Afghan officials confirm US role in massacre of Taliban prisoners
On March 6, the German television
programme Panorama presented fresh evidence implicating US troops in the
massacre of Taliban prisoners during the 2001 war in Afghanistan. Shown on
the ARD channel, the programme presented footage, including interviews
with two Afghan government ministers who confirmed the presence of
American troops during the transportation and killing of surrendered
A documentary film made by Scottish director Jamie Doran—shown in an
uncompleted form to members of the European Parliament and other selected
audiences in Europe last June—presented the first public charges of
American involvement in war crimes in Afghanistan.
Doran’s film documents events following the November 21, 2001 fall of
Konduz, the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan. The film
presents a series of witnesses who testify that American military forces
participated in the armed assault and killing of several hundred Taliban
prisoners in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress. Witnesses also allege that,
following the events at Qala-i-Janghi, the American army command, together
with troops of the Northern Alliance, were complicit in the killing and
disposal of a further 3,000 prisoners, out of a total of 8,000 who
surrendered after the battle of Konduz.
Hundreds of prisoners died of suffocation in the course of transportation
in closed containers to the prison of Shibarghan. The transport finally
ended in a stretch of desert known as Dasht-i-Leili, near Mazar-i-Sharif,
where dead bodies were unloaded and several hundred prisoners who were
still alive were shot to death.
The US State Department has consistently denied any American involvement
in the massacre of prisoners in the desert near Mazar-i-Sharif by forces
loyal to the commander of the Northern Alliance, General Rashid Dostun.
Dostun was the closest ally of American forces in November 2001 when
fighting in Afghanistan reached its peak.
Following the showing of the rough cut of Doran’s film the Pentagon issued
a June 13, 2002 statement denying US complicity in the torture and murder
of POWs. The US State Department followed suit with a formal denial one
In December of last year, Doran’s completed film Massacre in
Afghanistan—Did the Americans Look On? was shown to German audiences. The
film has already been shown in Britain and Italy and has been bought for
showing in a total of 11 other countries. The American media has blocked
virtually all coverage of the film and its allegations. The film was
recently released, however, on video—titled Afghan Massacre—Convoy of
Death, available from Doran’s production company at www.acftv.net.
Prior to the German broadcast, a State Department spokesman, Larry
Schwartz, declared: "It is a mystery to us why a respected television
channel is showing a documentary in which the facts are completely wrong
and which unfairly depicts the US mission in Afghanistan." Following the
December transmission, State Department officials once again denied any
involvement by US troops in the killing of Taliban prisoners.
Now the allegations raised in Doran’s film have been confirmed for the
first time by Afghan government officials. German reporters accompanied a
small team representing the German parliamentary committee for Human
Rights to Afghanistan on a trip to investigate the background to the
events in Mazar-i-Sharif. In the course of their research, the reporters
were able to briefly interview Rashid Dostun, who now occupies the post of
joint Deputy Defence Minister of Afghanistan.
In the interview, Dostun acknowledged that the killing of prisoners had
taken place. He was not prepared to be drawn out, however, on the role
played by US troops in these killings. Dostun shares the deputy post at
the Afghan Defence Ministry with another general, Atig ullah Barialei, who
was much more forthright and conceded that American troops were in
attendance at this massacre.
Barialei stated in an interview with Panorama reporters at the Defence
Ministry that, in his opinion, what had taken place in the desert was a
war crime, and he confirmed that “at all the incidents which took place,
American troops were present.”
Barialei’s charge was confirmed by Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Taj
Muhammed Wardak. Wardak acknowledged that unarmed prisoners had been
killed in an operation that he called an “accident”. Wardak went on to
acknowledge that US troops were present during both the transportation and
killing of the prisoners. Shortly after his interview with Panorama,
Wardak resigned his post as interior minister for reasons that remain
In a comment for the Panorama programme, Christa Nickels, representing the
German parliamentary committee for Human Rights, stated that she was
convinced beyond any doubt that a massacre of prisoners had taken place.
The prisoners had previously been disarmed, and their killing was in
blatant violation of international law. She added that the statements made
by Afghan government officials served to reinforce allegations that
American Special Forces troops were present during the killings.
The United Nations had agreed to organise a fullscale investigation of the
events at Mazar-i-Sharif this spring, but according to a representative of
Physicians for Human Rights interviewed in the Panorama documentary, there
is little chance of such a probe ever taking place. No agreement has been
reached with the government of Afghanistan for the protection of those who
would do the investigating, and the UN is displaying little willingness to
ensure on its own that suitable protection be made available.
Since Doran’s film was completed, two of the eyewitnesses who testified on
camera to seeing US soldiers at the scene of the killings have themselves
been murdered. Other witnesses and co-workers of the filmmaker have
received death threats.
The Panorama documentary ends with recent footage of the desert where the
massacre took place. There are indications of digging suggesting that an
attempt is underway to destroy the evidence of a war crime. The film’s
narrator warns that a forthcoming war in Iraq, with all its new attendant
horrors, could serve to finally distract all attention from the
involvement of US forces in the war crimes carried out at Mazar-i-Sharif.
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