Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland
Echoes of Vietnam: American troops go native in Afghanistan
4000 Afghan soldiers who surrendered to the Northern Alliance were massacred under the supervision of US Special Forces, a documentary by British filmmaker Jamie Doran has alleged. The film, Massacre at Mazar, recently shown on Channel 5 (UK Terrestial) has prompted both the European Union and the United Nations to immediately call for a war crimes investigation.
The film shows how up to 7,500 allegedly Taliban combatants surrendered after the battle of Konduz, November 2001. The Islamic fighters who surrendered were taken to the Qala-i-Changi fort near Mazar-i-Sharif, headquarters of the Northern Alliance warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum.
What follows is hardly surprising, considering the history of the Northern Aliance and Taliban's long and bloody conflict. When General Dostun's fighters took Mazar-e Sharif from the Taliban in 1997, they threw prisoners into wells and tossed in grenades to finish them off, the United Nations reported. The Taliban settled the score when they recaptured the city in 1998; a UN report charged the Islamic militia with executing thousands of people, after subjecting many of them to severe torture.
On Nov. 25th, 2001, Taliban and al Qaida prisoners broke into armed insurrection inside the fort, apparently provoked by the presence of U.S. Special Forces among their captors. Evidence of prisoners since interviewed claimed that the interrogators were torturing suspects, and refusing them access to the Medical NGO's in the area until they collaborated. The uprising was bloodily suppressed with the help of American air power, U.S. special forces and other covert troops believed to be British. Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the "proportionality of the response" by alliance fighters and U.S. and British military personnel.
The men were packed into sealed shipping containers by General Dostum's soldiers, who were being directly monitored and supervised by US troops. They were then taken to Sheberghan prison, then under U.S. control, hundreds of miles to the northwest. about 4,000 of the 7,500 captured are now missing.
The film claims that the men died of suffocation, thirst and starvation during the journey; apart from an unknown number who were shot "accidentally" when their captors were shooting holes for 'ventilation' into the containers. One Afghan truck driver of a container, in which 200-300 prisoners were packed, told Doran he shot holes in the side to provide 'ventilation'. Over half the prisoners died on route to the desert, the driver says There are also claims that some of the containers were emptied of corpses en route, with several survivors in the death-boxes being summarily executed at the sight of the mass burial-site.
A witness, who described the stench of rotting flesh from the containers whilst filling his car with petrol, told Jamie Doran that "Blood was leaking from the vehicles. It was horrible."
Doran has film of the scene where the alleged massacre took place. Skulls, bones and clothing still protrude from the mounds of desert sand, more than six months after the alleged massacre.
The man in the centre is believed to be a US Special Forces soldier
An earlier documentary by Jamie Doran included footage of the aftermath of the Qala-i-Changi uprising and showed prisoners who hand apparently been shot with their hands tied together. It ignited an ongoing controversy about the conduct of American special operations troops and their Northern Alliance allies during the dying days of the Taliban regime.
Doran's documentary quotes eyewitnesses as saying that this was done with at least the open complicity of the 30-40 US Special Forces soldiers accompanying the convoy. The United Nations and Physicians for Human Rights, have also reported finding a mass grave in the area claimed to be the site in the documentary. Bodies were exhumed from the site by both these organisations and forensic examination revealed that all had died of suffocation. The Daily Herald in Scotland reported in late June that members of the U.S. Congress and military were also going to view the film. The Washington Post (June 13, 2002) reported that:
The witness tells the interviewer: "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck and poured acid on others."
But Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dave Lapan denied the charges to United Press International in Washington. He said he did not know whether U.S. Central Command in Florida - which runs the war in Afghanistan - had looked into allegations of torture:
"but I would consider them highly suspect in the face of it . . . our service members don't participate in torture of any type," he went on. He said U.S. soldiers are "highly trained, professional and trained in the laws of war and proper conduct."
This follows various reports which have only rarely surfaced in the mainstream media concerning the behaviour of US troops inside their areas of control in Afghanistan. Many of the reports are beginning to show worrying echoes of the Vietnam fiasco, where the further US soldiers were from Central Command, the slacker and more casual they become. This is not just a case of uniforms( as Herold noted in the response of the US Defence Department to pictures of the PM's bodyguard in action broadcast around the world recently), but overall discipline with it's consequent effects on the native population Ð as well as the drugs market back home, for example.
A website called Dissident Voice (November 3, 2002), has a comprehensive timeline of the use and dispersal of various Special Forces units in Afghan territory. The main escalation was after the Taliban had fallen, as the article by Marc W. Herold continues:
The British SAS are mentioned as being heavily involved in various actions and continues:
Amid reports that witnesses in Doran's documentary were already being rounded up and silenced, tortured, or just 'disappeared'; there is concern, especially from Doran as well as human rights lawyers and European politicians, that any evidence of war crimes will be eradicated by those who might be implicated. Doran makes the point that the witnesses have most to fear from the forces who still control their home areas. "They had absolutely nothing to gain from being in the film, but they had their lives to lose," he said, adding that a further 20 Afghan soldiers in addition to the six principal witnesses in the film have since indicated their willingness to talk about what happened.
More Special Forces involvement in Aghanistan
The independent filmmaker, whose documentaries have been seen in over 35 countries, said he decided to release a rough-cut of his account because he feared Afghan forces were poised to cover up evidence. "It is absolutely essential that the site of the mass grave is protected; otherwise the evidence will disappear," Doran told UPI in an interview after the film's debut in Strasbourg. French Euro-MP Francis Wurtz, whose left-wing group organized the special screening in Brussels, said he would call for an urgent debate in the European Parliament at the next session in July.
"We reject categorically that the ends justify the means," he told reporters. "You can't fight terrorism by treading human rights under foot."