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Families of the Disappeared Demand Answers

They came for Hussain Abdul Qadir on 25 May. According to his wife, there were three American agents from the FBI and 25 men from the local Pakistani CID. The Palestinian family had lived in the Pakistani city of Peshawar for years and had even applied for naturalisation.

But this was not a friendly visit to their home in Hayatabad Street. “They broke our main gate and came into the house without any respect,” Mrs Abdul Qadir was to report later to the director of human rights at Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice in Islamabad.

“They blindfolded my husband and tied his hands behind his back. They searched everything in the house–they took our computer, mobile phone and even our land-line phone. They took video and audio cassettes. They took all our important documents–our passports and other certificates–and they took our money too,” she said.

Where, Mrs Abdul Qadir asked Ahsan Akhtar, the director of human rights, was her husband? The Independent has now learnt exactly where he is–he is a prisoner in a cage on the huge American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan. He was kidnapped–there appears to be no other word for it–by the Americans and simply flown over the international frontier from Pakistan. His “crime” is unknown. He has no lawyers to defend him. In the vacuum of the US “war on terror”, Mr Abdul Qadir has become a non-person.

His wife has now received a single sheet of paper from the Red Cross which gives no geographical location for the prisoner but lists his nationality as “Palastainian” (sic) and the following message in poorly written Arabic: “To the family and children in Peshawar. I am well and need, first and foremost, God’s mercy and then your prayers. Take care of your faith and be kind to the little ones. Could you send me my reading glasses? Your father: Hussain Abdul Qadir.”

The sheet of paper is dated 29 June and the Red Cross has confirmed that the prisoner–ICRC number AB7 001486-01–was interviewed in Bagram.

Needless to say, the Americans will give no information about their prisoners or the reasons for their detention. They will not say whether their interrogators are Afghan or American–there are increasing rumours that Afghan interrogators are allowed to beat prisoners in the presence of CIA men–or if, or when, they intend to release their captives. Indeed, the Americans will not even confirm that prisoners have been seized in Pakistan and taken across the Afghan border.

Fatima Youssef has also complained to the Pakistani authorities that her Syrian husband, Manhal al-Hariri–a school director working for the Saudi Red Crescent Society–was seized on the same night as Mr Abdul Qadir from their home in Peshawar, again by three Americans and a group of Pakistani CID men.

“I have the right to ask where my husband is and to know where they have taken him,” she has written to the Pakistani authorities. “I have the right to ask for an appeal to release him now, after an interrogation, I have the right to ask for the return of the things which they took from my house.”

An Algerian doctor, Bositta Fathi, was also taken that same night by two Americans and Pakistani forces, according to his wife. “I don’t have any support and I am not able to go anywhere without my husband,” she has told Mr Akhtar in Islamabad. Both Mr Hariri and Dr Fathi are believed to be held at Bagram, which is now the main American interrogation centre in Afghanistan. “From there,” one humanitarian worker told The Independent, “you either get released or packed off to Guantanamo. Who knows what the fate of these people is or what they are supposed to have done? It seems that it’s all outside the law.”

Many Arabs moved to Peshawar during the war against the Russians in Afghanistan and remained there as doctors or aid workers. The Abdul Qadirs, for example, asked for naturalisation in January 1993–Mr Abdul Qadir holds a Jordanian passport–long before Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan and founded his al-Qa’ida movement.

“I don’t know why all this happened to us because we are Muslims and Arabs,” Mrs Abdul Qadir says. “I want to know about my husband. We will leave Pakistan if the government wants us to leave. We will do anything the government wants but in a human and civilised manner.”

* At least 15 people have been killed in a shoot-out between Afghan police and what witnesses said was a group of Arabs and Pakistanis south of Kabul yesterday. Omar Samad, a foreign ministry spokesman described the gang as “determined and suicidal”.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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