…That November day, a roadside bomb had hit the American Special Forces team as it patrolled nearby, lightly injuring an American soldier and a translator. Soon afterward, a convoy of Americans mounted on ATVs, followed by Afghan soldiers, came rumbling down the road. Fearful, Omar and Gul Rahim put down their tools and went inside. As they sat in the back room, surrounded by Omar’s young children, a burly, bearded American burst through the front door, accompanied by two Afghan translators who started searching the rooms. They found the two men and yelled at them to get up; when Omar protested, one of the translators, Hamza, started kicking him, and his blows sent Omar crashing through his window into the garden.
As Omar lay stunned on the ground, his wife and kids rushed over, hysterical, and clutched at him to protect him, but Hamza fired several shots over their heads, killing a cow and scattering the woman and children. He then dragged Omar into a small, walled apple orchard, where the other translator – a tall, sunken-eyed man who had taken the nom de guerre Zikria Kandahari, after his southern birthplace – was beating Gul Rahim in front of several Americans. In the neighbor’s orchard, Americans had found the trigger wire for the bomb that had exploded earlier in the day. As the two pleaded their innocence, one of the Americans came over and shoved Omar up against the wall, punching him. Omar says he watched as Kandahari marched Gul Rahim about a dozen yards away, and as the Americans looked on, the translator raised his pistol to the back of Gul Rahim’s head and fired three shots. When Kandahari turned and strode toward Omar, pointing his pistol at him, Omar fainted. When he came to minutes later, he was being dragged into a Humvee.
Omar was the only civilian eyewitness to Gul Rahim’s killing, but in Wardak I spoke to three of his neighbors who said they had seen the American Special Forces arrive on their ATVs at Omar’s house, had heard gunshots and, after the soldiers had left, had seen Gul Rahim’s bullet-riddled body lying among the apple trees, his skull shattered. The Americans later returned and demolished the orchard’s walls with explosives; when Kandahari saw the 12-year-old son of the orchard’s gardener, he taunted the boy: “Did you pick up his brains?”
Fearing that Omar too had been killed, his family searched for his body to no avail. But Omar’s ordeal was just beginning. He trembles as he recalls to me what happened next. He was taken to the U.S. base in Nerkh and put in a plywood cell, where he was left until the next morning. Then the interrogations began. He says his hands were bound above his head and he was suspended and then beaten by Kandahari and the bearded American. There were two Americans and their translators interrogating him, and they asked him about Gul Rahim, and about well-known insurgent commanders in the area; Omar professed to know nothing. He says the beatings intensified, and he fainted several times – they twisted his testicles, he admits shamefacedly. The interrogation sessions continued for two days. Bound to a chair and beaten, Omar was certain he would die. At night, shackled in his plywood cell, he would recite verses from the Koran and think of his children. At one point, Kandahari held a pistol to Omar’s head and told him that he would kill him as easily as he had killed his friend.
“Of course they knew what was happening,” the accused translator, Kandahari, says. “Everyone knows what’s going on inside the team.” [++]