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Dilawar (torture victim)

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Dilawar's mugshot from Brigham prison
Bornc. 1979
DiedDecember 10, 2002(2002-12-10) (aged 22)
Nationality Afghanistan
Occupation(s)Taxi driver and farmer

Dilawar (born c. 1979 – December 10, 2002), also known as Dilawar of Yakubi, was an Afghan farmer and taxi driver who was tortured to death by US Army soldiers at the Bagram Collection Point, a US military detention center in Afghanistan.

He arrived at the prison on December 5, 2002, and was declared dead 5 days later. His death was declared a homicide and was the subject of a major investigation by the US Army of abuses at the prison. It was prosecuted in the Bagram torture and prisoner abuse trials. US award-winning[1] documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) focuses on the murder of Dilawar.



Dilawar was a 22-year-old Pashtun taxi driver and farmer from the small village of Yakubi in the Khost Province of Afghanistan. He was 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) tall and weighed 122 pounds (55 kg). Dilawar was transporting three passengers in his taxi when he was stopped at a checkpoint by Afghan militia and arrested along with his passengers. The four men were detained and turned over to American soldiers, who transferred them to the Bagram Theater Internment Facility. Two of his passengers, Abdul Rahim and Zakim Shah, were reported to have suffered treatment similar to that of Dilawar. They survived Bagram and were later flown to the Guantanamo Bay detention camps at the US base in Cuba.[2]

At Bagram, Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell, and suspended by his wrists for four days. His arms became dislocated from their sockets, and flapped around limply whenever guards collected him for interrogation. During his detention, Dilawar's legs were beaten to a pulp. They would have had to have been amputated because damage was so severe. He died on December 10, 2002. He is survived by his wife and their daughter, Bibi Rashida.[1]



The New York Times reported on May 20, 2005 that:[2]

Four days before, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.

On the day that he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar's mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. However, he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares.

At a taxi stand there, he found three men headed back toward Yakubi. On the way, they passed a base used by American troops, Camp Salerno, which had been the target of a rocket attack that morning.

Militiamen loyal to the guerrilla commander guarding the base, Jan Baz Khan, stopped the Toyota at a checkpoint. They confiscated a broken walkie-talkie from one of Mr. Dilawar's passengers. In the trunk, they found an electric stabilizer used to regulate current from a generator. (Mr. Dilawar's family said the stabilizer was not theirs; at the time, they said, they had no electricity at all.)

The four men were detained and turned over to American soldiers at the base as suspects in the attack. Mr. Dilawar and his passengers spent their first night there handcuffed to a fence, so they would be unable to sleep. When a doctor examined them the next morning, he said later, he found Mr. Dilawar tired and suffering from headaches but otherwise fine.

In February, an American military official disclosed that the Afghan guerrilla commander whose men had arrested Mr. Dilawar and his passengers had himself been detained. The commander, Jan Baz Khan, was suspected of attacking Camp Salerno himself and then turning over innocent "suspects" to the Americans in a ploy to win their trust, the military official said.

The three passengers in Mr. Dilawar's taxi were sent home from Guantánamo in March 2004, 15 months after their capture, with letters saying they posed "no threat" to American forces.


A sketch by Thomas V. Curtis, a former Reserve M.P. sergeant, showing how Dilawar was chained to the ceiling of his cell

The various accounts of torture[3] Dilawar suffered have been detailed as follows:

  • A black hood pulled over his head limiting his ability to breathe
  • Knee strikes to the abdomen
  • Over 100 peroneal strikes (a nerve behind the kneecap)
  • Shoved against a wall
  • Pulled by his beard
  • His bare feet stepped on
  • Kicks to the groin
  • Chained to the ceiling for extended hours, depriving him of sleep
  • Slammed his chest into a table front

The New York Times reported that:

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. "Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.[2]

Moazzam Begg claimed that while detained in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, he was partial witness to the torture inflicted upon Dilawar.



The findings of Mr. Dilawar's autopsy were succinct.[4]

Leaked internal United States Army documentation in the form of a death certificate dated 12 December 2002, ruled that his death was due to a direct result of assaults and attacks he sustained at the hands of interrogators of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion during his stay at Bagram. The document was signed by Lt. Col. Elizabeth A. Rouse of the U.S. Air Force, a pathologist with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington DC, and listed as its finding that the "mode of death" was "homicide," and not "natural," "accident" or "suicide"[5] and that the cause of death was "blunt-force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease".[6]

A subsequent autopsy revealed that his legs had been "pulpified," and that even if Dilawar had survived, it would have been necessary to amputate his legs.[7]

According to the death certificate shown in the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, the box marked Homicide had been checked as the ultimate cause of death. However, the military had so far publicly claimed that Dilawar had died from natural causes. It was only by accident that the death certificate was leaked when New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall managed to track down Dilawar's family in Yakubi where Dilawar's brother, Shahpoor, showed her a folded paper he had received with Dilawar's body which he could not read because it was in English; it was the death certificate.[8]



In August 2005, lead interrogator Specialist Glendale C. Walls of the U.S. Army pleaded guilty at a military court to pushing Dilawar against a wall and doing nothing to prevent other soldiers from abusing him. Walls was subsequently sentenced to two months in a military prison. Two other soldiers convicted in connection with the case escaped custodial sentences. The sentences were criticized by Human Rights Watch.[9]

Forensic photo of Dilawar's pulpified legs

In March 2006, the CBS News program, "60 Minutes" investigated the deaths of two Afghan prisoners, including Dilawar, revealing that authorization for the abuse came from the "very top of the United States government". 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was appointed chief of staff by Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2002, during George W. Bush's first administration. Willie V. Brand, one of the soldiers convicted of assault and maiming in the deaths of the two prisoners, and Brand's commanding officer, Capt. Christopher Beiring, were also featured in the program. Wilkerson told "60 Minutes" that he could "smell" a cover-up and was asked by Powell to investigate how American soldiers had come to use torture and stated; "I was developing the picture as to how this all got started in the first place, and that alarmed me as much as the abuse itself because it looked like authorization for the abuse went to the very top of the United States government". Brand and Beiring confirmed that several of their leaders had witnessed and knew about the abuse and torture of the prisoners.[10]

Beiring and Brand showed no remorse when recounting the torture. Beiring was charged with dereliction of duty, a charge that was later dropped. Brand was convicted at his court martial, but rather than the 16 years in prison he was facing from the charges brought against him, he was given a reduction in rank.[10]

In August 2005, Sgt. Selena M. Salcedo, an interrogator with the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, admitted to mistreating Dilawar. In a military court Salcedo pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and assault, admitting she kicked the prisoner, grabbed his head and forced him against a wall several times. Two related charges were dropped and she was reduced in rank to corporal or specialist, given a letter of reprimand and docked $250 a month in pay for four months. She could have received a year in prison, loss of a year's pay, reduction in rank to private, and a bad-conduct discharge.[11]

2007 inquiry in civil court


In July 2007, a federal grand jury opened a civil inquiry into the Bagram abuse.[12][13] Alicia A. Caldwell, writing in the Huffington Post, quoted a former military defense lawyer, named Michael Waddington, who said:

he had never heard of such a prosecution before June 2006, when federal authorities in Kentucky charged former Pfc. Steven D. Green with shooting and killing an Iraqi girl after he and other soldiers raped her.

Duane M. Grubb, Darin Broady, Christopher Greatorex and Christopher Beiring, four of the soldiers who served at the center at the time of the deaths, acknowledge that they had been called before the grand jury.[12][13] They were reported to have waived immunity.


  1. ^ a b Townsend, David (August 12, 2005). "The Passion of Dilawar of Yakubi". natcath.org. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  2. ^ a b c Tim Golden (2005-05-20). "In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2008-01-25. They were later visited by Mr. Dilawar's parents, who begged them to explain what had happened to their son. But the men said they could not bring themselves to recount the details. 'I told them he had a bed,' said Mr. Parkhudin. 'I said the Americans were very nice because he had a heart problem.'
  3. ^ "US abuse of Afghan prisoners 'widespread'". The Guardian. May 20, 2005. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  4. ^ "Full Autopsy Report" (PDF). American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  5. ^ Douglas Jehl; David Rohde (May 24, 2004). "THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: ABUSE; Afghan Deaths Linked to Unit At Iraq Prison". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  6. ^ "'They said this is America . . . if a soldier orders you to take off your clothes, you must obey'". The Guardian. June 23, 2004. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  7. ^ Richard Philips, ed. (24 March 2008). "Taxi to the Dark Side: Murder of young Afghan driver exposes US torture policies". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  8. ^ "Killing Wussification". Correspondents. May 21, 2009. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  9. ^ "Afghan abuse sentence 'lenient'". BBC News. August 25, 2005. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  10. ^ a b CBS’ "60 Minutes" expose on killings in Afghanistan: Former aide to Powell: authorization for torture came from "the very top"
  11. ^ "Background and punishment: Sgt. Salcedo (MI)". Archived from the original on 2010-01-16.
  12. ^ a b Alicia A. Caldwell (July 31, 2007). "Witnesses: Feds Probe 2 Detainee Deaths". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-27.
  13. ^ a b Alicia A. Caldwell (2007-07-26). "Jury probes death of two Afghan detainees". The Bryan Times. Retrieved 2009-06-27.