Taliban turns doctors into killers

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November 3, 2001

Taliban turns doctors into killers

Atrocities in Afghanistan: Opponents of regime are used as human blood banks, army surgeon says

Stewart Bell National Post DASHT-E QALA, AFGHANISTAN - The Taliban has committed so many atrocities during its five-year reign in Kabul that Afghans seem almost resigned, but even veteran military surgeon Mohammad Atiq was shocked to discover government opponents were being used as human blood banks.

Dr. Atiq, an army surgeon who runs the Dasht-e Qala field hospital -- a dirty canvas tent surrounded by mud walls -- says he has examined the bodies of civilians and prisoners of war who had died after Taliban doctors removed large quantities of blood from their bodies.

This brutal method of execution serves the dual purpose of killing government foes while keeping hospitals stocked with the blood needed to treat soldiers wounded in action.

"I saw four or five people like this," says Dr. Atiq, whose mobile clinic treats critically injured civilians and Northern Alliance rebels wounded by the daily shelling and gunfire at the front line a few kilometres away.

The Taliban keeps its victims alive for days, drawing their blood with a syringe every 24 hours until they succumb, he says. The blood is extracted by doctors on the orders of Taliban military officers. "They are army doctors and they make them do this by force," he says.

Dr. Atiq says further evidence came from a patient who had witnessed the practice and a prisoner who escaped from the city of Mazar-e Sharif. He was flown to Iran for treatment but died.

Locals have similar stories, including that of Khalil Abdul Jamil, a rebel soldier being held prisoner in the capital, Kabul. In a desperate letter to friends, Mr. Jamil told of having blood extracted and begged them to find a Taliban prisoner who could be exchanged for him.

A healthy body contains five litres of blood. One litre can be safely withdrawn, but taking two litres or more, especially in Afghanistan's harsh climate, is almost certainly fatal.

Dr. Atiq said the Taliban also has "doctor-terrorists," physicians so committed to the Taliban they willingly impose pain. He blames the Taliban's ranks of "foreigners" -- Arab and Pakistani religious zealots who see Afghanistan as the purest expression of Islam and are willing to fight to defend it. He says they give the orders.

The Taliban, which fought its way to power in 1996, is a group of radical religious students, or "talibs," who govern according to their strict interpretation of the Islamic faith. But the movement's claim to religious purity is undermined by the abuses committed by its leaders and soldiers in the name of Islam.

The regime has allowed terrorist groups to operate training camps in Afghanistan and continues to give safe haven to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization, believed to have staged the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

As well as providing a base to launch atrocities abroad, the Taliban has committed atrocities against Afghans for more than five years. Information gleaned from refugees flowing north to this rebel outpost of mud houses, battered Jeeps and camel caravans paints a chilling panorama of the horror of life under Taliban rule.

The camps are filled with women whose husbands have been killed by the Taliban. Villagers tell of girls as young as 10 being rounded up and taken away by Taliban troops. There are stories of rapes, torture, amputations and executions.

Dr. Atiq knows first-hand what it is like to live under the Taliban. He studied medicine in Kabul and was working at the military hospital there when the Talibs left their refugee camps in Pakistan, where they had developed their hardline philosophy, and overran the city, ousting the mujahedeen government.

His female boss, Dr. Suhella, with whom he had worked as chief of medicine, was forced out when the new regime confined women to their homes, banning them from going to school or working.

It imposed harsh sentences on those who violated its obscure laws, ordering their hands or feet cut off. The severed limbs were hung from trees in Kabul parks to remind people to behave, turning public gathering places into gruesome displays of amputated body parts.

After six months, Dr. Atiq slipped out of the city under the cover of darkness and walked across the front line to territory held by the Northern Alliance rebels. His wife, Adala, a teacher, and their daughter Katayoon and son Kambez joined him later. They now live in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 100 kilometres north of this desolate post.

There are nine cots and an operating table inside his clinic, currently all empty, although that will soon change if the rebels launch their long-threatened offensive.

Dr. Atiq's bedroom nearby is made of mud, with a metal army cot and a desk, upon which sits a kerosene lantern and an antique television set powered by a car battery. A map of Afghanistan hangs on the wall, along with two photographs of the murdered rebel commander Shah Ahmed Massood.

A fluorescent tube hanging from the roof provides the only light. His stethoscope lies on his bed and his camouflage jackets hang from a nail driven into the wall.

Last year, Dr. Atiq says, he treated 1,200 patients here, injured by land mines, shelling and gunfire. He does not often see the victims of Taliban atrocities because they are almost always killed.

As the doctor explains this, a boom interrupts him. It is a rocket-launcher at the front line blasting at the Taliban troops hidden in their bunkers in the Kalalatah Hills.

"We are sure the Taliban will be finished and you will see a good future for Afghanistan," he says.

Whatever happens, his future does not lie in this wasteland of a country. He is hoping to move his family to Britain to join his brother Shafiq.

But first there is the war, and the mounting flow of sick refugees whose tents, made of sticks and grain sacks, pop up like mushrooms each morning in the camp down the road.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 03, 2001

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