One year after September 11
September 6, 2002 | Pages 6 and 7
WITHIN HOURS of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the U.S. political establishment was beating the drums for war. While most people were still coping with the scale of the human loss, the politicians of both major parties had picked out Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government in Afghanistan as their targets--and were ready to pull the trigger.
But after a year, who has suffered in the U.S. "war on terrorism"? U.S. bombs killed thousands of Afghans--all but a few of them never had the least connection to bin Laden or the Taliban. A country already devastated by two decades of war--and awash in weapons, thanks to the U.S. government's intervention to back a war against the former USSR--was plunged deeper into crisis.
In the U.S., the Bush administration used the tragedy to grab new police powers. John Ashcroft's post-September 11 witch-hunt put more than 1,000 people behind bars, usually without access to their families or a lawyer--almost all of them young men of Arab descent.
And the White House began using the "war on terrorism" as an excuse to push forward on every part of their right-wing agenda--from attacking workers and their unions, to gutting regulations that protect the environment.
Now, the Bush gang is getting ready to mark the anniversary of September 11. They want to exploit this tragedy again to lay the basis for Phase Two of the "war on terror"--in Iraq. But the long list of victims, inside and outside Afghanistan, shows why we have to stand up and say no to Bush's "war on terror."
Large numbers of people opposed the drive to war in Afghanistan. While the quick U.S. military victory last year scattered antiwar forces, White House plans for a new assault on Iraq have caused growing opposition--setting the stage for a new antiwar struggle.
NICOLE COLSON looks at the consequences of the U.S. "war on terror"--abroad and at home.
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"DOES THE United States have any responsibility for the atrocities of its allies?" That shocking question was asked by a recent report in Newsweek magazine detailing the massacre of Taliban prisoners during last year's war.
Allegations have been circulating for months that Northern Alliance soldiers tortured and killed thousands of prisoners--many of them recently conscripted teenagers--after the fall of the city of Kunduz in November. According to aid workers and residents of the area, of the 8,000 Taliban soldiers taken prisoner by Northern Alliance warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, as many as 5,000 are unaccounted for.
Investigators from Physicians for Human Rights began asking questions after visiting Sheberghan prison, where the soldiers had been taken after they surrendered. More than 3,000 prisoners were crammed--sick and starving--into a facility with room for only 800, investigators said.
But the even more horrible question is what happened to the others? According to witnesses, after Kunduz fell, surrendering soldiers were blindfolded, sometimes handcuffed, and then beaten--before being crammed, 200 or 300 at a time, into metal shipping containers with no air holes and no water. The containers were then driven by dozens of trucks across the desert to Sheberghan prison, near Mazar-i-Sharif--a 24-hour trip.
One truck driver, Abdullah, told Newsweek that he knew he was witnessing a slaughter. "The only purpose was to kill the prisoners," he said. Mohammed, another driver, told reporters that he used a hammer and spike to make air holes and tried to pass water and bread to those inside.
The men from his container were lucky. They survived. Mohammed described the scene as one of the other trucks was finally opened: "They opened the doors, and the dead bodies spilled out like fish. All their clothes were ripped and wet."
The inmates of one truck paid a driver through a crack in the floor as a bribe to cut air holes and spray in water. In another container, prisoners themselves managed to rip holes in the wooden floor in order to get air. But many hundreds more died a horrific death.
Abdul, a 28-year-old prisoner in Sheberghan prison, told Newsweek his container was so packed that, after nearly 24 hours without water, prisoners were so desperate with thirst that they began licking the sweat off each other's bodies. By the time Abdul's container reached the prison, only 20 to 30 men were alive.
The thugs in control of Afghanistan say no atrocities took place. According to Dostum's spokesperson, Faizullah Zaki, some prisoners did die, but the number was "between 100 and 120 people."
But human rights workers have found undeniable evidence of at least one mass grave. "At Dasht-i-Leili, a 15-minute drive from the Northern Alliance prison at Sheberghan, scavenging animals had brought the evidence to the surface," reported Newsweek. "Some of the gnawed bones were old and bleached, but some were from bodies so recently buried the bones still carried tissue. The area of bulldozer activity--roughly an acre--suggested burials on a large scale."
Yet it's doubtful that a full investigation will ever take place. That's because any investigation would threaten the stability of the new U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai. The United Nations (UN) special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahim, admitted as much when he told reporters, "I think we have a responsibility to find out what has happened, but our responsibility to the living has to have precedence."
According to Newsweek, a confidential UN memo says that the graves "are sufficient to justify a full-fledged criminal investigation." But, the report goes on, "Considering the political sensitivity of this case and related protection concerns, it is strongly recommended that all activities relevant to this case be brought to a halt until a decision is made concerning the final goal of the exercise: criminal trial, truth commission, other, etc."
Meaning? Don't investigate the slaughter if it would be politically inconvenient.
Any inquiry would certainly be inconvenient for the U.S. "The issue nobody wants to discuss is the involvement of U.S. forces," said Jennifer Leaning, one of the investigators who visited Sheberghan. "U.S. forces were in the area at the time. What did the U.S. know, and when and where and what did they do about it?"
In June, Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Dave Lapan declared, "Central Command looked into it and found no evidence of participation or knowledge or presence. Our guys weren't there, didn't watch and didn't know about it--if indeed anything like that happened."
But U.S. Special Forces troops worked closely with Dostum during the war. Faizullah Zaki even told Newsweek that "there was a handful of American soldiers that didn't leave [Dostum's] side" during the transfer of the prisoners.
The next time Bush takes to the podium to tell the world how the U.S. military brought "democracy and peace" to Afghanistan, we should remember this slaughter--and who's to blame for it.
Did the U.S. free Afghan women?
OF ALL the lies that the Bush gang told to "sell" the war in Afghanistan, none was more cynical than the claim that Washington wanted to liberate Afghan women. "A thriving nation will respect the rights of women, because no society can prosper while denying opportunity to half its citizens," George W. Bush told cadets at the West Point military academy in June.
But the situation for women in the "new" Afghanistan is little changed. The warlords of the Northern Alliance--known for repressing women's rights just as brutally as the Taliban--control huge areas of the country.
In northern Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtuns were forced to flee for their lives from town after town in the face of a campaign of mass rapes and looting organized by rival warlords. "I meet about 250 women every day [through my work]," one woman told Human Rights Watch. "There are many mental problems with these women, because of the violence everywhere--they are afraid for their lives. There are warnings about women not to do this or that: 'Do not go to school, we will kill you if you do. Do not go to work, we will kill you.'"
In June, Afghanistan's "loya jirga"--the traditional tribal council that was run almost openly by the Bush administration--gave power to many of the same warlords who systematically abused women's rights in the years before the Taliban. "The Northern Alliance are the ones now warning us not to forget to wear our burqas," said Shahla Mahindost, a female representative to the loya jirga. "They threaten to throw acid in our faces if we don't."
Now that the war in Afghanistan is over and the Bush administration has set its sights on other targets, it seems that Afghan women just aren't important enough to merit discussion--or money--anymore.
After spending more than $2 billion a month on the war, Bush last month refused to approve legislation that would have released $134 million for relief efforts in Afghanistan. About $2.5 million of that money was earmarked for the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
Apparently, women's lives aren't worth as much as Bush once liked to claim.
Ashcroft shreds civil rights
THE SIX men charged last week with providing "material support or resources" to terrorists were the first of more than 1,200 detainees rounded up after September 11 to be formally accused of any crime even related to terrorism.
But while the Bush administration casually tossed the names of these men to the mainstream media sharks, they said nothing about the other men that they locked up--some of whom are still behind bars--or the appalling conditions that all of the detainees have faced.
Look at the case of Nabil al-Marabh, and you'll understand why. Al-Marabh, a Kuwaiti citizen, was arrested more than 11 months ago in the first wave of post-September 11 detentions. At the time, federal officials claimed that al-Marabh was one of Osama bin Laden's "key operatives." But after nearly a year of investigation, prosecutors haven't been able to accuse al-Marabh of anything more serious than an immigration violation.
That hasn't stopped the government from making al-Marabh's life a living nightmare. For the first eight months of his incarceration, al-Marabh was held in a special isolation unit--known as the "Hole"--at New York's Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). Along with about 40 other detainees, he was confined in his cell for up to 23 hours day. "It was like nothing worse than hell, and I did hunger strikes five times, asking for a lawyer, for a judge," al-Marabh recently told BBC reporter Emma Simpson.
In retaliation, guards at the facility "punished" al-Marabh by forcing him to sleep on a urine-soaked mattress for 10 days, without enough water to wash himself. Al-Marabh also describes being beaten by guards on two separate occasions.
Government officials insist that al-Marabh was never mistreated. Yet his story is eerily similar to that of Asif-Ur-Rehman Saffi, a Pakistani citizen also imprisoned for months at the MDC. Saffi says that he also suffered severe beatings at the hands of prison guards. He was never charged.
But that's par for the course for the Justice Department. And now, it looks like even a few federal judges agree. In August, a federal court ordered the Justice Department to end secret immigration and deportation hearings for detainees, declaring that they were "profoundly undemocratic."
The Justice Department is likely to appeal, but this ruling is good news for the dozens of detainees still being held indefinitely by the Bush administration.
Ready to make money off war
LEAVE IT to Wall Street to find a silver lining in Washington's discussion about a new war on Iraq.
Barton Biggs, a hot-shot stock analyst with Morgan Stanley, could barely contain his excitement about the war. "The emergence of vocal and respected opposition to the Bush administration's plan to make a pre-emptive strike against Iraq to 'preserve, protect, and defend' the Homeland from terrorism is a positive development," Biggs wrote. "Under present circumstances, a strike against Iraq would cause, in my opinion, a sharp sell-off in equity markets around the world. However, assuming an overwhelming victory and that all went well subsequently, equity markets would surge as the world would be perceived as a safer place."
Plus there's the little matter of deflecting attention from corporate crime. "The debate about Iraq also serves to distract the media and the public from obsessing about the villains of the bear market," Biggs wrote. "Everybody was to blame and everyone was greedy, including the public and the media, not just CEOs and Wall Street."