The soldiers led Nader, blind and deaf, to a vehicle and put him inside. After a while, they stopped and brought him into a building. A female Afghan translator explained the rules of the prison: When the soldiers ask you to show your face, show it. When they ask you to hide your face, hide it. Don’t talk to other prisoners. When they took off his hood he saw that he was in a doctor’s office. A foreign doctor examined him. “Were you beaten in your house?” the doctor asked. Nader said he hadn’t been. The doctor said he would be visiting Nader regularly to provide whatever medicine he needed. Nader’s face was covered again and the soldiers led him to a detention room. After about fifteen minutes, a woman came in and greeted him, smiling. “She was very nice,” Nader told me. “The way she behaved, I thought she was a very kind woman.” She said she would begin his interrogation in five minutes.
The woman turned on a computer. She had Nader’s cell phone, and she started asking about the numbers in his contact list. She asked him about one number in particular. Nader said he didn’t recognize it. “I don’t know if this is Qari Yousuf’s number,” he said, mentioning the name of a Taliban spokesman in the south with whom he and other local journalists often spoke. “Give me the phone, I can recognize it by his name.” He had talked to Qari Yousuf Ahmadi the day before, as well as other Taliban contacts who he called when he couldn’t reach Ahmadi. “You talked to them?” the interrogator asked. “Yes, I talked with them according to the rule of journalism,” Nader says he told her.
He had made several calls to the Taliban the day before because a NATO helicopter had gone down and nine soldiers had been killed. The crash had occurred in Zabul, just north of Kandahar, and someone in Al Jazeera’s Kabul bureau called and told him to gather whatever details he could. Contacting the Taliban would have been an ordinary part of his reporting, along with talking to NATO and Afghan government spokespeople and residents in the area where the crash occurred. Nader knew that the Taliban often gave reporters inaccurate information, but he wasn’t overly troubled by this. He was a cameraman, so words mattered less to him than images. At this point, he was just trying to establish what had happened and if the Taliban would take credit for downing the helicopter. “I of course called the Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf,” Nader told me. “Of course, we don’t call him a terrorist. We say, ‘Respected Qari’ or ‘Hajji Saab.’ ” The spokesman was in a bad mood that day, Nader recalled. He told Nader that the Taliban had shot down the helicopter and hung up.
The interrogator asked Nader about other numbers in his phone. She asked who his relatives were and where they worked. After a while, he was taken back to his cell. During the three nights he spent in detention, including the night of his arrest, Nader said he was questioned five times. When he told his interrogators that he had done nothing wrong, one of them suggested that maybe he had some enemies. Nader couldn’t remember anyone he’d fought with. One interrogator accused him of taking pictures of a NATO base and delivering them to the Taliban. “I’ve never done that, and I’m not going to do that,” Nader says he told the man. “If the Taliban are giving me $10,000 for one second of film, I will never do that.” What if the Americans asked you to do something similar and give us the pictures? his interrogator asked. “If you give me $20,000, I won’t do that for Americans either,” Nader told him, “because I’m a journalist, not a spy.”
His story reminded me of a related event. A few days before Nader’s arrest, members of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, or NDS, had detained a radio reporter from the northern province of Kapisa named Hojatullah Mujadadi. On September 24, NATO had issued a statement saying that Mujadadi had been released. But as late as mid-December, Reporters Without Borders said that he was still in Afghan custody.