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Taliban prisoners slaughtered
How the U.S. organized a massacre

December 7, 2001 | Page 5

LEE SUSTAR reports on the U.S. role in the massacre of Taliban prisoners.

BODY PARTS were scattered across the Qala-i-Jhangi fort near Mazar-i-Sharif following the slaughter of as many as 600 prisoners by Northern Alliance troops--with help from U.S. Marines and American warplanes.

Even the rabidly pro-war Chicago Sun-Times had to run a front-page photo of the carnage under the headline: "AFGHAN JAIL BUTCHERY." And Time magazine reporter Alex Perry said that he saw 12 American and British officers "running the show"-- coordinating air strikes by U.S. warplanes and directing Northern Alliance fighters.

The bodies of the dead were handed over to the Red Cross--but not before Northern Alliance soldiers cut the bindings that tied the hands of many of the dead, according to an Associated Press photographer. First, though, the soldiers--under the command of the notorious Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum--ripped gold teeth from the mouths of the dead.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has called for an inquiry into the massacre. But Robinson's appeal--as well as a separate call for an investigation by Amnesty International--was rejected by the U.S. and British governments.

"The rejection of an inquiry…into what is apparently the single most bloody incident of the war, during which serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law may have been committed, raises questions about their commitment to the rule of law," Amnesty International said.

The Geneva convention--the international rules of warfare that the U.S. claims to uphold--explicitly bans indiscriminate attacks. "There is no doubt that the prisoners' human rights were violated," said London-based human rights lawyer Sadiq Khan.

Details were still coming to light as Socialist Worker went to press. But it's already clear that Northern Alliance troops--and U.S. forces--seized the opportunity to slaughter as many Taliban prisoners as possible.

Northern Alliance leaders claim that this savagery was justified to put down a prison uprising that began when three Taliban prisoners overpowered their guards and killed a CIA agent and two Northern Alliance officers sent to interrogate them.

Yet if this is true, why did many more Taliban soldiers--who had only recently surrendered--join the uprising despite certain defeat? Why wasn't it possible to negotiate with the prisoners after the initial incident?

The only plausible explanation is that the prisoners concluded that they were likely to be killed anyway.

"U.S. planes blasted the mini-citadel inside the fort where the Taliban's foreign fighters had been holed up for the past two days," wrote Luke Harding of Britain's Guardian newspaper November 28. "Incredibly, some survived. At 8 a.m., they even launched a counterattack, shooting dead several soldiers who had been sniping at them from ramparts. Government troops blasted the Taliban with mortars, rockets and withering gunfire. By mid-afternoon, only three of the 400-odd foreign prisoners who had originally stormed the castle on Sunday were still alive...Soldiers advised by British SAS [commandos] and U.S. special forces officers then poured oil into the thick-walled house where the Taliban were hiding. They set light to it. The last three fighters, by now armed only with a machine gun and a Kalashnikov [rifle], were forced upstairs.

"At 3:30 p.m., a tank roared into the citadel, crushing the bodies of several Pakistani and Arab Taliban volunteers lying in the way. It fired four rounds in quick succession at the Taliban's hideout from a distance of only 20 meters [about 60 feet]. The shells obliterated the building; then there was silence."

The barbarism at Qala-i-Jhangi was only the most extreme example of the systematic execution of Taliban prisoners. Pakistani soldiers with the Taliban were murdered at a school in Mazar-i-Sharif, and journalists reported systematic executions of prisoners following the Taliban surrender of Kunduz. An anti-Taliban Pashtun commander near Kandahar admits that he executed 160 Taliban soldiers.

This is not, as the media pundits would have it, a settling of scores between Afghan enemies. It's U.S. policy.

When asked about the fate of non-Afghan members of the Taliban, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters, "My hope is that they will be either be killed or taken prisoner." With U.S. forces refusing to establish prison camps and Northern Alliance troops executing prisoners, massacres are inevitable. "So with the strategic assistance of the USAF, a war crime is committed," wrote British journalist Robert Fisk.

This war--waged in the name of justice--showed its real character in the Qala-i-Jhangi fort. It's a one-sided, high-tech slaughter conducted by the world's most powerful country against one of the world's poorest ones.

Washington's war crimes

VIOLATIONS OF the Geneva convention--that is, war crimes--are nothing new for the U.S. military. A new book on the Korean War, The Bridge at No Gun Ri, highlights the systematic slaughter of as many as 400 civilian refugees by U.S. warplanes and ground troops in July 1950.

"From every direction, in every direction, people were running, panicked, helpless, not knowing what was happening, children with their hands over their ears, adults dragging children by their arms," the authors write of the bombing and strafing by U.S. planes. "Some scratched into the ground trying to hide. Others lay bloody and silent, dismembered, strewn about. Still others lay sprawled crying pitifully for help. Cows screamed. The limbs of people and animals rained down. As he lay on the ground, teenager Chung Koo-shik felt something hot land on his back. It was the head of a baby."

A U.S. soldier recalled, "Our orders was to start opening fire, and when we did, there wasn't nothing standing but a couple of cows. We fired for about an hour, an hour and a half."

The killing at No Gun Ri took place on the direct orders of top military brass. The U.S. Army and South Korean forces were retreating after a North Korean and Chinese advance, and the generals worried that peasant refugees included "infiltrators."

"The army has requested that we strafe all civilian refugee parties that are noted approaching our positions," USAF Col. Turner C. Rogers wrote in a memo the day before the slaughter at No Gun Ri. He added: "The strafing of civilians is sure to receive wide publicity and may cause embarrassment to the U.S. Air Force and to the U.S. government in its relation with the United Nations."

Rogers was no humanitarian. He suggested that army soldiers could deal with refugees instead by "shooting them as they come through."

No Gun Ri was only the most extreme example of this policy in Korea. So common was the shooting of civilian refugees that CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow filed a report on this horror--but network bosses censored him.

Censorship also played a major role in suppressing the news of more recent U.S. violations of the Geneva convention in the 1991 Gulf War. Only months after the war, Newsday reported that U.S. Army tanks bulldozed sand to bury thousands of wounded Iraqi soldiers and others alive--even as they tried to surrender. "For all I know, we could have killed thousands," said Col. Anthony Moreno, the commander who led the assault on the heaviest defenses.

Capt. Bennie Williams, who was awarded the Silver Star for his role in the assault, told Newsday, "Once we went through there, other than the ones who surrendered, there wasn't anybody left."

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