Documenting the Massacre in Mazar


Genevieve Roja, AlterNet

July 8, 2002


http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=13540


A documentary film by Scottish filmmaker Jamie Doran
titled "Massacre at Mazar" offers eyewitness testimony and film footage of
human remains and mass graves of what may be damning evidence of mass
killings at Sherberghan and Mazar-I-Sharif in Northern
Afghanistan.


The massacre allegedly took place in November 2001,
when Gen. Abdul Rashid
Dostum of the Northern Alliance took control of
Kunduz, and accepted the surrender of about 8,000 Taliban fighters that
included al-Qaeda, Chechens, Uzbeks and Pakistanis. Almost 500 suspected
al-Qaeda members were taken to the Qala Jangi prison fortress (where a
revolt would eventually leave one CIA agent dead and make John
Walker Lindh a household
name), while the remainder of the prisoners -- about
7,500 -- were loaded in containers and transported to the Qala-I-Zeini
fortress, almost halfway between Mazar-i-Sharif and Sherberghan Prison. Human
rights advocates say that close to 5,000 of the original 8,000 are missing.


Eyewitnesses in Doran's film claim that many of the
prisoners may have suffocated in the nearly airless shipping containers
en route to their destinations. Others were shot when Northern Alliance
soldiers fired into the containers to create air holes. And their bodies
may have been buried in mass graves.


Doran -- who has not released his film to the public
in order to protect the identities of eyewitnesses -- recently showed 20
minutes of his film to members of the German parliament June 12 and to the
members of the European parliament and press on June 13. The
screening drew a prompt response from human rights activists, including Andrew
McEntee, former Amnesty International UK chair, who demanded an
independent investigation. French Euro MP Francis Wurtz said he would address the
massacre at a parliament meeting this month, while his other
colleagues said they would enlist the help of the International Committee of the
Red Cross to conduct an investigation.


Doran, a veteran BBC filmmaker, says "Massacre at
Mazar" includes key testimony from various eyewitnesses who offer
compelling evidence of a human rights tragedy, including:


-- an Afghan general who explains how he helped unload
and load "around 200, maybe up to 300 [prisoners] in each" container.


-- an anonymous Afghan soldier who says he "hit the
containers with bullets to make holes for ventilation. Some of them
were killed inside  the containers and then we sent them on to Sherberghan."
When asked who gave the order, he said "the commanders ordered me to hit
the containers to make holes for ventilation and because of that some of
the prisoners were killed."


-- a local taxi driver who says he "smelled something
strange" when he stopped for gas. "I asked the petrol attendant where
the smell was coming from. He said 'Look behind you,' and there were trucks
with containers fixed on them ... Blood was leaking from the
containers -- they were full of dead bodies."


-- two civilian drivers who say they drove trucks of
men to Dasht Leili, "where [the prisoners] were shot." A driver tells
Doran that there were American soldiers present at Dasht Leili. "How many
Americans were with you?" Doran asks. The driver replies, "30 or 40."


-- an Afghan soldier who claims to have been present
"when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck and poured acid on
others. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop
them."


Doran's film -- and the allegations of mass killings
-- has received extensive media coverage in Europe, but is getting
little attention in the U.S. The lack of reaction, says Doran, puts the safety
of the graves in jeopardy with each passing day.


The U.S. military is denying any knowledge of or
involvement in a massacre.


A Pentagon official was quoted by the Guardian (U.K.)
as saying that 
"the
U.S. Central Command looked into it a few months ago,
when allegations
first surfaced when there were graves discovered in
the area of
Sherberghan prison. They looked into it and did not
substantiate any
knowledge, presence or participation of U.S. service
members." Pentagon
spokesman Marin Corps Lt. Col. Dave Lapan told
reporters that he
considered the allegations of torture to be "highly
suspect."


"Our service members don't participate in torture of
any type," said
Lapan.


Doran is skeptical about the Pentagon's position.


"Military is about chain of command," he says, "and
the question is who
was running the show? Was it the Afghans or the
Americans? If you've 
ever
seen Western forces alongside foreign forces, there's
never a question
about who's in charge." Doran says even if there is no
conclusive 
evidence
of direct American participation, the U.S. troops are
still responsible
for tragedies that occur under their watch. "[I]f
they're going to be
involved, they need to answer for this. By law," he
says.


While the extent of U.S. participation is still
debatable, the evidence
pointing to mass-scale executions is piling up.


Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights sent an
investigative team in
January and a forensics team to Afghanistan the
following month. "We 
spoke
to an NGO staff person who was an eyewitness to three
large container
trucks being backed into Sherberghan, which was being
bulldozed," PHR
consultant John Heffernan says. "There he saw a number
of Northern
Alliance soldiers, holding their arms up to their
noses, indicating a 
bad
smell."


"There was certainly evidence of skeletal remains and
clothing and
bulldozer tracks," he says. PHR's forensics experts
were later "able to
conduct a thorough assessment -- without exhuming the
bodies -- that 
these
were fresh remains." The organization compiled a
report on their 
findings
from two alleged mass graves and submitted it to the
U.S. State
Department, the Department of Defense and British
government officials.
They also sent a letter to President Karzai. "Our main
focus was the
protection of the sites so that the evidence yielded
was not 
destroyed,"
says Heffernan. "We didn't get any response from the
people in the 
States
or in England."


In May, the U.N. exhumed 15 bodies and performed
autopsies on three 
from a
test trench. They concluded that the three had died
from suffocation 
and
that the victims were ethnically Pashtun, indicating
that they were 
more
than likely Taliban. But the U.N. has not released any
statement or
announced a course of action.


However, the human rights groups who are committed to
taking action may 
be
getting in the way of justice, as well.


"I've noticed in the last week, a rivalry kicking in,"
says Doran, who 
has
been contacted by several government officials, human
rights groups and
NGOs. They're each claiming,"'We want to do the
grave,' 'No, we want to 
do
the grave.' Yet none of them are ensuring the safety
(of the graves),"
says an angry and frustrated Doran.


Heffernan agrees there is an urgent need for immediate
action, be it
exhuming the graves or ensuring their protection.


"PHR thinks it's essential that an accountability
mechanism be a truth
commission or a tribunal," he says. "Whatever will
facilitate
reconciliation and recovery so that this stuff doesn't
happen again."

Genevieve Roja is an associate editor at AlterNet.





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