARD – ENEMY PRISONER OF WAR

DEPARTMENT OF NAVY – EVIDENCE TAG.

 
CB: This man, Wali Mohammad, was arrested by the US Marines Force Recon Unit, their forward operating intelligence unit. He spent three nights in detention.

Wali Mohammad: (trans) When they took us away from here, this is what happened to us. They made us stand like this. They fingered us, beat us and humiliated us.

Old man (trans) I was imprisoned too. No Muslim should suffer that.

CB: This elder, Noor Mohammad Lala, who is the father of Wali Mohammad, also spent three nights in detention.

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) They tied my hands and then they put me in a container. They removed my clothes. I pleaded through an interpreter that it was against Islam. “Don’t make me stand here, naked”. But they said no. I said “For the sake of Allah and the Koran, don’t do this.” They said “you can’t get away”. They took my clothes, I couldn’t do anything. I was told to look up and put my hands on the container. I couldn’t see behind me, but someone was fingering me. Some of them were pulling my testicles.

Wali Mohammad: (trans) There was no food, my legs gave way. We were asking desperately for food, there was nothing. They gave us water but spilt it over our mouths, noses and eyes. They shoveled snuff up our nostrils and into our eyes. They told us not to look at them. This type of cruelty has never been done to us or seen by us. We’ve never seen this type of cruelty. We couldn’t understand them and there was no interpreter. They were all Americans.

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) There were blacks as well. The black ones were the cruel ones.

Wali Mohammad: (trans) They put me on the ground and they were sitting on me. I had wounds. My chest hurts.

Carmela: Did anybody explain to them why they were in jail?

Village leader (trans) They said they had a report and accused us of providing food and shelter to Al-Qaida and the Taliban. What we went through was a breach of Islamic tradition.

Translator: (trans) As far as your customs…?

Village leader: (trans) We are all dead, we have no more honour. We’d prefer death to this humiliation.

Man: (trans) I tell you this, my brother. Look here. Nothing made me cry more than…are you listening?…than seeing my Koran lying open over there with its covers over there. I’d sacrifice myself for this Koran. I’d sacrifice myself. My honour is my sister. I can’t stand to see her and the Koran uncovered and bare. What sort of Islam would that be?

CB: An elderly woman tells me what happened to the women.

Translator: (trans) Did they search you?

Woman: (trans) Yes, they did. They unveiled me and put my hands on my head and touched my neck, shoulders, stomach.

Translator: (trans) Were they soldiers…male or female?

Woman: (trans) there were males for males, females for females. They said they were females but we didn’t know, they were wearing uniforms, like you.

Translator: (trans) Of course you could tell. Don’t compare me to infidels.

Woman: (trans) I’m not comparing you. I’m talking about Americans.

Man: (trans) Look, he’s Pashtun wearing a uniform…

Woman: (trans) They were pushing the women like this. The way they treated us, the cruelty they showed, you wouldn’t treat an animal that way.

CB: I ask to interview the father and son who were abused away from the other villagers because of the deep cultural sensitivity involved.

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) They told me to take off my shirt. I said, “How can I do that?” Then I told myself “Take your shirt off”. When I took off my shirt, they told me to undo my belt. “Undo your belt ‘. I found that very painful. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. In my entire life I’d never exposed myself. With respect, I have a bladder problem and couldn’t stop urinating. After that I was so humiliated I couldn’t see for my pain. When they took off my trousers I had my eyes closed. I was totally disoriented, they stood me up in the container.

Trans: (trans) How?

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) Like this. When they stood me up like this, they took off all my clothes. I was completely naked, I’m not telling you a lie. They told me to look straight ahead, not to look around.

Translator: (trans) You’re looking ahead.

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) While I was standing, I’m not lying to you, they kicked my feet apart with their boots and they were touching me. That’s how it was, I didn’t know what was going on. That’s the sort of treatment I received. That’s what they did. When I looked around there was only an interpreter, no one else. He told me to get dressed. My bottom was wet. I would not be a Muslim if I lied to you. When I put on my clothes, I rubbed it off.

They asked me questions and asked me who I know. I told them I knew no one. Except in my daily work, I wouldn’t know anyone.

Translator: (trans) This was the second day?

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) Yes, it was.

Translator: (trans) And the third day?

Noor Mohammad Lala: (trans) They took us out of the container and released us.

And this happened when I’m old, white-bearded with no teeth. And this outrage happened to me.

Wali Mohammad: (trans) They took off my clothes I can’t tell you…

Translator: (trans) Did they dishonour you?

Wali Mohammad: (trans) Fingering the anus is against Islam, since I know what is good and bad.

Translator: (trans) Were they American soldiers?

Wali Mohammad: (trans) Yes.

Translator: (trans) Were they laughing?

Wali Mohammad: (trans) Yes, they were. They were all laughing and mocking. It was more than 20 Americans. They were throwing my brother down and choked him. I looked and they said “Don’t look”. They hit me on the shoulder and told me not to look.

When they took me a second time they stripped me again. The second time, there were interpreters and Americans. They made me take off my trousers and put them on again.

Translator: (trans) They forced you to take off your trousers?

Wali Mohammad: (trans) Yes, for the second time they took them off. What sort of life is this?

They disrespected us and undermined our dignity. They brought shame on us before the whole world. They shamed us before the whole world. They’ll show the world our naked bodies.

Translator: (trans) Do you think they photographed you?

Wali Mohammad: (trans) Yes they took our pictures. I do believe they took our picture. They had cameras on us over here. I assume for photographing us naked. If they did when we were getting dressed why not when naked? There were over 20 people around us, many carrying cameras and they were laughing at us and that’s the treatment we had.

CB: The American raid was so confronting the villagers want to show me every indiscretion.

Villager: (trans) Look here, you can see some marks. They scratch these lines. It happened to my neighbour as well. They used it as a toilet.

CB: This field is where the helicopters landed and destroyed the wheat harvest. For the Marines all doors look the same. They did not realize that what they hacked through was the door to the mosque. As I am leaving my translator asks the villagers not to reveal our presence.

Translator: (trans) If anyone asks, don’t say we came here with a lady journalist. Or that we asked you questions.

Villagers: (trans) OK, we won’t tell anyone.

Translator: (trans) May Allah be with you.

Villagers: (trans) Stay with us for lunch.

CB: But only 10 minutes later we come across our second Marine patrol for the day. They are constantly patrolling this valley.

CB: We hear that Major Cook of the Civil Affairs Unit visited this area yesterday. When we returned to Jannan’s village of Mossazai one of the leaders tells us how the stories of abuse have tainted the US Military’s entire efforts in this valley.

Translator: (trans) Did they give you medicine?

Village leader: (trans) Yes they did. And also a radio and corn seed. He asked if we needed anything. I said “we don’t need anything. Don’t humiliate us. Don’t rob our country. Don’t commit crimes. We don’t need anything”.

My last word was “Don’t humiliate us”.

He told me “some of our soldiers are youngsters”.

He told me “Our people are killed here and there and we become so frustrated and then we have to do something”.

I said his people were killed in Daychopan or other places…I even named some of the provinces.

“But it wasn’t people from here. Why are you doing this? I said “it’s against human rights”.

“We have different schools of thought and we’ll report to our superiors that such conduct should not occur.”

Translator: (trans) He didn’t know about all this?

Village leader: (trans) No.

Village leader: (trans) They sexually assault youngsters, you don’t see them, they’ve already fled. You heard the old people say how they were undressed, how they fingered their anuses and excuse me, touched their penises…

 

 Before leaving Uruzgan, Baranowska returned to Passau a final time. The villagers told her that “due to abuse and maltreatment by the marines,” almost all of the families are gone. Of a village of two hundred, only fifteen or twenty people remain. How history repeats itself: during the Soviet occupation too, millions of Afghans left their homes and possessions to escape life under occupation.

  Abducted, humiliated and sexually tortured by 22nd MEU, U.S. Marines

[1] Available to be viewed at Journeyman Pictures Ltd, http://journeyman.tv?id=17451 and http://www.journeyman.tv/?lid=17451&tmpl=synopses