one of the Taliban's torturers: I crucified
In an astonishing interview
with Christina Lamb, the Afghan leader's former
bodyguard reveals the full brutality of the
fundamentalist regime sheltering Osama bin Laden
"YOU must become so
notorious for bad things that when you come into
an area people will tremble in their sandals.
Anyone can do beatings and starve people. I want
your unit to find new ways of torture so
terrible that the screams will frighten even
crows from their nests and if the person
survives he will never again have a night's
These were the instructions of
the commandant of the Afghan secret police to
his new recruits. For more than three years one
of those recruits, Hafiz Sadiqulla Hassani,
ruthlessly carried out his orders. But sickened
by the atrocities that he was forced to commit,
last week he defected to Pakistan, joining a
growing number of Taliban officials who are
escaping across the border.
In an exclusive interview with
The Telegraph, he reveals for the first time the
full horror of what has been happening in the
name of religion in Afghanistan. Mr Hassani has
the pinched face and restless hands of a man
whose night hours are as haunted as any of his
victims. Now aged 30, he does not, however, fit
the militant Islamic stereotype usually
associated with the Taliban.
Married with a wife and
one-year-old daughter, he holds a degree in
business studies, having been educated in
Pakistan, where he grew up as a refugee while
his father and elder brothers fought in the
jihad against the Russians. His family was well
off, owning land and property in Kandahar to
which they returned after the war.
"Like many people, I did
not become a Talib by choice," he
explained. "In early 1998 I was working as
an accountant here in Quetta when I heard that
my grandfather - who was 85 - had been arrested
by the Taliban in Kandahar and was being badly
beaten. They would only release him if he
provided a member of his family as a conscript,
so I had to go."
Mr Hassani at first was
impressed by the Taliban. "It had been a
crazy situation after the Russians left, the
country was divided by warring groups all
fighting each other. In Kandahar warlords were
selling everything, kidnapping young girls and
boys, robbing people, and the Taliban seemed
like good people who brought law and
So he became a Taliban
"volunteer", assigned to the secret
police. Many of his friends also joined up as
land owners in Kandahar were threatened that
they must either ally themselves with the
Taliban or lose their property. Others were
bribed to join with money given to the Taliban
by drug smugglers, as Afghanistan became the
world's largest producer of heroin.
At first, Mr Hassani's job was
to patrol the streets at night looking for
thieves and signs of subversion. However, as the
Taliban leadership began issuing more and more
extreme edicts, his duties changed.
Instead of just searching for
criminals, the night patrols were instructed to
seek out people watching videos, playing cards
or, bizarrely, keeping caged birds. Men without
long enough beards were to be arrested, as was
any woman who dared venture outside her house.
Even owning a kite became a criminal offence.
The state of terror spread by
the Taliban was so pervasive that it began to
seem as if the whole country was spying on each
other. "As we drove around at night with
our guns, local people would come to us and say
there's someone watching a video in this house
or some men playing cards in that house,"
"Basically any form of
pleasure was outlawed," Mr Hassani said,
"and if we found people doing any of these
things we would beat them with staves soaked in
water - like a knife cutting through meat -
until the room ran with their blood or their
spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no
food or water in rooms filled with insects until
"We always tried to do
different things: we would put some of them
standing on their heads to sleep, hang others
upside down with their legs tied together. We
would stretch the arms out of others and nail
them to posts like crucifixions.
"Sometimes we would throw
bread to them to make them crawl. Then I would
write the report to our commanding officer so he
could see how innovative we had been."
Here, sitting in the stillness
of an orchard in Quetta sipping tea as the sun
goes down, he finds it hard to explain how he
could have done such things. "We Afghans
have grown too used to violence," is all he
can offer. "We have lost 1.5 million
people. All of us have brothers and fathers up
After Kandahar, he was put in
charge of secret police cells in the towns of
Ghazni and then Herat, a beautiful Persian city
in western Afghanistan that had suffered greatly
during the Soviet occupation and had been one of
the last places to fall to the Taliban.
Herat had always been a
relatively liberal place where women would dance
at weddings and many girls went to school - but
the Taliban were determined to put an end to all
that. Mr Hassani and his men were told to be
particularly cruel to Heratis.
It was his experience of that
cruelty that made Mr Hassani determined to let
the world know what was happening in
Afghanistan. "Maybe the worst thing I
saw," he said, "was a man beaten so
much, such a pulp of skin and blood, that it was
impossible to tell whether he had clothes on or
not. Every time he fell unconscious, we rubbed
salt into his wounds to make him scream.
"Nowhere else in the world
has such barbarity and cruelty as in
Afghanistan. At that time I swore an oath that I
will devote myself to the Afghan people and
telling the world what is happening."
Before he could escape,
however, because he comes from the same tribe,
he spent time as a bodyguard for Mullah Omar,
the reclusive spiritual leader of the Taliban.
"He's medium height,
slightly fat, with an artificial green eye which
doesn't move, and he would sit on a bed issuing
instructions and giving people dollars from a
tin trunk," said Mr Hassani. "He
doesn't say much, which is just as well as he's
a very stupid man. He knows only how to write
his name `Omar' and sign it.
"It is the first time in
Afghanistan's history that the lower classes are
governing and by force. There are no educated
people in this administration - they are all
totally backward and illiterate.
"They have no idea of the
history of the country and although they call
themselves mullahs they have no idea of Islam.
Nowhere does it say men must have beards or
women cannot be educated; in fact, the Koran
says people must seek education."
He became convinced that the
Taliban were not really in control. "We
laughed when we heard the Americans asking
Mullah Omar to hand over Osama bin Laden,"
he said. "The Americans are crazy. It is
Osama bin Laden who can hand over Mullah Omar -
not the other way round."
While stationed in Kandahar, he
often saw bin Laden in a convoy of Toyota Land
Cruisers all with darkened windows and festooned
with radio antennae. "They would whizz
through the town, seven or eight cars at a time.
His guards were all Arabs and very tall people,
or Sudanese with curly hair."
He was also on guard once when
bin Laden joined Mullah Omar for a bird shoot on
his estate. "They seemed to get on
well," he said. "They would go fishing
together, too - with hand grenades."
The Arabs, according to Mr
Hassani, have taken de facto control of his
country. "All the important places of
Kandahar are now under Arab control - the
airport, the military courts, the tank
Twice he attended Taliban
training camps and on both occasions they were
run by Arabs as well as Pakistanis. "The
first one I went to lasted 10 days in the Yellow
Desert in Helmand province, a place where the
Saudi princes used to hunt, so it has its own
It was incredibly well guarded
and there were many Pakistanis there, both
students from religious schools and military
instructors. The Taliban is full of
He was told that if he died
while fighting under the white flag of the
Taliban, he and his family would go to paradise.
The soldiers were given blank marriage
certificates signed by a mullah and were
encouraged to "take wives" during
battle, basically a licence to rape.
When Mr Hassani was sent to the
front line in Bagram, north of Kabul, a few
months ago, he saw a chance to escape. "Our
line was attacked by the Northern Alliance and
they almost defeated us. Many of my friends were
killed and we didn't know who was fighting who;
there was killing from behind and in front. Our
commanders fled in cars leaving us behind.
"We left, running all
night but then came to a line of Arabs who
arrested us and took us back to the front line.
One night last month I was on watch and saw a
truck full of sheep and goats, so I jumped in
"I got back to Kandahar
but Taliban spies saw me and I was arrested and
interrogated. Luckily I have relatives who are
high ranking Taliban members so they helped me
get out and eventually I escaped to Quetta to my
wife and daughter.
"I think many in the
Taliban would like to escape. The country is
starving and joining is the only way to get food
and keep your land. Otherwise there is a lot of
hatred. I hate both what it does and what it
turned me into."