Friday, July 10, 2009

Outrage: U.S. Covers Up Major Afghan War Crime

James Risen has an article at the New York Times about the long-time cover-up by U.S. officials during the Bush Administration to block any investigation into Dasht-e-Leili massacre. In November 2001, US military and intelligence personnel were operating jointly in northern Afghanistan when U.S. backed warlord Gen. Dostum had up to 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters locked into metal containers and suffocated to death.

From Risen's article (emphasis added)
American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A., and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official....

The question of culpability for the prisoner deaths — which may have been the most significant war crime in Afghanistan after the 2001 American-led invasion — has taken on new urgency since the general, an important ally of Mr. Karzai, was reinstated to his government post last month.
Apparently, the Obama administration has quietly tried to dissuade the Karzai government from allowing Dostum back into office, but without success.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has issued a call for a criminal probe, citing new evidence that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan in 2002. It is also calling for Attorney General Eric Holder "to investigate why the Bush Administration impeded an FBI criminal probe of the alleged Dasht-e-Leili massacre."
Physicians for Human Rights, which shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, first documented the existence of the alleged mass grave in January 2002 and since then:

-- Advocated for witnesses to be protected, the mass grave site to be secured, and for a full and impartial investigation;

-- Conducted preliminary forensic investigations — including exposing 15 remains and conducting three autopsies — under UN auspices at Dasht-e-Leili;

-- Successfully sued for compliance with a PHR Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of US government documents that reveal US intelligence knowledge of the magnitude of the alleged crime and awareness of the execution and torture of witnesses to the incidents;

-- Helped identify the US chain of command likely responsible for impeding federal investigations into the alleged massacre;

-- Discovered and reported on alleged tampering of the site; and

-- Requested satellite image analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that appears to demonstrate that tampering occurred soon after PHR filed its FOIA request in June 2006.
In a late breaking news report by AP, the Obama administration has lamely said it does not have jurisdiction to investigate the crime. This is total bullshit. As PHR put it in a press release late Friday (emphasis added):
“For US Government officials to claim that there is no legal basis to investigate this well-documented mass atrocity is absurd,” stated Physicians for Human Rights Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. “US military and intelligence personnel were operating jointly and accepted the surrender of the prisoners jointly with General Dostum’s forces in northern Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has a legal obligation to determine what US officials knew, where US personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre. These questions, nearly eight years later, remain unanswered.”

“Furthermore,” added Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher on the Dasht-e-Leili case, “The New York Times has shown that the Bush Administration engaged in a coordinated effort to prevent this alleged war crime from ever being investigated. Under the Geneva Conventions, the cover-up of a war crime can itself constitute a war crime.
PHR has a timeline of the investigation, and has posted an appeal to sign a petition to Attorney General Eric Holder to "let the FBI finally proceed with a fair and impartial investigation."

As Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher on Dasht-e-Leili, put it:
“The Bush Administration’s disregard for the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions led to torture of prisoners in Guantánamo and many other secret places.... Contrary to the legal opinions of the previous Department of Justice, the principles of the Geneva Conventions are non-negotiable, as is their enforcement. President Obama must open a full and transparent criminal probe and prosecute any US officials found to have broken the law.”
Last December, writing on the revelations surrounding the destruction of mass grave sites in Afghanistan associated with the Dasht-e-Leili massacre (from a McClatchy papers report), I wrote:
... I can't believe that NATO or U.S. forces will work strenuously to investigate war atrocities, especially as atrocities continue in the U.S.-backed military occupation of the country, and put zero faith in either NATO or the U.S.'s ability to conduct such an impartial investigation....

An international investigatory commission, independent of any government, and staffed by human rights representatives and other trusted citizens, including what representatives from the victims' families, in all the countries involved, perhaps sponsored by the UN or the ICC, should be formed to prosecute these kinds of cases, as the governments involved are too compromised. In the meantime, the work of PHR's forensic department, and the organization as a whole, deserves your support.


bootsykronos said...

Several years ago I saw video of this site, the containers, the bodies. It was gruesome... it (the video) seems to have been effectively scrubbed.

Valtin said...

Interesting. If you can remember where you saw the video, and the fact it was scrubbed, it might be worth reporting to PHR.

bootsykronos said...

I'm been trying to figure it out and drawing a blank. It was quite some time ago, different computer back then (ended up in a Goodwill bin) so the current history is a blank slate. The video, as I remember it, was one of those things you just bump into while linking over and over. Not a direct hit, unexpected. I can describe it a little: The video was shot using a cell phone I think and opened with uniformed men shooting through the walls of the containers; lots of standing around, chatting, smoking. The doors to one container opened and bodies were pulled out and fell to the ground (as I remember it the container was on a trailer, so elevated), then dragged by hand to where a bulldozer waited and pushed them into a pit.
I realize this could happen anywhere but according to the videos title it was this incident we're discussing in particular.

bootsykronos said...

By the way I read you daily and follow those links. Thanks for your hard work!

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