While the small window provided no opportunity to see the outside world, it could at least give an inkling of the time of day. For instance, the rosy hue that was being cast along the window let me know the sun was coming up. I’d survived my first night in captivity. I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t risk closing my eyes. I had no idea what was going to happen and I wanted to keep watch on Hennings and Neil. The knot on my head was painful, but I was sure the bruises and injuries the guys had were much worse. For now, I could be thankful, but I had a feeling that things would get worse for us all.
There had been footsteps outside our door all night long. I could hear faint talking but couldn’t catch enough of what was being said. I didn’t even attempt to move towards the door. The room was dark and I’d never been able to get a good look at the floor when we were thrown in here. I thought I was safer to stay in one place, after all, that heavy door and the cement walls were not going to be conducive to overhearing faint conversations in the hall no matter what I tried.
I figured that with the sun coming up, someone would come in to bring us food. Or at least I hoped they would. It wasn’t that I was looking forward to eating, but the light from the hall coupled with the faint light from the window could at least give me a better idea of my surroundings. The fog was lifting from the shot I took to the head, so I was ready to be at the top of my game. Well, as much as I could be while in captivity awaiting someone to kill me.
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that Neil and Hennings were starting to stir. I could hear their moans and groans as the injuries they sustained made their appearance known with each movement that they made. I hoped that they would be able to push past their pain and become coherent before anyone came to the door to bring food. If they could be alert, the three of us might be able to get a better feel for our surroundings and see if we could engineer an escape.
Neil tried to sit up first. I could see him wince in pain as he braced himself on his elbow and turned in my direction. “What happened?” his voice was nothing more than a harsh whisper. “Where’s Ackerman?”
I took a deep breath and tried to maintain my composure. It wouldn’t do any of us any good if I let down my guard and showed emotion. “We were taken from the village, you and Hennings were beaten. Ackerman was killed when they broke into the house.”
Gregory pulled himself up into a seated position and rested his head in his hands. “It’s all fuzzy, I don’t really remember it.”
Before I could respond, David Hennings began to sit up. Much like Gregory Neil, he was wincing in pain and found it difficult to get into a seated position.
“Guys, look, we’re most likely inside Yusef’s compound.” I started off, figuring I should at least give them as much information as I could before we were interrupted. “They killed Zach before they dragged us out of the house. The two of you were beaten along with several other men from the village. I was taken along with several women, everyone else was killed. They burned the village as well.”
I watched as the horror of my words began to sink in for each of them. There was nothing I could say that would make the reality of our situation any better. It was best to let them have a moment to make peace with it all on their own.
A few minutes passed before David spoke up. “Do you think we’ve given DC enough intel for them to raid this compound?” As his words left his lips, Greg started laughing. “What’s so damn funny, Neil?”
“They aren’t going to rescue us motherfucker, they’re going to leave us here to die. The Director told us as much when we took this mission. We’re never making it home alive.”
David gave Greg a harsh look, one that conveyed how much he’d love to kick his ass if he weren’t currently incapacitated. “I’m aware that we’re not getting rescued. I just want to know that DC is going to raid this compound and get Yusef. I don’t want our deaths to be in vain.”
David’s words rang in my ears. He was right, we were going to die and we just had to hope that we’d given DC enough information to take Yusef down for good. I knew that Simon would know what had happened to me. At least he would be able to tell my brothers as well as Chris. Realization hit me and I could feel my heart clench, I’d never see Chris again. This was my fault, I’d done this. My anger and hurt had led me to make a decision that would take my life and I’d never had the chance to tell him how much I really loved him.
~ * ~
No one brought us breakfast and we couldn’t formulate a plan on how to get out. The three of us didn’t speak. I think we were all trying to reconcile our feelings and letting the reality of our situation sink in. I know I was doing a lot of praying and asking for forgiveness.
The room we were in was cold. We each had a think mattress but there were no blankets. I’d have even been thrilled if there was hay on the floor, but there wasn’t. Since we’d been summoned in the middle of the night and taken from our house, we didn’t have the luxury of bringing a coat or blanket. It was lucky for each of us that we slept fully dressed, or this could have been a little more uncomfortable. I had moved my mattress, and my body, to the opposite side of the room. I huddled against the wall between David and Greg, hoping that our body heat could provide some warmth.
At some point, we fell asleep huddled together. However, I was awakened by the rattle of the keys and the door to our room flying open. I couldn’t help but jump, I was filled with fear not knowing what would happen next. As my eyes moved to the entryway, I noticed a familiar man walking toward us. Joseph, our operative on the inside, was alive and currently approaching us. There was no way that any of us could acknowledge that we knew Joseph, it would most certainly lead to all our deaths.
I did see a flicker of recognition and pain hit his eyes before his scowl returned. He pointed directly at me, then reached out his hand. In broken English, he said, “You need to come with me.” I did what anyone would expect of a prisoner, I tried to resist. “This is not a request. Come,” this time his voice was more forceful as he yanked me off the floor. As I got to my feet, I realized we had company, two giant guards at the doorway. This explained why he needed to exert control, he couldn’t let those men know that he was the least bit uncomfortable playing this role.
“Where are you taking me?” My voice was wavering from genuine fear. With the guards at the door, I realized that Joseph had been unaware that I was on the other side of the door when he opened it. He wasn’t there to save me. Which could only mean I was being led somewhere that would not be pleasant.
Joseph didn’t respond to my question. Instead, he held my bicep tightly and pulled me alongside him down a long, dark hallway. I tried to take in my surroundings, hoping that it could help me later. However, there were no windows and no markings that could give me any bearing on my location within the compound. Suddenly, we stopped at two huge wooden doors; Joseph knocked and the slowly opened from the inside.
I was being led into a large room, what might be a communal room with a tile floor and pillows are strewn about. There were a few small chairs scattered, but it appeared the main seating was on the floor. In the far-right corner of the room sat an oversized chair, a man was seated there with several women on the floor around him. There was no doubt in my mind that this was Adnan Mohammed Yusef. We were still too far away for me to be able to see him clearly.
As we walked, Joseph leaned over and whispered in my ear. “He doesn’t know you’re CIA, just that you’re an American. He won’t kill you, but don’t expect him to go easy on you, either.” A chill ran down my spine with those words.
As we approached Yusef, I took notice of the women at his feet. They were not wearing burqas or even hijabs, but they did wear long flowing gowns that were reminiscent of dressing gowns. The women had their hair down, several had their hair braided, but they all shared fear in their eyes. Two of the four women had colorful bruises around their eyes and a third had discoloration on her neck. I couldn’t see any bruising on the fourth woman and that scared me, he could have bruised her in an area for it not to be seen. I hated to think what he’d done to them or what his reasonings had been. I didn’t even know if any of these women were from the village where I’d been staying or if they’d been here longer.
I moved my eyes from the women at his feet to the man himself. I was shocked that I was being provided an opportunity to see the face of Adnan Mohammed Yusef, but figured I wouldn’t live to tell anyone else what I’d witnessed. When I watched the news and they would show the leaders of terrorist organizations they all had similar features: long beards, turbans, traditional religious clothing, and coldness in their eyes. I was stunned to realize that Yusef did not look like any of those people. No, he looked like a businessman, wearing a designer suit and shoes. His dark hair was cropped close and he had threads of gray running through it. He looked distinguished and dignified. Suddenly something clicked, he didn’t run his organization like a terror cell, he ran it like the mafia. The difference was, he was hiding out in a war-ravaged area and moving under the flags of terror groups to make his money.
I now second-guessed all the research I’d ever done on this man. I was researching his banking and the ties to organizations, but the idea of him running everything like the mafia never entered my consciousness. I wasn’t the only person researching Yusef, and I’d never been tasked with finding photos of him or tracking his location. For me, it was always about following the money and being able to tie him to specific attacks transactions. We didn’t have a photo of him on file – which meant he could kill my fellow agents and me and walk away. No one would suspect him.
“Joseph, what have you brought me?” Yusef asked as he pulled himself from his chair. He was a tall man and cut an imposing figure as he took a few steps toward me. I wanted to step away, but Joseph kept me anchored in place. Yusef ran a manicured finger down the side of my face. “What a lovely woman, you are. Tell me, why are you in our country?”
I took a deep breath before expelling the legend that we’d cultivated for this trip. I’d never expected to use it. “I traveled with my husband and his friends, they were on a spiritual and religious journey.”
“Were you not on the same journey?” He eyed me carefully, running his finger down the other side of my face. “Where is this husband of yours now?”
“No, I wasn’t, I was only with him out of love and support.” I allowed my fear to show in my voice, knowing this would be more helpful to me than sounding like a robot or trained agent. “My husband is dead, he was murdered when your men took me from the village.”
Yusef’s eyes widened and he shook his head, “My condolences to you. You just want me to believe you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? You had no idea what you were in the middle of?”
“Yes, I’m telling you the truth. We were just here to pray and learn, that’s all.”
“It’s really too bad I don’t believe you,” Yusef reached out and clasped his hand against the back of my neck and pulled me forward, snapping my attention to him. “I don’t know what you were up to, but you weren’t on a religious journey. You have something to do with the problems I’ve been encountering recently, and I plan on getting to the bottom of it. You and the two friends you’re here with, you’ll talk, eventually. I have people that will see to that.”
I was terrified as I was transfixed on his eyes as he spoke to me. When he let go and walked back to his chair, I had a hard time standing upright. I knew that we were going to be tortured and I prayed we survived. Then again, maybe we’d be better off if we didn’t.
~ * ~
I’m not sure how many days it’s been since I had my confrontation with Yusef. I had been placed in a different room, one without a window or outside light. All I did know was that I hurt everywhere. I could barely lift my head from the mattress and I couldn’t feel my face or arms.
Yusef had not been exaggerating when he said he wanted to get to the bottom of it and that he had people to help. I’d been taken from the large communal room and moved to what I could only define as my torture room. My hands were bound with rope and I was affixed to a large hook hanging from the ceiling. I dangled there, my feet unable to touch the floor.
I was asked my name and why I was in Afghanistan. I repeated the same thing over and over, “My name is Rebecca Harrington and I’m here because my husband was on a spiritual journey with his friends. My husband is dead, you’ve killed him.”
Each time I would recite my answer, I’d receive some type of punishment. At first, I was slapped. I could handle that, it stung but I could take it. The men moved to punching me, which I didn’t manage as well. They apparently didn’t care that I was a woman, these men just wanted answers. Once I began spitting up blood, they took me off the hook and started waterboarding. That was somewhat ironic since I’m with the CIA and we damn near perfected that technique. I wasn’t about to tell them they were doing it wrong.
At this point, I think it was expected I would change my story. But I didn’t, I kept reciting the same answer. I was put back on the hook and the last thing the men tried was shock therapy. It hurt like hell. I screamed and begged for them to stop, but I didn’t break. They only did it twice. I must admit if they’d done it a third time I might have broken. I wasn’t sure I could do this any longer.
I’m confident my kidneys and quite possibly my spleen has been bruised. My arms are sore from the amount of time I spent hanging from the hook. They’ve not made a video of me yet, which is a surprise. Maybe they don’t want anyone to know they have me. But Yusef knows I’m an American, and if he thought I was trying to take down his organization I’d think he would want to exploit me for immunity or something. Why am I being kept a secret?
I’m barely holding on and I’m afraid of what they might do to me next. This might end up being the ultimate torture – waiting.