US troops involved in Afghan shipping container massacre?

President Barack Obama says he is collecting facts about the killing of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners in November 2001, reportedly by fighters of a US-backed warlord in northern Afghanistan, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. But rights observers say they believe US forces could have been directly involved in the mass slaying.

Obama’s remarks follow an investigative report in the New York Times July 10, which asserts the Bush administration repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the killings because Dostum was on the payroll of the CIA and working closely with US Special Forces against the Taliban. Dostum—a key ally in the US-backed Northern Alliance—later became a defense official in Hamid Karzai’s transitional and elected governments. Dostum has been living in exile in Turkey since last year, when he was accused of threatening a political opponent at gunpoint.

Reports of the massacre first appeared in the world media in 2002, after human rights groups demanded an investigation. According to investigations, up to 200 prisoners were packed into individual shipping containers, each measuring a standard 40ft x 8ft x 8ft. Many suffocated or died of thirst, while others were apparently shot.

Nadir Nadiri, a member of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, told Radio Free Afghanistan there is no doubt that a major war crime was committed near the town of Sheberghan in late 2001. “It is clear that a huge crime had occurred here. A large number of war prisoners were killed. Their bodies were found buried,” Nadiri said. “Preliminary investigations have proven that a crime took place. There is no room for doubt about that.”

He also raised the possibility of direct US involvement in the crime: “The second important point in this case is to identify those who were involved in this crime. Some [Afghan] people are accused. It is also said that U.S. troops were stationed close to where the incident took place could also be seen as being complicit. It is very important for gaining the trust of Afghan people, for building trust between the public and Afghanistan’s government, to investigate this where possible.”

Also in January 2002, the group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported its discovery of an apparent mass grave in the Dasht-e-Leili desert, near Sheberghan prison. Fifteen sets of remains were found and three autopsies conducted. But the group’s request for an investigation was never acted upon by the Bush administration. Nor were similar requests from the Red Cross and the FBI. (RFE/RL, July 14; BBC News, July 13)

See our last posts on Afghanistan and US atrocities.

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