Sunday, August 18, 2002

"Later on their bones were fished up again and made
into charcoal, and charcoal into ink, which Angelo,
having a dark sense of humor, used in all his subsequent
communications with Faggio, the present document
The Crying of Lot 49

"In January, two investigators from the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights had argued their way into the nearby Sheberghan prison. What they saw shocked them. More than 3,000 Taliban prisoners—who had surrendered to the victorious Northern Alliance forces at the fall of Konduz in late November—were crammed, sick and starving, into a facility with room for only 800. The Northern Alliance commander of the prison acknowledged the charnel-house conditions, but pleaded that he had no money. He begged the PHR to send food and supplies, and to ask the United Nations to dig a well so the prisoners could drink unpolluted water.

But stories of a deeper horror came from the prisoners themselves. However awful their conditions, they were the lucky ones. They were alive. Many hundreds of their comrades, they said, had been killed on the journey to Sheberghan from Konduz by being stuffed into sealed cargo containers and left to asphyxiate. Local aid workers and Afghan officials quietly confirmed that they had heard the same stories. They confirmed, too, persistent reports about the disposal of many of the dead in mass graves at Dasht-e Leili.

[...] How many are buried at Dasht-e Leili? Haglund won’t speculate. “The only thing we know is that it’s a very large site,” says a U.N. official privy to the investigation, and there was “a high density of bodies in the trial trench.” Other sources who have investigated the killings aren’t surprised. “I can say with confidence that more than a thousand people died in the containers,” says Aziz ur Rahman Razekh, director of the Afghan Organization of Human Rights. NEWSWEEK’s extensive inquiries of prisoners, truckdrivers, Afghan militiamen and local villagers—including interviews with survivors who licked and chewed each other’s skin to stay alive—suggest also that many hundreds of people died.

[...] The killings illustrate the problems America will face if it opts to fight wars by proxy, as the United States did in Afghanistan, using small numbers of U.S. Special Forces calling in air power to support local fighters on the ground. It also raises questions about the responsibility Americans have for the conduct of allies who may have no —interest in applying protections of the Geneva Conventions. The benefit in fighting a proxy-style war in Afghanistan was victory on the cheap—cheap, at any rate, in American blood. The cost, NEWSWEEK’s investigation has established, is that American forces were working intimately with “allies” who committed what could well qualify as war crimes."

The Death Convoy of Afghanistan, Newsweek magazine, 26 August 2002