Transcript

254:

Teenage Embed, Part Two
Transcript

Originally aired 12.12.2003

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Part One.

Ira Glass

He grew up near San Francisco, playing football and video games. Hyder Akbar is his name. His family's from Afghanistan. And after the Taliban were defeated in 2001, his father's old friend, Hamid Karzai, now the president of Afghanistan, asked his dad to come back and help out. His dad and his uncles had all been part of the resistance that had kicked out the Soviets from Afghanistan, back in the 1980s.

So, when Hyder was 17, he went to Afghanistan. This place that he'd been hearing about his whole life. And he took a tape recorder with him. You may have heard the audio diary that he put together for our radio show, with producer Susan Burton, back in 2003. Then the next summer he went back.

His father was now the governor of Kunar province, which is this remote area along the border with Pakistan. One of those contested areas where the Taliban and Al-Qaida and local warlords are all still fighting with the new Afghan government and the United States military. The fate of Afghanistan, we're sometimes told, is being decided in places like Kunar.

And in Kunar, Hyder saw amazing things. Things real reporters almost never get to see. He traveled with the US military. He saw them interact with the Afghans. He translated for them sometimes. He saw behind the scenes in the new government. He was 18 years old. Today on our radio show, Teenage Embed. WBEZ Chicago, this is This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. This is really one of the most special hours we have ever put together on the radio. And it is with pleasure that I turn things over to Hyder Akbar.

Part Two.

Hyder Akbar

I was met at the airport by Sartore, who is our driver. But he's almost become part of the family, because he's been with us for so long.

Man

Sartore! Sartore!

Hyder Akbar

And Sartore was my very good friend last summer. He was the person that was closest to my age. So we became really close.

[CAR HORN BEEPING]

Kabul has changed tremendously. Right now, there's like three girls in front of me. All they have is like a loose chador, but I see their jeans underneath their [? cloak. ?] Last year, burkas were probably about 95%. This year, I'd say they've dropped to under a quarter, one out of four.

Apparently there's a new game show in Kabul. It's like a trivia show, asking like geographical questions, et cetera. You can hear it. I guess the trivia part's over, now they have a Coke drinking contest. Whoever can drink the most Coke, whoever finishes a one and a half liter bottle of Coke I guess wins.

OK, it starts. But the funniest thing is the prizes. They're like, six containers of oil. That's one of the prizes. Two cases of soap was another prize. One of the guys gave up. That guy won a box of detergent. The one who won the Coke drinking contest won a box of detergent, and some shoes.

Hello, hello. The road to Kunar is really bad. Sartore says, you can't really get a sense of the road unless you come and drive on it yourself. Hearing it on the microphone doesn't cut it. We're probably about three, four hours away from Kunar. We're going about 20 kilometers an hour, so 15 miles an hour, I'd say. We can't go any faster than that on these roads.

Bump after bump after bump. And then finally, we got to the American base. And he's like, the Americans are over there. And we went further in to the main part of the city. It was like a little market in the middle of town. And I think everybody was looking at the car. Because everybody recognize white pickup trucks belong to my father, and they're like, ahh, governor's son's here. And as I entered I saw that there was a bunch of people in there waiting. And they were like, standing in a line. And so I was greeting everybody, and giving everyone a hug.

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Then my father came. And my mom was like, you better kiss your father's hand, don't forget to kiss it. Don't just go up there and hug him. You know people are going to be watching you, his son. And he's like the governor's there, so don't go and give him a hug and just like lift him up or anything. Just give him a kiss on the hand as a sign of respect. And then when you go inside you guys can talk and stuff. And so I remembered that.

And I was like, I kissed his hand. And it was weird to finally see him in Kunar, sort of where he's grown up and everybody knows him. And it was weird to be in that kind of place where he belonged so much.

Hello, hello. It's about 10:30 at night. I'm actually using a special flashlight that Americans gave to Sartore. He really likes it. It's a really cool-looking flashlight. It's a long tube thing. It's like those kinds you see and use them in the movies. Like The Fugitive, or stuff like that, where they look around in rooms.

So we're outside. It's pretty dark, because Kunar doesn't have electricity. The landscape's incredible. Mountains after mountains, and then rivers flowing underneath, and trees. It's a beautiful place. [SIGHS] There's still a lot of problems. It just seems like such a daunting task. These border areas, these tribal areas, all the history. I talked to my dad today about it. It seems like it's never been tamed. From the British, to the Russians, to everybody. To Alexander the Great. They've all struggled. And now my dad is trying.

Like any of the people in the government right now, I read somewhere in an article, they joked. They said they wouldn't be good life insurance policy candidates. And it's true. [SIGHS] It's really weird to take walks with my dad and have armed guards walking around with me.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

I'm just talking to my dad right now. We're walking by the river. This is usually where we take our walks. There's a little stairway down to the riverside from the house. We're walking alongside there with my dad.

It's been interesting to talk to my dad about some of the problems he's facing in Kunar. There's the obvious ones, like interference from Taliban, or Al-Qaida. There's the opium.

But one of the problems that's not being reported much about, but is becoming somewhat of a serious problem, is the re-emergence of the Afghan communists. They are not ideologically communists. They were just people that fought on the Soviet side during the resistance. These people have become police chiefs, have gotten high positions in the interior ministry, the defense ministry, and this has brought back former tormentors over the people that they tormented. And this is creating problems. Especially in Kunar.

My dad has told me about this mass grave right next to us here. This was actually done, I think, during let's say around 1978. What they did, the communists, what they did was they called all the tribal elders in this area. So about 1,200 men were called up. And once the 1,200 people came, the communists they started gunning down basically everybody.

And so it's a really huge blow to these people, to see these people back in the government after the massacres like that. And so anyway, I'll probably discuss it more when I'm there with the people that were there. There's some people that survived it.

OK, I'm walking to it now. The person that was here actually survived. So he's going to come and tell us exactly what happened. It's usually locked, so he has to open it. Turning the door. OK, I'm inside the place. You can hear me walking over the leaves.

I didn't want to get too close with the mic. As soon as he walked in he burst into tears. You see huge bumps in the middle, rising up. I'd say four feet high. That's where the people were piled up on, buried. I see a really old hat. It's probably one of the people's hats that were killed here. Because they left the place just like it was.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

So he's basically telling me what happened. He came by this bridge that's about 30 yards away from here. And he said, I saw like a fire in here. And I saw this cloud of smoke, and a lot of red. I saw a lot of red, so I knew there was something going on, people being shot. He said when he got closer, he saw bulldozers. Right in this place where we're standing right now, he saw bulldozers climbing on top of the people.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

He says he saw some of the people, they were pretending like they were killed. And they were just lying still because they thought that maybe, if we lie still here and pretend we're dead, they're just going to walk away. But then they started pulling the bulldozers ahead. And then they realized what was going on. And before they could do anything, they were just-- piles of dirt was piled upon them with the bulldozers. And they were buried in there alive.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

Another man's saying, to the right of me, he remembers it too. Because his grandmother had died and there was a funeral. So most people from his family were here. They grabbed his father, and they took him. And he said, I was only in fifth grade at that time, so I say, why are they grabbing my father?

He said, I ran after my father and I grabbed him by the hand to try to bring him back. And he said, the soldier just grabbed me by the shoulder, and threw me out in front of the house. And people, they just started gunning all of them down. And 63 other people were killed in this house in front of him. He says he remembers it like it was just a couple moments ago, because it was just done in front of his eyes.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

And he says, there's no elders in his family left. No fathers, no uncles, none of the fathers of his cousins, none of them are alive. So he says, I'm the oldest person left in the family. And that was his hat.

It's amazing. At first, they were all tentative to talk. But when the elder came to me and told me about his story of surviving, all these young, not young guys, but like guys in their 30s, are coming up to me now. And everybody has a story. Everybody wants to pour their heart out. And if I could, I'd dedicate the whole hour to them on the radio. So they could just get their story out.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

It's so tragic that like, nobody even knows their story. I mean, there's lines dedicated to the massacre here and there in certain books. Like, on April 20, 1979, in a village outside of Islamabad called Kerala, 1,147 people were killed. Have you ever read the Revelations in the Holy Bible? It's like judgment day, or the day the world ends. It must have been like that for them. The sky becoming red, and the ground shaking, because there's people trapped alive that want to get out. I mean, imagine going through that. Being a little boy or a little girl watching all of that happen. Or a woman watching her husband and all her sons die like that.

And like how can you even expect this person to want to go on, and want to rebuild and reconstruct. You just wish you had a trillion dollars and you could just build everything for them. And just tell them to sit home and just relax.

Tomorrow should be interesting. I am going with the Americans to an area called Korengal. There's a problem. One of the communists have gone to Korengal, and he's done a lot of bad things there. There's been a lot of complaints from there. So the Americans want to take that guy. His name is Shah Wali. They want to take Shah Wali to Korengal in Kunar and face his accusers. And it's going to be pretty exciting to see how the Americans work and how they talk with people.

One of the problems is, the Americans like professional people. Professional people here are the communists. Those are the only professional people left here that were trained by the Russians in military or police work. And the Americans like working with them, because they're organized. It's been really interesting with the Americans. I've met the Americans now. They know I'm here. And when I talk to Americans it feels like, oh, there's my countrymen. The other people tease me like that too, the people around here. Like the security guards, and like Sartore and them tease me about it. You know, like, your tribe, there's your tribe, when they see the Americans.

Hyder Akbar

Good, how are you? You know how long it's going to take to Korengal?

Soldier

About two and a half hours.

Hyder Akbar

Two and a half hours?

So around 5:30 in the morning I went over to the American base with my uncle. We're on our way. My uncle's name is Abdul Rauf but people usually refer to him as either Mullah Rauf or Commander Rauf. I usually just refer to him as mama, which means uncle.

Mullah Rauf is really respected. He was probably one of the biggest commanders fighting against the Soviets. He's lost an eye. He's been injured severely two, three times. He doesn't really have any formal relationship with the Americans. He's basically there helping out my dad, almost as his unofficial deputy. I'm traveling now with the Americans. I'm in a car with Dave from Indiana, Keith, and John, and Rauf mama.

And then we finally got there. I guess that you could call it the equivalent of a town hall. It was just like a really small room. Mattresses on the floor, a couple of chairs inside.

Soldier

The reason we came up here was two-fold. His father represents President Karzai. President Karzai has imposed a-- what you call it, it's a moratorium. Anyway, he's preventing people from cutting down all the trees.

Hyder Akbar

Kunar obviously doesn't have much of an economy. But one of the few things that Kunar has is really rare in Afghanistan, and that's timber.

Soldier

His reason is, unless you have a program to regrow the trees, it's going to have a bad effect.

Hyder Akbar

And so many people going into the mountains, cutting down wood, and there's a lot of money involved. And it's supporting Al-Qaida, or Taliban, or people that are against the government. My uncle had never heard of it. But he said there's this weird thing, it's called [? a chinsa ?] And I was like, [? a chinsa ?]. What is a [? chinsa? ?] And he was like, it's a really weird equipment that can cut down trees really fast. And he's like, it's called a [? chinsa. ?]

He's like, we went into the mountains one time to look for these people, to see if they really were cutting down trees. And he's like, I heard a motor in the background. I thought somebody was on a motorcycle somewhere off in the distance. And one of the soldiers told me, oh no, that's a [? chinsa. ?] And I obviously realized, it's a chainsaw. And maybe somebody brought it over from China to Pakistan, and then they sold it to people there. And by the time it goes into Afghanistan, it turns into a [? chinsa. ?]

Translator

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] What was the third one?

Hyder Akbar

At first, the translator was doing an all right job. But then I had to interrupt him several times. So around this time, I took over the translation.

Hyder Akbar

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Soldier

The second reason is that there was a problem that was up here a few months ago.

Hyder Akbar

So then he started talking about the second reason why they were there, and that was because of the ex-communist, Shah Wali.

Soldier

We brought Shah Wali up here, we have the elders here, so that we don't have a repeat of this problem in the future. Just because people don't like other people, there's a personality conflict, OK? It doesn't mean that you can't follow the duly appointed people in those positions.

Translator

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

They're really trying to establish authority there, the Americans are. And Shah Wali was a person of authority. But, this is just a corrupt official that takes bribes, steals money. And that's what the problem came down to. They refused to make the payments of him asking for bribes. And the Americans saw it as a refusal to pay tax. And not accepting authority, or not obeying authority.

Soldier

What I was going to say, for instance, in the United States, if I get fined from a policeman for driving too fast. But I think I was driving the speed limit, OK. I don't shoot the policeman, OK.

Hyder Akbar

Yeah, OK.

Soldier

I don't run him over and say, I'm not going to listen to you, because I was right and you were wrong. I go through the official system.

Translator

OK. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

This policeman analogy, if you really want to use it. Now imagine that this policeman had come into your house, and had robbed you like a year ago, and maybe killed a couple kids or two for you. And just walked out of your house, and then you started fighting him for like six months. And then, like the ninth one he comes and gives you a speeding ticket for going 55 in a 60 mile an hour. That would be more an accurate analogy about what happened.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Translator

He says, we understand that we have to obey the central government, the provincial government. And we do obey them. But he said, if there's some guys coming here, like thuggery, or you know sort of running it like a mafia, then that you know, I can't be responsible for that. Let's bring out the people.

Hyder Akbar

So Shah Wali comes in and starts talking also. And when he starts talking, it's really super fast. So you can tell, he's a little worried.

Shah Wali

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

It's not really resolved at all. When he got there, he was with the Americans. And so most of the people that had been robbed by him, or that had been beaten by him, or that had their money stolen, or whatever, were too afraid to say anything. And Americans thought everything was OK. And OK, let's take a picture now. So we decided to take a picture.

Soldier

I want to get a picture of him shaking Shah Wali's hand. [LAUGHTER]

Hyder Akbar

There you go, they hugged right there.

Most of the mujahideen are like the Mullah Rauf. They're proud people. Not the kind of people that will go right away and kiss somebody's ass for a job. But the communists are willing to do that. They've worked for foreigners before, they'll do it again. And that really, in Kunar, it's gotten to a serious point. Where it's the same communist people now, it's just a different group of white people with them. It was just exactly what they would say, you know.

And so it's important for the Americans to see who they befriend. It's causing serious damage to them.

Soldier

Everybody's calm downed, you see. Let's talk now about some of the problems, and I'm going to let some of the other people speak in the room now. Major Doug will talk about the projects we can do to bring peace and stability.

Hyder Akbar

Next we started talking about school projects, or clinics, maybe a bridge. And I think Shah Wali was just like, one incident, where this could mean a lot of permanent changes for them. So I think the school and bridges were more important for them.

Soldier

I'm going to tell you that I cannot promise you we're going to build you a clinic, a school, a road or a bridge. I will not promise you that. And if another soldier promised you that, I can't guarantee that those things are going to happen. I can tell you that we have submitted the paperwork to try and build a school here. But I am waiting on approval from my generals to see if we can do that.

Hyder Akbar

Seems like nobody could make a decision. Or nobody can make a promise, except for Bush or somebody. Because everybody else has somebody higher up above them who has the real authority, who they're going to have to wait for what they decide. So it does kind of disappoint people at times. And they do not seem like the strongest of allies when they can't even promise a bridge to them.

Ira Glass

Coming up, things get more dangerous. A lot more dangerous. Plus, a kitten. When Hyder Akbar's story continues in the second half of our program. From Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act 2.

Ira Glass

This is This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. If you're just tuning in, we're devoting our entire program today to Hyder Akbar's audio diaries from Afghanistan. Hyder was 18 years old when he recorded these, in the summer of 2003, in Kunar Province, where his dad was governor. And we pick up where we left off. Hyder is out with US forces.

Hyder Akbar

We're on our way back, and I guess they've seen like a wire on the road. And they think it's a mine, so we've stopped. They're all getting out of the car, to make sure everything's OK. They've seen a wire, so they want to make sure they're not going to get ambushed or anything.

Hyder Akbar

Is there something going on?

Soldier

Yeah, there's a wire across the road down there.

Soldier

Sure.

Soldier

An old man and old woman, they were walking together. We passed them coming down. We can hike up to them, but--

Hyder Akbar

They saw a man up above us, higher on the road. And he was just sitting there with his wife.

Soldier

Anyone want to ask that [BEEP]-er if he's got a phone on him, or a radio?

Hyder Akbar

Does he have a radio, because they thought maybe, he might have something with him. Or maybe he's the signal guy. And they were just being extra careful to make sure there's not two men sitting there with just another man in the burka, or something like that.

Soldier

Yeah, he's got his wife with him. I don't think-- Can we call them over here?

Soldier

It's his wife. You're not going to disturb his wife, right?

Soldier

Yeah.

Hyder Akbar

You could tell he was a poor guy, just, you know, had like a shawl around him, but a really beat up shawl. And he was absolutely terrified. He was like, who are these people walking up towards me? You know he's just a man on the side of the road sitting down.

They asked him, what are you doing here? He said we're taking a break, we got tired, we're sitting down here. Maybe if a car comes down, we'll hitch a ride. His wife is just sitting in the corner like a ghost.

Soldier

Please forgive us, as we've disturbed your rest.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

No, we don't have a problem. This is our country. We want peace and security, so we don't mind you guys taking measures.

Soldier

I'm always glad when I hear a humble man express that.

?] [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Soldier

If you see something in the road that looks like an explosive, or a wire, don't do anything about it yourself. Contact an official.

Hyder Akbar

After they're done, it almost sounds like the forest ranger at your local national park after he stops you when he thinks you have like a lighter in your hand. And you don't have a lighter in your hand. And then he gives you the little speech about, yeah, just in case, remember never to smoke.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] [LAUGHTER]

Soldier

We're heading back. They either got it cleared or realized it wasn't a danger. Have a good day, man.

Hyder Akbar

So I guess they've either de-mined it, or it wasn't anything to begin with. So, you know. Every trip in Kunar is an adventure.

Just got ambushed. We just got ambushed. You can hear the shots fired. You can hear the shots fired at us. We're being fired at. There was just a mine that blew up in front of us. I better get down. I better get down. We've been ambushed. I can't get down.

Soldier

Get down.

Hyder Akbar

I'm trying to get, how can I get down more than this? I can't duck down, I'm totally exposed. I'm totally exposed.

Soldier

Reloading! Where they at? I can't see [BEEP].

[SHOTS FIRING]

Hyder Akbar

Wow.

Soldier

Just stay down over there.

Hyder Akbar

Yeah, yeah, I'm trying to stay down as much as I can.

Soldier

Just stay low.

Hyder Akbar

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] Mama is fine. [LAUGHTER]

Mama is joking, he's like, I'm fine. I've been through this a lot of times. But for me it's-- [GUNSHOTS] Welcome to Kunar. Phew. There's a rush of blood.

Soldier

OK, John, check our 3:00. Somebody's pointing to our 3.

Soldier

No, no, I was pointing at him, telling him--

Soldier

Terry was pointing to our 3:00.

Hyder Akbar

So let me explain what happened. A mine just blew up in front of us, so there was an ambush. They were trying to ambush us. There's a truck to the left of us. We're in the middle of a valley, mountains both side of us.

Soldier

We need to be moving, we need to be moving. Let's go! Get in! Get in!

Hyder Akbar

Getting in, we're leaving. You can see a pick-up from here. I guess they were killed. [GUNSHOTS] So we're moving pretty quickly, we're getting out of here.

Soldier

Stop, stop!

Hyder Akbar

We're stopping, we're stopping, they're coming out again. We're fighting again. There's more people, there's more people. Get down, get down.

Soldier

9:00!

Hyder Akbar

The general's running over here.

Soldier

You're going to have to relay commands from these guys, who are going to be on the radio. You're going to yell at me, I'm going to be on that hilltop with those AMF guys, OK?

Hyder Akbar

All right, do you want me to get down?

Soldier

No, you just, you stay in here, you stay safe. But if he has something that comes over the radio, you yell it to me, I'll hear you.

Hyder Akbar

All right, all right, sure, I got it.

Soldier

Tell him to pull up his glass, so he doesn't get a bullet.

Hyder Akbar

OK, OK. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Soldier

Tell him he don't need to lose the other eye.

Hyder Akbar

[LAUGHTER] [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

They joked with my uncle, they said tell him to put the window back up, we don't need him to lose the other eye. So they want me to-- he's going to run to that hill. He doesn't want me to get out of the car. I wouldn't mind getting out of the car. I kind of want to see what's going on. I'm surprisingly calm I guess you could say.

Soldier

Hey, hey, yell to the chief, we're going to move. Get everybody back over here.

Hyder Akbar

Chief, we're going to move! Get everybody out of here! Back in the cars! I don't think he heard me. He was way down. Chief! All right, he's coming.

Soldier

Load it up! Here's what's happening. We're going to bound through, our two vehicles. We'll take the lead, establish another support position. Then we're going to bound through and keep on going. You give me a [BEEPING]-ing thumbs up, let's go!

Soldier

Roger that!

Soldier

Let's go! Get in the vehicle! Goddammit let's go!

Soldier

Let's go!

Hyder Akbar

Wow. [GUNSHOTS] We're driving fast out of here. OK, we're out of here.

Soldier

Watch the civilians, guys!

Hyder Akbar

Once again, I really like mama's calmness. Real calm. He doesn't even have any-- He doesn't have a weapon. He doesn't have any, like armored vests or anything like the Americans. And I mean he's like the calmest out of all of them. It was a good experience, overall, a good experience. That might sound insane, but I'll explain later.

Soldier

OK, guys.

Hyder Akbar

We'll see you guys soon.

Soldier

See you, soon. All right, buddy, we'll catch you later. Watch movies, do something.

Hyder Akbar

Yeah, watch movies. All right, man.

Soldier

OK, bye guys.

Hyder Akbar

All right, take care.

I like [? how we went through ?] that baptism for Kunar. It almost helped me with a little bit of legitimacy now. All the security guards wanted to hear it. And they're like oh, he's not scared. So everybody was really happy.

Man

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

And then my dad was sitting by the river, and he was sitting there with the people talking. I was like, I have to tell you something. He's like, all right, just wait until I'm done. I was like, no, no you have to get up for just a minute and talk. And he got up for a minute, and I told him what happened. I said, we got ambushed. He's like, did anybody get killed? I was like, no. Did anybody get injured? I said, no. And he's like, you really interrupted my meeting for that, Hyder? I was like, I got ambushed. And it was really funny to see that nobody else thought it was that exciting or it was that incredible. Compared to what they had been through, it's relatively exciting but not as serious as, you know, interrupting a meeting.

So that was really weird. And then it all of a sudden hit me, I was like whoa yeah, that's true. Maybe it isn't such a big deal for my dad, or maybe for my uncle, who's seen a lot of that.

There's a helicopter above us who's patrolling because [INAUDIBLE] have been hit. I guess they're trying to deter the missile attacks that have been happening lately. There are missile attacks, that's been happening. It's about every night I've been here. It's not the most helpful thing when you're trying to go to sleep. It's really rude of Al-Qaida. It'd be much more convenient if they would launch them at like 12:00 or 11:00 in the afternoon. Like 12:00 noon.

Because it doesn't last, it's not dangerous. It's basically used to scare donors from coming in. To scare NGOs from coming in. And to scare foreign aid money from coming in. And then that, it works, because they launch totally randomly, and it lands in some random ass field. But you know, reports go back to Kabul, border trouble area of Kunar got three rockets launched at it last night. And no overnight stay in Kunar for UN, and blah, blah, blah.

I've been talking about the missile attacks that have been happening a lot lately. And then there was one night where three rockets were launched within about a minute of each other, all towards the American base. And names started coming up. And one of the names was Abdul Wali, who is from our valley here. And Abdul Wali's brother got in contact with my dad. And we were really worried. They've heard all kinds of horror stories about what the Americans do.

And my dad talked to them and said, don't worry. I'll send my son personally with you to the American [UNINTELLIGIBLE] who will be there with you to translate, and talk to them. So I took him to the Americans. And like, they're asking him where he was 14 days ago, on the night of the three rockets. And this guy like, they don't have calendars, you know. Somebody asks you where you were 14 days ago, you're not going to, especially if you didn't do anything, you're not going to be able to tell.

And they're like, oh no, you fired three rockets, how can you not know the night? Three rockets fired where you were. And like, we already think you're lying. And your situation is getting worse by the minute. It was hard to watch. I just put my hand on his shoulder, and I let him know. Just say the truth. Nothing is going to happen if you just say the truth. And he was absolutely petrified, and he could barely whisper the OK. And that was like my last words to him, and then I walked out.

And maybe, maybe I am wrong. Maybe they do have very concrete evidence. Or maybe, like last time, let me tell you about the last time, what happened. There's a guy named Saleh Mohammed, OK. This guy's house had been attacked a couple times by the Americans. Weapons, caches, everything looked for a couple times. His women searched, his kids harassed. This guy was absolutely ashamed. He was ready to flee to Pakistan, just because the kind of shame that had been brought upon his family.

It's a big deal here, to have that happen to you. And my dad sent him a letter, saying, if you're innocent, prove your innocence and come down to the capitol. He was so grateful, and he came down to the capitol right away.

And surely enough, three days later, Americans handed him back to my dad and said, do whatever you want to do with him. He's not a threat to us. And so the Americans had completely put him to shame. Had him ready to flee into the Punjab, Pakistan, and become a later recruit for Al-Qaida. All because of some bad information.

So you'd think maybe after something like that happens, they might hold their horses a little bit. I just hope everything goes OK, but in due time, we'll find out. Probably in about three days. I'm going to go to the American base to check up on him.

Today, it's been a hectic day, to say the least. Around I'd say, 5:30 or 6:00, a translator from the Americans come over. And said that Steve wants to talk, and he wants to talk now. And he was wondering if you could come to the base. So we got kind of worried, like, what could it be. Because usually they come to the palace, and say that they're waiting outside and if they could talk for a couple minutes. So this was the first time they wanted my dad to actually come there.

So we arrived there. And we're waiting in the chair, me and my dad. Steve and Dave arrive, they come in, exchange greetings, they sit down. And then they go, unfortunately, we have some bad news. So I'm thinking, oh man, what happened. You know, is Abdul Wali not cooperating? Or did he admit to having a part in the missile attacks? What happened?

And they're like, unfortunately, Abdul Wali passed away. My jaw dropped. I said, oh my God. And my dad was like, what? They said that, 3:30, 4:00, he just collapsed. And they tried to make him stand again. He stood for second, but then he fell again. And then they did the whole routine, with the CPR, and they said no expenses were held. And just like they would have treated an American life.

And then we went into like, the torture, and anything like that, and nothing like that was done. He was being treated right, and given like power bars, and stuff like that. He would put rocks in his mouth, but then they thought, maybe it's because he's used to chewing tobacco. He had tried to-- with the shackles that had binded his feet together-- try to break those. And he hit his head against the wall a couple times, trying to work with that. And just for our sake, they wanted us to see the body to make sure nothing had happened to it.

So we go see his body. His body was kept in his cell, or whatever it was. And the cell was pretty bad condition, I have to be honest. And inside, lay him with a sheet over his body. It was extremely hot and damp. And my dad took the towel off his face. One of his eyes was open, the other was closed. No marks on him. I touched his face. I touched his chest. And he was dead. And it's like, this is extremely good propaganda for Al-Qaida, Taliban. Hey, guys. Don't go to Americans. Don't listen to Said Fazel Akbar, or you'll end up like Abdul Wali. Remember Abdul Wali. You are going to die like him, if you go to him. So, so bad for us.

But aside from politics, it just feels so personal for me. This guy was saying bye to me, like, make sure nothing happens to me. Like, the day before yesterday. And it's hard not to feel responsible. Poor guy was only 28. He was just so scared. How did he die? That was not how it's supposed to happen.

After his death, they were ready to do an autopsy to investigate. The people there of course, they don't know what an autopsy is. It would probably be the worst thing you can do, if they brought him back and he had cuts opened up in him, then sewn back together. They're like, oh wow yeah, this is how he died, they just cut him up right through the middle. But there was even a lawyer from Washington there.

And that's when I realized that it was a much bigger deal than I had thought of before. And I'm probably one of very few civilians to have witnessed an interrogation of a suspected terrorist by US forces. His death has barely been reported in the Western press.

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

[TRANSLATING] What has been your most difficult day being the governor of Kunar so far?

Said Akbar

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

[TRANSLATING] If I had to choose one day as being my most difficult day, it would have to be the day that Abdul Wali died. American forces were ready to use military force to capture this person. And I told them to please hold on and let me try and get a hold of him myself. And since this man trusted me, and since they trusted our family name, the man did arrive to Kunar, and did turn himself into us. He claimed his innocence, but he was incredibly fearful of what the Americans might do to him.

And since he was so fearful, I sent you along to prove to him that there's no trouble. And that I'll send my own son with you as a sign of trust. And so, his family told us later on, and his brother told us, also, that he did have heart problems. But this was such a difficult day to me, because of all the backup I have received, of all of the support I have received from the people of Kunar, this did leave a dent in it. Because people were more hesitant now to come to me.

What you hear in the background is actually a tap dancer. It's a tradition in Kunar. They tap dance. And you can hear it off in the distance, tap dancing in the cement outside. [LAUGHTER] I'm totally kidding. That's the fan rattling above me. It just sounds like somebody's tap dancing [UNINTELLIGIBLE] off in the distance. But it's actually the fan. There's no tap dancing experts in Kunar yet.

I'll be going to Bajaur tomorrow. Bajaur is on Pakistan's side of the border. I'm going there tomorrow because that's actually where my uncle lives. Like that's where his home is. He has a 35 room basically fort, along with his five brothers. I'll be going there tomorrow, probably spend a couple nights there.

I'm at my uncle's guest house. And he's going to get out in about a minute, and we're going to have a quick tour of his house. OK, mama's out. We're about to leave the guest house, and enter like the main house.

It's a huge room. Tall ceilings, basically like the garage. This is where they store all the foods in like huge sacks. And they actually have our old bags here, too. When we went to America, in '87, we gave them some things to keep. And they still have them in here. And you come out here.

Let me just count how many kids are around me right now. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 walked out of that corner. 17. I just counted 17 of them. Like little, little kids. Basically this is where they get their water from, they store it in a tank, and then pour it into buckets and stuff and carry it around.

OK, we're going to enter another place now.

This is the first time I met mama's wife, she's sitting here. This is mama's room. This is his personal room, this is where he sleeps.

My uncle is just about the toughest person you'll ever meet. I mean, I don't want to speculate the number of people he's probably killed. Or the number of times he's almost been killed. Or the number of times he's been, you know, wounded during the war.

Like there's really small pieces of shrapnel like, they almost look like crumbs, that are just some places in his body. The other day, one of them was coming out of his forehead. He was like, hey Hyder, can you help me here. I'm like yeah, sure. There's like something coming out here. Check it out. I checked it out and pulled, it was like a little metal piece. He said, oh, I think it's shrapnel, can you help me pull it out? I've been working on it for three days, it's slowly coming out of my skin.

A funny story, the other day, there was a kitten. And my uncle saw it. And he's like, oh, look at that kitten. It's ran away from home or something. He's like, I think we should go get it some milk. And the soldiers are like looking around, like giggling with each other, like what the hell. Is this Mullah Rauf? And he told his soldiers, go get some milk, man! Hurry up! And so they ran to go get some milk. He brought the milk, and he brought this like little plate. And he poured it himself. And he was like, [KISSING NOISES] towards the kitten to have some of the milk.

And it was the absolutely funniest thing to watch this guy with this big ass beard, and one eye, and metal coming out of his forehead, like, asking this kitten to get some milk.

Now I'm going to go ahead and interview my uncle. Because he's really had a life that's pretty much unimaginable. And now-- whoop. You just heard the light go out. You didn't hear the lights go out, we heard the electricity break down. The fence turned off. It's going to be really hot now. So I just want to give a little history of why he came here, and why he became a refugee in Pakistan.

Hyder Akbar

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Mullah Rauf

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

[TRANSLATING] This is probably around 1980. These Russians came with these bulletproof vests on. And at that time, we didn't know what they were. I started shooting at them, emptied like all 30 of my bullets into him. And all they'd do is just make a scream, like odd noise, and push back a little.

He says it wouldn't penetrate them at all. And he said, it totally spooked me out. And so he said we went home and we decided that these new kinds of Soviets, they are going to create problems for us. Not even bullets can penetrate them. So we decided to come to Pakistan, and become refugees in Pakistan. And at first, he said, we came here in tents. And we lived in tents for a while. Then slowly, slowly, we started building these houses.

Hyder Akbar

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Mullah Rauf

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Hyder Akbar

My uncle started writing with himself, I'm like what are you writing? And he told me this last year, too. He's like, I have a really hard time writing this number. He can't write five in English, so he was practicing that with himself right now, when I was translating this in English. He said, I have a hard time writing down five and four in English. These fives seem fine. I think I'm going to keep this.

The fan turned back on. So one more question I'm going to ask is, I think between the resistance and the Taliban times and everything, what was one of the hardest moments of his life? And he said, when one of our guys was shot on the road and died right there. I picked him up on my back. And it was bitter, bitter cold in the mountains.

And finally, he said, I managed to find a really small mosque in the middle of nowhere. He says, I went in there with him. And there was a really small bed. He said, I laid the dead body there. And I was laying on the floor next to him, trying to get an hour or two sleep, because it had been my third night without sleep. And boom, right there, a big hole in the ceiling cracked. Because it was hailing really bad. And he said soon the mosque started filling up. And it got to the point where it was up to my thighs.

Eventually, I had to go. And I laid down next to the dead body. My clothes got bloodied, and I started to smell. But I had no choice. It was my third night without sleep. And he was a good friend of mine, he says. Same age. We were fighting and just hours ago, he was with me. He says that was his hardest day.

[WHISPERING] This is probably going to be my last recording. It's probably about 1:00 at night right now. I couldn't sleep tonight. It's because, I couldn't say anything at that time because, you know, it's my uncle, but that interview was so emotional. When I asked him what was the hardest part ever, of everything you've been through, he mentioned having to sleep next to his friend just hours after he was killed. And the hail pouring down on him, and him trembling in that cold.

One of the reasons I wanted to interview my uncle before I left was because I knew it was going to really have a lasting impression on me. And just in case I ever get soft, and I get like, you know, maybe I should just stay in America, or maybe, you know. That image of him having to do that will at least keep me going for another five years.

We have a really close relationship. I mean it's to the point where sometimes I accidentally call him dad. That's how close we are. And he really has high hopes for me. And he tells me all the time that he thinks I'm so smart, and that I'm going to do so much for this country. And, it's just, he's been through so much. I can't let all that just go in vain. I want him to see an Afghanistan moving forward. Because of anybody, he deserves to see it.

And I can't even begin to explain how much respect and how much I admire him. Despite all he's been through, he's just about the nicest guy you'll ever meet. He still can't walk past a kitten, you know. That's incredible. To have that big of a heart. Because it does make you rough. And it does harden you. But this guy hasn't been hardened at all.

One of my dreams is somehow to get my uncle a visa, and take him on a trip to America. You know, take him to Vegas. That's one of the things. If anybody deserves to just lose himself for a weekend in Vegas, it's my uncle. To have some fun, to relax. Hopefully, by next year I'll be able to take him. Despite everything, I'm going to be pulled back here, I know it. I just can't-- I just can't do it any other way. I can't let my uncle down.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Hyder Akbar. He's now 20 years old, a junior at Yale University. His recordings were produced for radio by Susan Burton, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Susan and Hyder have also just published a book, based in part on the two radio documentaries they did for our program. It's called, Come Back to Afghanistan. It's funny, it's charming, it is unnerving and eye-opening and completely unlike anything else on the subject.

One footnote to Hyder's story. About six months after we first broadcast today's program, back in 2003, that man that Hyder took to be interrogated, Abdul Wali, the one who died while being interrogated by US forces, he became international news. It turns out the US government concluded that he may not have died of a heart attack, as Hyder was told.

The American, who Hyder refers to as Dave in the story, was in fact a CIA contractor named David Passaro, and was indicted by the US Justice Department on charges of assault in the case. Passaro allegedly beat Wali with a large flashlight. He claims his innocence. Pictures of Abdul Wali's corpse showed bruises on his back that Hyder and his dad never saw.

Passaro's trial is scheduled to begin in federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina, in December. He is the first civilian charged with prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Three members of the 82nd Airborne saw the whole thing and are reportedly willing to testify against Passaro. Hyder's been told that he might be called to testify as well. In March of this past year, the military said that its own investigations indicated that 26 prisoners have died of criminal homicide while in US captivity, including Abdul Wali.

Special thanks today to Hyder's parents and brother, Nadera Akbar, Said Fazel Akbar, and Omar Akbar. And to Sartore, and his uncle Rauf. Also thanks to [? Dmitry Shub. ?] Our website, www.thisamericanlife.org, where you can listen to the first of the two documentaries that Hyder did for our program a few years back. Or to this show, or to any of our shows, for absolutely free. Or you can buy CDs. Or you know you can download today's program in our archives at audible.com/thisamericanlife.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia, who explains why it is so hard getting objective journalism on to the public radio station that he manages.

Hyder Akbar

Professional people here are the communists that were trained by the Russians.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.