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RESPONSE TO TERROR | THE TALIBAN

Twisted Laws Fueled Reign of Terror by Talib Police

November 25, 2001|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan — It took a doctor to impose the Taliban version of God's law. He wore a blue surgical mask under a white hospital cap, which left a narrow slit for him to see through. The convict would know him only by his eyes.

Ghulam Farooq, an apprentice ironsmith accused of theft, was ordered to lie on dying brown grass near the center of the Kabul Sports Stadium in July 1998 so that a capacity crowd could watch the Taliban enforce its strain of Sharia, Islamic law.

More than three years later, Farooq, 26, bowed his head to hold back tears as he described the final minutes before the silent doctor jabbed a hypodermic needle into his hand and put him to sleep.

The mullahs had already finished their speeches about justice and the Koran and the will of God. The only sound Farooq remembers hearing as he drifted off were a few shouts from the stands.

"They were crying out to the Talibs not to do it, but they didn't care," he recalled Saturday.

When Farooq awoke about two hours later, he was in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, minus his right hand and left foot. He was screaming in pain. The Taliban hung his severed hand and foot on lampposts as a warning to others.

By the time the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996, most people in the Afghan capital were so sick of being terrorized by armed robbers and rapists, murderers and torturers among some factions that now make up the Northern Alliance that they welcomed the movement's ruthless justice. But one reign of terror quickly replaced another.

The vicious morality police of the Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice routinely beat and jailed people for violating a list of edicts so long that few ordinary Afghans could remember all the things they weren't allowed to do.

Women who tried to follow every rule by completely covering themselves and leaving home escorted by a close male relative could still be thrashed in the street because their shoes made a clicking sound.

Judges were known to dispense justice without lawyers or witnesses. Some were famously corrupt.

"It was peace, but like in a prison," said Dr. Zekreya Yosufi, an orthopedic surgeon who helped care for dozens of amputees. He also saw the stone-battered or bullet-ridden corpses of men, and at least one woman, who had been executed in Kabul's stadium.

Yosufi remembers a Canadian surgeon from the international Red Cross, Dr. Ken Foster, asking the Taliban for permission to sew a thief's hand back on soon after he was delivered to the hospital.

"They told him, 'No. What do you think we cut it off for?' " Yosufi, 28, said.

The unknown doctor who severed Farooq's hand and foot under order of a Taliban court made the cuts at his wrist and ankle. Without more surgery, he couldn't be fitted with artificial limbs.

Three more operations reduced his left leg to a stump just below the knee. His right arm now ends below the elbow. Only after the operations could the Red Cross fit him with artificial limbs.

To find doctors to carry out the amputations, the Taliban first relied on Kabul's 400-bed military medical center, according to Yosufi.

"Later, doctors in the hospital didn't stay late on Fridays for fear of being ordered to go for cutting," he said. "But they couldn't avoid it. The Taliban would punish them if they didn't."

As Afghan doctors resisted, the Taliban depended more on Pakistani physicians, who were among the more fanatically loyal foreign volunteers, Yosufi said. He personally never was called on to carry out Sharia amputations.

The Taliban wasn't the first to impose Sharia in Afghanistan. It had been tried three years earlier by some of the same moujahedeen factions that started a civil war in 1992 after they drove out Soviet troops in 1989.

But under the moujahedeen, the law had more to do with the power of a gun. The Taliban twisted Sharia to suit its own, cruel understanding of right and wrong that was shaped in part by a tribal code called the pushtunwali.

The Pushtuns, who gave birth to the Taliban militia in 1994, lived by ancient rules that set out how hosts must care for and protect guests and their property, the way men must defend women's honor or how killings should be avenged.

Under the pushtunwali, a slain victim's family had the right to choose "blood money" in compensation, and before the Taliban, that was the preferred settlement. But the Taliban insisted on taking a life for a life.

Afghan critics of the Taliban complain that the way the movement combined Pushtun tribal rules with Islamic law badly distorts both. Sharia, for instance, requires no less than four male witnesses to an adulterous act, but the Taliban routinely executed people without meeting that strict standard of proof, Yosufi and other Afghans said.

He saw the body of one woman delivered to the hospital after she was stoned to death. Taliban soldiers refused to tell him why she had been killed, he said.

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