Byline: COLIN WILLS
THEY are walking skeletons, covered with flesh no thicker than parchment, with barely the strength to move one foot in front of the other.
When you see them you feel you have seen them many times before... at Auschwitz, at Belsen, in Bosnia and in the Japanese hell camps in World War Two.
But this isn't history. This is today.
These shocking scenes are being lived out in Shibarghan in Afghanistan, which must be the worst prisoner-of-war camp in the world by a long mile. There are 3,000 Taliban prisoners crammed in this pestilential place, staring desperately at the world beyond the barbed wire.
In scenes reminiscent of the Nazi cattle trains, many prisoners were transported to Shibarghan in lorry containers. The death toll was huge during the 18-hour journey.
"When we arrived at Shibarghan," said Sajjid Mehmood, 18, a Pakistani, "around 150 of the 250 in my container had died." Some survived by drinking the sweat on the bodies of the dead.
"I managed to speak to several of the prisoners," photographer Steve Connors said. "They reckoned 3,700 people died on the way here."
There were atrocities along the way. When one group of prisoners hammered on the sides of the lorry, a group of Northern Alliance soldiers opened the doors and sprayed them with bullets. Their crime? Making too much noise.
At the camp, the prisoners' faces are a constant accusation to their captors. The conditions are almost indescribable, but it is the effect on the men which is the most horrific aspect of all. Their skin has turned a dull yellow, and is almost plastic in texture, as if all the life has been sucked out.
So emaciated, so unhuman are they that their ages has become almost impossible to tell. Most are young, barely in their 20s. But their hair is turning grey through lack of food, and their eyes stare out of dark sockets. Some are even younger. But they have the helpless look of old men, and like old men they wait for death.
And not only wait... most would welcome it. They beg for the release it would give as they read the Koran and flick their prayer beads through their fingers. The next life promises their only comfort, for there is none here. …