December 2, 2001
KABUL, Afghanistan -- It took a doctor to impose the Taliban version's of God's law. He wore a blue surgical mask under a white hospital cap, which left a narrow slit for him to see through. The convict would know him only by his eyes.
Ghulam Farooq, an apprentice ironsmith accused of theft, was ordered to lie on dying brown grass near the center of the Kabul Sports Stadium in July 1998 so that a capacity crowd could watch the Taliban enforce its strain of sharia, Islamic law.
More than three years later, Farooq, 26, bowed his head to hold back tears as he described the final minutes before the silent doctor jabbed a hypodermic needle into his hand and put him to sleep.
The mullahs had already finished their speeches about justice and the Koran and the will of God. The only sound Farooq remembers hearing as he drifted off were a few shouts from the stands.
"They were crying out to the Talibs not to do it, but they didn't care," he recalled last week.
When Farooq awoke about two hours later, he was in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, minus his right hand and left foot. He was screaming in pain. The Taliban hung his severed hand and foot on lampposts as a warning to others.
By the time the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996, most people in the Afghan capital were so sick of being terrorized by armed robbers, rapists and murderers among some factions that now make up the Northern Alliance, that they welcomed the movement's ruthless justice. But one reign of terror quickly replaced another.
The unknown doctor who severed Farooq's hand and foot under order of a Taliban court made the cuts at his wrist and ankle. Without more surgery, he couldn't be fitted with artificial limbs.
Three more operations reduced his left leg to a stump just below the knee. His right arm now ends below the elbow. Only after the operations could the Red Cross fit him with artificial limbs.
To find doctors to carry out the amputations, the Taliban first relied on Kabul's 400-bed military medical center, according to Dr. Zekreya Yosufi, an orthopedic surgeon who helped care for dozens of amputees.
"Later, doctors in the hospital didn't stay late on Fridays for fear of being ordered to go for cutting," he said. "But they couldn't avoid it. The Taliban would punish them if they didn't."
As Afghan doctors resisted, the Taliban depended more on Pakistani physicians, who were among the more fanatically loyal foreign volunteers, Yosufi said. He never personally was called on to carry out sharia amputations.
Farooq insists that he did not steal money as his Taliban prosecutors alleged, and claims that they were persecuting him because of his Tajik ethnic roots in the Panjshir Valley north of the capital.
Taliban soldiers took him to a military court, and when he refused to admit his guilt, locked him up for 16 days and regularly beat him, he said. But he still insisted that he was innocent.
His trial in front of High Court Judge Qazi Sayed Rahmand lasted 10 to 15 minutes, Farooq said. He had no lawyer, and there were no witnesses.
Last week, Kabul stadium was empty except for a few regulars who hang around. One was a boy named Ahmad Farhad. The 12-year-old was sitting in the stands with three friends when the Taliban executed a man four months ago.
The boy said he just followed an excited crowd as it rushed into the stadium, and thought that he was going to see a soccer game.
Farhad knelt on the field, just as the condemned man had, to demonstrate how the executioner had placed his hand over the prisoner's forehead. Reaching from behind, the executioner drew a long knife across the convict's throat.
It took about three minutes to sever the head completely, said Farhad, whose story was confirmed by several men who stood next to him. The boy wasn't boasting about what he had seen. He looked frightened by what he knew.
Farhad said he wasn't sure what the man's crime was because the mullahs had addressed the crowd in Pashto, a language the Tajik boy doesn't understand. He remembers the crowd's reaction clearly though. "People were just sitting there, sad," he said. "Some of the women were screaming."