From a nearby cell, Kevin Cornwell heard the indelible screams of a fellow prisoner being tortured with electrodes by Taliban captors. Although he escaped this fate, Mr. Cornwell’s own situation was only slightly less bleak.
First of all, his health deteriorated rapidly. The 54-year-old humanitarian worker from Middlesbrough was denied access to basic medicine even after contracting sepsis. Only once a month did he see daylight – for twenty minutes.
Every time he was allowed to go to the toilet, he was beaten and pushed by guards. And during endless rounds of interrogation, two men with metal pipes stood menacingly at the back of the room. He was told to forget about seeing his family again.
“Although they told me to dispel all hope, this was the one thing they couldn’t take away from you,” Mr Cornwell told The Mail in an exclusive interview on Sunday.
He stayed sane by meditating and “thinking about all the places I had been with my family.”
Kevin Cornwell, who was held captive by the Taliban for nine months, is finally home with his wife Kelly after his ordeal ended last month
Mr Cornwell, who worked for the international medical organization Iqarus, saw sunlight for 20 minutes once a month while living as a Taliban prisoner
Kevin Cornwell imagined working in Afghanistan before being captured and imprisoned by the Taliban
How the Mail on Sunday broke the news of Mr Cornwell’s arrest, along with a number of other British nationals, in April
His nine-month ordeal is finally over, with the father of seven and grandfather of 17 now recovering at home. He and his wife Kelly, 48, plan to celebrate his freedom by renewing their wedding vows.
Mr Cornwell, who worked for Iqarus, an international medical organisation, was flown home after pleas to the Taliban from representatives of the British government.
During his captivity, the former soldier shared a cell with an ex-Al Qaeda mullah accused of murder who spent 10 hours a day trying to convert him to radical Islam.
Mr Cornwell was arrested on January 11 along with an unnamed British hotel manager and charged by Taliban secret police with possessing an illegal firearm. They also claimed he was seen with medical scanning equipment containing ‘explosives’.
He said he had a permit for the weapon, which he kept in his hotel room only in case of a terrorist attack – common in Afghanistan – and that the scanning equipment was supposed to help save lives.
But he blamed his detention on a backlash caused by the behavior of Western contractors linked to corruption. At the time of his arrest, he was hoping to fly home the following month for laser treatment to break up kidney stones.
Instead, he was forced to endure many months of “excruciating pain.” Initially held in solitary confinement, he was later placed in a cell with five local prisoners, including the mullah. Mr Cornwell stayed there for three months before being moved to another cell which he likened to ‘an underground car park’.
He said: “We did receive welfare packages including clean underwear sent to us by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Taliban stole them.”
It was only after his wife revealed the details of his capture in The Mail on Sunday in April that Mr Cornwell was able to call home. “There were four soldiers in the room, all with weapons, and the commander told me what I could and could not say,” he said.
‘The first time I was able to call home was the most exciting experience. I can’t explain how happy I felt, but also how emotional. When I heard Kelly’s voice I burst into tears.’
Kevin Cornwell spent months in Taliban captivity, including periods in solitary confinement
Mrs Cornwell said she always believed her husband would come home, but admitted there had been close conversations
The Mail on Sunday has reported extensively on the fate of Mr Cornwell and his family since his capture
Mr Cornwell and his wife plan to renew their wedding vows to celebrate his freedom
Mr Cornwell eventually received medical treatment and underwent two operations over the summer.
“I think I got through it because of values and beliefs, and good mental health,” he said. ‘The army taught me a lot about resilience.’
At the end of his ordeal he was blindfolded and driven ‘quickly and very dangerously’ to Kabul airport. But even then, he still didn’t believe he was being released because “there had been too many false dawns.”
Mr. Cornwell’s return was bittersweet. He discovered that his mother Anne had died at the age of 70, just a week after his arrest.
His wife, a mental health nurse, said: ‘I never thought he wouldn’t come home, even though there were a few scary moments, including a phone call saying he had sepsis.
‘Then the phone rang at 4.30am and they told me he was on the flight and was off the air safely. I ran to every bedroom and shouted: Daddy’s coming home, he’s on the flight and everyone has gotten up.’ The couple described their reunion as “ecstatic and emotional.”
Mr Cornwell plans to “hopefully resume it (his work) in other countries”. He added: “But I have no intention of setting foot in Afghanistan again.”