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The Great Taliban Jailbreak
May 30, 2012 9:26 PM   Subscribe

"It took years to lock them up. Hundreds of enemy fighters captured during some of the fiercest combat of the war. But then, one night last spring, as American troops surged into Taliban territory, all of those prisoners, all of that progress, disappeared. Prof. Luke Mogelson ventures down the rabbit hole to find them."
posted by vidur (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Your tax dollars at work.
posted by bardic at 9:37 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since the Taliban consider music un-Islamic, radios were nonexistent. Instead, for amusement, inmates flipped over metal soup bowls and beat them in time with religious chants.

Wow. They consider music un-Islamic, and avoid it so thoroughly that they accidentally re-invented music.
posted by explosion at 10:13 PM on May 30, 2012 [28 favorites]


This will make a fine Great Escape movie someday. (But you probably won't want to buy the soundtrack.)
posted by pracowity at 10:27 PM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those Taliban are the enemy now, but it was only a few decades ago that they were being fed surreptitious arms shipments as fast as they could take them. Nobody objected to their ideology until it turned out that Osama bin Laden wanted to terrorise the world, not just the Afghanis.

I don't think incompetence can explain the USA's systematic policy failures in -stanistan: its successive cycles of funding its enemies and then staggering around in mock surprise at each inevitable denouement. These revelations led up to a moment of supreme comedic brilliance when it turned out that the USA's most notorious enemy had been living in a peaceful mountain villa for some years, only a bit down the road from a Pakistani military college.

If I were god-emperor of the USA the first thing I'd do is purge the State Department.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


...all of that progress, disappeared.

I think once you've decided that the only measure of progress is in how many of the enemy you've killed or are holding prisoner it's probably well past time that someone sent Martin Sheen to pay you a visit.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:00 PM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Zihuatanejo
posted by b1tr0t at 11:05 PM on May 30, 2012


Always nice to hear about people getting out of prison.
posted by ryanrs at 11:08 PM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"...all of those prisoners, all of that progress, disappeared. Poof."

Lord, it's a miracle! Taliban up and vanished like a fart in the wind!

(That's all it takes, really--pressure, and time. That, and a big goddamn prayer rug.)
posted by mattdidthat at 11:18 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mayar told me that the prosecutor handling his case instructed the NDS agents to give him his own cell, in deference to his rank. Instead, he was locked in an underground basement full of insurgents. "They were talking among themselves," Mayar recounted with a laugh, "and when I entered the room, the first thing I heard one of them say was, 'It smells like Americans.' I didn't sleep all night." The next day he was moved upstairs to a new cell located down the hall from an interrogation room that held several Taliban fighters who had escaped from Sarposa and been recaptured. Every day, through the walls, Mayar could hear NDS agents electrocuting them and beating them with whips. He would sit in his cell and listen to their screams.
Spreading democracy!
posted by delmoi at 12:36 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your tax dollars at work.
Actually, it sounds like Canadian Tax dollars were used for this project, also they're kind of being dicks about it now:
According to Mayar, whose black hair had grown gray during his imprisonment, the prosecution's case rested on an alternate theory of how the tunnel was built: The passage was not actually dug by Ihasan and his twenty-one helpers but by Taliban prisoners from within Sarposa itself. As evidence, they have pointed to a fresh layer of loose dirt and debris spread over the political block's hard-packed courtyard. But Mayar has an explanation for this. He says that while he was warden, his Canadian advisers hired a local contractor to add the new dirt to the courtyard in order to create a slope that would allow rainwater to better drain. He told me this again and again, with the kind of exasperation you might expect from a man potentially facing execution over such a matter.

The prosecution's theory would seem simple enough to disprove. But Mayar's attorney told me that the local contractor, fearful of contradicting the government, claims his documentation of the project was destroyed in an office fire.

The Canadian government, of course, could easily confirm or deny Mayar's account. His attorney, however, says he doesn't know how to contact them. When I contacted them myself, a spokesman for their foreign office forwarded my questions about the dirt, contractor, etc., to several people at the Correctional Service of Canada (which worked with Mayar at Sarposa) and then responded that "it would be inappropriate for the Government of Canada to comment."
posted by delmoi at 12:40 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unpleasant as the Taliban are, it's better that they escaped, than to be massacred.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:56 AM on May 31, 2012


Those Taliban are the enemy now, but it was only a few decades ago that they were being fed surreptitious arms shipments as fast as they could take them. Nobody objected to their ideology until it turned out that Osama bin Laden wanted to terrorise the world, not just the Afghanis.

Oh, God, this is so wrong it's painful.

The US did ship arms to the mujahedeen. The Taliban did not exist then. After the US stopped shipping arms and the mujahedeen won the war and the USSR left, the country devolved into civil war between several factions of what had been the mujahedeen. After years of chaos, ignored by the entire world, the Taliban formed, largely made up of Pakistani-trained religious students from the Afghan refugee population (at one point something like 40% of Afghans lived in Pakistan, many of them in impoverished camps). They then swept through the country and quickly won the civil war more thoroughly than any other faction.

At no time were arms shipped to Osama bin Laden; if anything, though this remains murky, he was a bagman for the Saudi royals bankrolling the arms. Nor was Osama a Taliban; the Talibs are Afghans and some Pakistanis, but bin Laden was an "Arab Afghan", i.e. a foreign fighter. At this point, perhaps, some of the Taliban fighters might still include a few muj, but that war was twenty-five years ago give or take a few. Most of the fighters in the field today are young men who weren't even alive then.

I'm not sure where in the hell you get the idea that Osama bin Laden ever wanted to terrorize Afghans. You remember this thing where the Soviet Union, an officially atheistic country, invaded and occupied the place? Yeah, that.

I know it's a little complicated, but for pity's sake, it's been ten frickin' years -- you'd think people would be beyond the idea that they're all undifferentiated brown people who hate America. Incidentally, the Afghani is their money.
posted by dhartung at 1:59 AM on May 31, 2012 [22 favorites]


The United States supported the Taliban through its allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia between 1994 and 1996 because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western.[262] Washington furthermore hoped that the Taliban would support development planned by the U.S.-based oil company Unocal.[263] For example, it made no comment when the Taliban captured Herat in 1995, and expelled thousands of girls from schools;[264] the Taliban began killing unarmed civilians, targeting ethnic groups (primarily Hazaras), and restricting the rights of women.[173]

Wikipedia.

Lol.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:25 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the concluding assessment of the progress of our occupation, from a very well-informed perspective:
Before I left Sarposa, I returned to see [former prison warden and current scapegoat] Mayar once more. At some point I asked him whether he still believed in the government and justice system he says betrayed him. He thought for a while before answering: "What is unbearable is that so many people have been killed here. My own countrymen and many young Americans and people from other countries have been killed here. They are sacrificing their lives here. But no one is helping with the law." Mayar estimated that "at least 20 to 25 percent" of the Afghans doing time in Sarposa were innocent. The implication, however subtle, was clear: What kind of government has such a legal system? And for what purpose have so many lives been lost protecting such a government?
We should have left that place years ago. What we have been doing there, and continue to do there, is serving no useful purpose, and is creating enormous and unnecessary suffering.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:26 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Minor note to all you pundits: The people of Afghanistan are called 'Afghans'. An Afghani is a unit of currency.

It may not be fair but if you call the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis', I tune you out. It is (in my mind) a sign of sloppy intellect and I think, probably unfairly, that if you can't get the name of the people you are discussing right, there are most likely other huge flaws in your arguement.
posted by Dagobert at 4:28 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia: Nobody objected to their ideology until it turned out that Osama bin Laden wanted to terrorise the world, not just the Afghanis.

More accurately, nobody objected until Osama stopped playing ball. If you play ball with the US, you can do anything you want.

Fail to kowtow to our corporations taking your resources for very little, or object to the US military presences making sure that resource extraction happens quietly and minimum of fuss, and we'll kill you.

Or be young, male, and in a place we've chosen to invade. We'll kill you for that, too.
posted by Malor at 4:30 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


It may not be fair but if you call the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis', I tune you out. It is (in my mind) a sign of sloppy intellect and I think, probably unfairly, that if you can't get the name of the people you are discussing right, there are most likely other huge flaws in your arguement.
posted by Dagobert at 4:28 AM on May 31 [+] [!]


Well I'm not sure what calling the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis' signifies, but your response is certainly one that is (in my mind) a sign of pedantry and linguistic prescriptivism. I'll leave it to someone else to identify the spelling mistake in your post.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:06 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


It may not be fair but if you call the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis', I tune you out.

If you're too lazy to read the thread I tune you out too. It's already been covered. Command F! I dare you!
posted by Wolof at 5:15 AM on May 31, 2012


Well I'm not sure what calling the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis' signifies...

Unfamiliarity with the subject.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:17 AM on May 31, 2012


I'll leave it to someone else to identify the spelling mistake in your post.

Ooo ooo I found it! Dagobert spelled argument wrong! He spelled it like this: arguement. But it should be spelled 'agruemint'.

Where do I collect my cookie?
posted by joecacti at 5:30 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


An unkind action would be to cross-check user names between this afghani/afghan issue, and previous discussions of "USians."

After four months, with the tunnel more than two football fields long, Ihasan encountered a village water line and realized he'd strayed off course. Guessing he was somewhere beneath a neighborhood to the west of the prison, Ihasan downloaded a map of the facility from the Internet and used it to adjust course. When I asked Qari Yousef about this, he said, "That was not the first time we used the Internet for help. We downloaded a map when we attacked the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul. For this prison, we got the map from Google."

Technology for all!

As others have said, the headline equating holding large numbers of prisoners with "progress" is pretty laughable; it's hard not to be sympathetic with people escaping from an unpleasant prison no matter how awful some of them actually are.
posted by Forktine at 5:35 AM on May 31, 2012


Well I'm not sure what calling the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis' signifies...

Unfamiliarity with the subject.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:17 AM on May 31 [+] [!]

So I was talking to a colleague recently, and it turns out a lot of people are pronouncing C.S. Peirce's name incorrectly. He pointed it out helpfully, rather than simply saying that since we weren't using the correct phonemes we were just simply wrong.

Point is, missing such small details does not preclude someone having a cogent point of view on the substantive issues at hand, and correcting such errors can be done without writing off the points of view of those making such a error.

joecacti, you can get your cookie in the twisty maze of passages all alike, just over there, but for legal purposes I do need to inform you that you are likely to be eaten by a grue.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:38 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


You people are so silly; if anyone is going to give joecacti a cookie, I will bake them myself and give him one.

But none for the rest of you.
posted by Dagobert at 5:43 AM on May 31, 2012


That's okay Dagobert, where I'm from we call them biscuits anyway.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:48 AM on May 31, 2012


A nice valid reason why a thinking person, otherwise uninformed, might use 'Afghani' rather than 'Afghan' is simply because the latter is a known word for a type of blanket, as well as a breed of dog. It therefore becomes a sincere attempt at politeness to choose 'Afghani' instead, however mistaken it may be.

But who cares for polite when instead you can dis some folks for the LULZ?
posted by Goofyy at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2012


Dagobert wrote: It may not be fair but if you call the people of Afghanistan 'Afghanis', I tune you out.

Here's a search on for the word "Afghani" on Google Books, limited to texts appearing before 1950. You can see that it is frequently used as an adjective, even in texts written by people native to the region. For instance, there is a famous history called Makhzan Afghani. I assure you that it is not an economics treatise.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or be young, male, and in a place we've chosen to invade. We'll kill you for that, too.

Well, they were probably up to no good. I have that from a highly placed source.

That "probably up to no good" is now a crime warranting the death penalty will surprise many people if the punishment is ever applied to a white Christian.
posted by Trurl at 6:53 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Since the Taliban consider music un-Islamic, radios were nonexistent. Instead, for amusement, inmates flipped over metal soup bowls and beat them in time with religious chants.

Wow. They consider music un-Islamic, and avoid it so thoroughly that they accidentally re-invented music.


I got the impression that this improvised music was meant to accompany the sounds of pickaxes just below the floor, not to mention the sound of repetitive striking of the concrete with metal poles so that the guys with pickaxes could home in on the target.
posted by TreeRooster at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2012


Hoooogaaaan!!!
posted by Trochanter at 7:28 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


That "probably up to no good" is now a crime warranting the death penalty will surprise many people if the punishment is ever applied to a white Christian.

The new rules for "due process" don't necessarily apply to white Christians.
posted by fredludd at 1:41 PM on May 31, 2012


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