Afghanistan: US discouraged inquiry into mass killing of Taliban prisoners


(image: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images via NYT)

During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, an incident occured in which hundreds or thousands of Taliban POWs were killed by a warlord supported by the US.

Bush administration officials repeatedly thwarted efforts to investigate the mass killing, according to American officials and human rights groups. The warlord responsible, Abdul Rashid Dostum (shown above while campaigning for president in 2004), still retains a high position within the Afghan government. How (and if) the Obama administration will deal with ongoing calls for an investigation remains to be seen. Snip from NYT article today by James Risen:

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation -- sought by officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Red Cross and other human rights groups -- because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency 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 Karzai government, in which General Dostum has served as a defense official.

"At the White House, nobody said 'no' to an investigation, but nobody ever said 'yes,' either," said Pierre Prosper, the former war crimes ambassador for the United States. "The first reaction of everybody there was 'Oh, this is a sensitive issue. This is a touchy issue politically.' " It is not clear how -- or if -- the Obama administration will address the issue. But in recent weeks, State Department officials have quietly tried to thwart General Dostum's reappointment as military chief of staff to the president, according to several senior officials, and suggested that the administration may not be hostile to an inquiry.

U.S. Said to Have Averted Inquiry Into '01 Afghan Killings (New York Times)

Incidentally: Wikipedia says Mr. Dostum is also known as "Heavy D, and D-Diddy," and links to a subscribers-only National Geographic article as proof.


  1. to summarize: many Taliban were forced into shipping containers and left to perish in full sun. Then they machine gunned the containers. American special forces watched and probably helped.

  2. You go to war with the genocidal maniacs you have, not the genocidal maniacs you want.

  3. I can’t believe I’m about to write this. Let the flames begin.

    Is Dasht-e-Leili a war crime? Probably. Should we hope that U.S. forces would hold themselves to a standard that would forbid involvement in these horrible actions? Yes.

    Can I bring myself to harbor much sympathy for the victims? I wish I could, but the answer is no.

    These actions were committed against the same people who nowadays are
    bombing schools
    in the Swat Valley, who are apparently
    buying children
    to train for suicide bombings.

    War is evil and brutal. That brutality extends to all parties involved. Glibness doesn’t add anything to the discussion. Neither does kneejerkism.

  4. Well you don’t have to rely on sympathy for the victims. That’s why there are laws to protect everybody. (In theory at least.)

  5. #14 elevatedprimate: “Can I bring myself to harbor much sympathy for the victims? I wish I could, but the answer is no.

    These actions were committed against the same people who nowadays are
    bombing schools in the Swat Valley …”

    So hundreds of thousands of DEAD Talibans are bombing schools?

    But seriously, I suppose with the same broken logic you didn’t mind when certain actions were taken against people in certain towers, a few planes, center of London etc. After all, those victims were the same people who who have for decades f**ked up Middle-East among some other regions of the world.

    Or maybe we should make a distinction between being born and raised in particular group of people and being guilty of the actions of the worst people in the group.

  6. “If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.” — Colonel Kurtz — “Apocalypse Now!

  7. #16 bloodboiler: Can you really tell me you see no difference between Taliban fighters and the civilians killed in the towers, in central London, on the planes, etc.?

    Let me lay it out for you in basic terms: you’re not born and raised a member of the Taliban. They’re not a tribal group. They’re not an ethnicity. They’re a political and military group who do, in fact, do things like bomb schools because they don’t want little girls learning how to read.

    Are all members that extreme? No. Are some of them in it mostly for the money? Yes. Can you tell me how to identify a “good” Taliban fighter from a “bad” Taliban fighter?

    The fact is, they chose to pick up guns and fight for a cause. Should they have been abused in the manner that they were for making that choice? Probably not.

    Also, it was hundreds or thousands…not hundreds of thousands.

  8. “elevated primate” means that you have not jet managed to descend from the trees, right?

  9. It’s not a John Wayne movie. Yes, the Taliban is bad, but that doesn’t make the warlords good, and anyway, these things mean something different there than they do to Western eyes.

    Here is what Juan Cole has to say on the matter today:

    It is bad news that President Hamid Karzai has brought the old Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam back into government, especially since he was implicated in a massacre of Taliban prisoners of war in 2001. Note that Karzai is bringing back another warlord with a lot of blood on his hands, Muhammad Fahim, as his vice president. Karzai, in fact, appears to want to turn his government into warlord central. What does that say about Karzai?

  10. IS this the ‘burying people in shipping containers’ story?

    unrelated, pynchon is one of my captcha words…

  11. I suppose there are worse fates than being stuck inside of a prison camp with indefinite detention sans representation possibly being tortured for hours on end.

  12. A couple of clarifications:

    1) One poster seemed to think this is about the killing of hundreds OF thousands. It is not. It is about the killing of hundreds OR thousands.

    2) Dostam has an army. He was brought into the government to stop him from using that army to fight the government. Charging him with war crimes would be a decision to fight his army.

    This is not as simple as prosecuting or not prosecuting war crimes. It is also a decision about whether or not to try fighting a second front in Afghanistan. It may need to wait until either his army is fully absorbed by the national army, or the Taliban are defeated. Dostam’s bet seems to be that by the time his army is absorbed, this will be old news.

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