Trek Transforms Afghan Teen

That was the headline on the front page of WaPo to this story. Sadly, I was disappointed to find nothing whatsoever having to do with Star Trek’s influence in Central Asia.

But Pam Constable’s story is quite interesting in its own right:

Ismail Agha was a slight, illiterate village boy of 13 when his family last saw him 14 months ago. When he reappeared last week, he was three inches taller, his voice had deepened, his chin had sprouted a black beard, and he had learned to read, write and do basic math.

Agha’s transformation occurred mostly in a place called Camp Iguana, a seaside compound within the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he and two other young Afghan teenagers suspected of belonging to the extremist Taliban militia were confined together for more than 12 months until their release Jan. 29.

The long-term detention of minors at Guantanamo, where about 650 people with suspected links to Islamic terrorists are currently held, has drawn criticism from human rights groups. But Agha, who spoke with a foreign journalist Wednesday in this remote town in the southern province of Helmand, described his experience as closer to a tropical boarding school than a prison.

“Me go to Cuba, speak English now,” he said with a proud grin as he sat in the police station in Naw Zad, a muddy three-block market center surrounded by bright green poppy fields and almond orchards in pink spring bloom. Agha’s native village, Durabin, is a poor farming community in the mountains that is a five hours’ walk from the nearest road leading into town.

Transplanted to a modern U.S. military base half a world away, the shy village youth said he saw the ocean for the first time, played soccer, slept in an air-conditioned room and showered twice a day after growing up in a village without plumbing or electricity. “We could even turn the lights on and off when we wanted,” he said, lapsing quickly into his native Pashto when asked for more details.

Read the whole thing.

*Note: Despite the rather lowkey byline, Constable is WaPo’s South Asia Bureau Chief. She’s also the author of Fragments of Grace, forthcoming from my publishing house in June.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nathan says:

    I understand. None of my trek experiences in Central Asia taught me a damned thing about what the locals thought about Kirk or Spock.