James Risen at the New York Times reports on a concerted campaign by U.S. officials during the Bush Administration to impede the investigation into the November 2001 mass killings by suffocation and shooting of up to 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters by U.S.-backed warlord forces at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan (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.
"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."
Late Friday, the
Bush Obama administration announced it would not investigate the killings, as they claim there was "no indication that U.S. military forces were there, or involved, or had any knowledge of this."
In a statement of their own late Friday, PHR countered the U.S. denial of responsibility to investigate:
"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 been investigating the massacre since it documented the existence of an alleged mass grave in January 2002. Since that time, they have conducted preliminary forensic examinations, advocated for the protection of witnesses and the security of the crime site, successfully sued for the release of US government documents (revealing US intelligence knowledge of the magnitude of the alleged crime), and helped identify who in the US chain of command was likely responsible for impeding federal investigations.
Risen’s article describes a sorry tale of stonewalling and obfuscation by U.S. government officials, including "a senior official at F.B.I. headquarters", and "blanket denials from the Pentagon" to open an investigation, or even provide security for PHR’s forensics team. As with the endless bickering over whether anyone will ever be held accountable for U.S. torture practice over the past eight years, once again a major human rights crime has been covered up, the perpetrators and higher-ups shielded by a government that has lost its political and moral moorings, drunk on visions of revenge and omnipotent power.
Risen writes (emphasis added):
Pentagon spokesmen have said that the United States Central Command conducted an “informal inquiry,” asking Special Forces personnel members who worked with General Dostum if they knew of a mass killing by his forces. When they said they did not, the inquiry went no further….
Another former defense official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, recalled that the prisoner deaths came up in a conversation with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, in early 2003.
“Somebody mentioned Dostum and the story about the containers and the possibility that this was a war crime,” the official said. “And Wolfowitz said we are not going to be going after him for that.”
One wonders if the cover-up isn’t in part to hide the complicity of U.S. Special Forces in the war crime. In any case, it’s not surprising to see the fingerprints of Wolfowitz on this, who had so much to do with engineering the "shock and awe" illegal invasion of Iraq.
PHR has a timeline of the investigation, as well as an appeal to sign a petition to Attorney General 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.”
“The State Department’s statement to the New York Times that suspected war crimes should be thoroughly investigated indicates a move towards full accountability,” added Raymond. “We stand ready to aid the US government in investigating this massacre. It is time for the cover-up to end.”
See also this post by Emptywheel.
Update: A more up-to date video is posted uptop. The previous video is moved below: