Monday, August 17, 2009

War Criminals Romp in Afghanistan Election

Who can look at the parody of democracy in Afghanistan these days without total cynicism? The regime of President Karzai is known to be corrupt, and to have a very shaky hold on power outside of Kabul. Now the Pashtun-ethnic President is up for reelection. To get a sense of just how craven the regime in Afghanistan is, consider one of Karzai's two vice presidential running mates, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik warlord. Times UK described him, and other supporters of the current regime, which is of course backed by the U.S. and NATO forces:
Better known as Marshal Fahim, he is accused of murdering prisoners of war during the 1990s, and of running private armed militias, and involvement in kidnapping and other crimes after 2001.

Mr Karzai has also enlisted the support of Mohammad Mohaqiq and Karim Khalili, two former Mujahidin leaders from the Hazara ethnic minority who are also accused of multiple rights abuses.

Last week, the President won the backing of Ismail Khan, a Tajik former Mujahidin commander from the western city of Herat who has an equally poor rights record.
But perhaps eclipsing these criminals is the Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum. The UK Times story described him as "the most notorious of Afghanistan’s warlords, regional barons who fought a bloody civil war after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989." Now he's returned from mysterious exile in Turkey, and ready to lend Karzai a hand. Again, from the UK Times article:
Like most of them, he is accused of widespread human rights abuses, including the massacre of up to 2,000 Taleban who suffocated in cargo containers in late 2001.
Obviously, Dostum and the others are not the best exemplars of democracy or representative government, nor, would I add, a very desirable alternative to the Taliban, as bad as the latter is. Such political realities call into question the very mission of the Afghan war.

This has not escaped the notice of the Obama administration. According to the Washington Post, "Karzai's reliance on regional commanders like Dostum has concerned U.S. officials and others who fear Karzai is too willing to legitimize people with poor human rights records in order to secure votes." But Washington, committed to propping up the current Afghan regime has few options, given that it won't do the one thing it should do: disengage from Afghanistan now and pull out all U.S. and NATO forces.

One group that has called for accountability on Dostum's massacres is Physicians for Human Rights. They have called for a full investigation, including the role of U.S. Special Forces, if any, in the murder of thousands of Taliban prisoners, buried in mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili. What follows is their latest press release, focusing on the return of Dostum to Kabul, to lend Karzai a hand in the election.
August 17, 2009


Warlord General Dostum’s Return to Kabul Sparks Controversy

Rights Group Calls for Strengthening Rule of Law in Afghanistan

Cambridge, MA — In response to the return of a notorious warlord to Afghanistan from Turkey, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) renews the call it has made repeatedly over the past seven years for a full investigation of an alleged massacre of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners who surrendered in November 2001 to US and Afghan forces and who are believed to be buried in the desert of Dasht-e-Leili.

On August 16, General Abdul Rashid Dostum — who is widely reported to be partly responsible for the massacre and for a subsequent cover-up — returned to Kabul to campaign for the re-election of President Hamid Karzai in the August 20 elections. It is widely reported that President Karzai has offered General Dostum a government post in exchange for his support.

"Real and lasting peace in Afghanistan will be made possible by strengthening the rule of law and ending the culture of impunity," stated PHR CEO Frank Donaghue.

"Letting General Dostum return to any position of power before there is a thorough and transparent investigation into whether or to what extent he may have been involved in the alleged 2001 massacre, will be seen by the Afghan people as confirmation that warlords like Dostum have impunity for their crimes," continued Donaghue. "General Dostum has admitted that these prisoners surrendered jointly to US special forces and to Northern Alliance troops under his command. As Physicians for Human Rights has said for 7 years since the organization's experts discovered the alleged mass grave, the site must be secured, witnesses must be protected, and Afghanistan must join the international community in probing how these prisoners died and why General Dostum and the Bush administration reportedly impeded investigation into these alleged war crimes. PHR looks forward to appropriate action from President Obama after he receives a report from his national security team, whom he ordered to gather all the facts and report to him on whether the international laws of war were violated."

"Not only is General Dostum alleged to have committed the original war crime; he is also reportedly responsible for serious tampering with evidence," stated PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. "A Physicians for Human Rights forensic expert in 2008, working under the auspices of the UN, discovered that large pits have been dug in the area of Dasht-e-Leili where bodies are suspected to be buried. Analysis of satellite images performed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at PHR's request, shows the apparent presence of heavy earth-moving equipment at the site in August 2006. McClatchy Newspapers reported on December 11, 2008 that according to witnesses, General Dostum and his commanders "have taken all the bones and thrown them into the river." And, according to US Government documents that PHR uncovered in 2006, witnesses to this incident were "tortured, killed, or simply disappeared."

"Afghanistan must work with the international community to ensure appropriate protection of the site and any remaining physical evidence, as well as the safety of any witnesses," said Donaghue. "These would be necessary steps toward fulfilling President Obama's mandate to collect all available information about the alleged war crimes and the reported cover-up."

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical commitments, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity and justice and promotes the right to health for all. PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere.

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