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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/10/09

US officials blocked Afghan mass murder investigations

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Just in case anyone cares about mass murder in this world where we're not supposed to "look back" when big guys do bad things, the New York Times is reporting that the US obstructed investigations into the mass murder in 2001 of hundreds to thousands of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum.

"At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either," said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. "The first reaction of everybody there was, 'Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.' "

The deaths were reported in 2002:

Survivors and witnesses told The New York Times and Newsweek in 2002 that, over a three-day period, Taliban prisoners were stuffed into closed metal shipping containers and given no food or water; many suffocated while being trucked to the prison. Other prisoners were killed when guards shot into the containers.

The bodies were dumped into a mass grave at Dasht-i-Laili. The grave has since been desecrated to destroy the war crimes evidence. Physicians for Human Rights has been demanding protection of the evidence and an investigation of these murders since 2002, but numerous Bush administration officials placed obstacles in the way, apparently because of the political importance of Gen. Dostum.

In 2002, Physicians for Human Rights asked Defense Department officials to open an investigation and provide security for its forensics team to conduct a more thorough examination of the gravesite. "We met with blanket denials from the Pentagon," recalls Jennifer Leaning, a board member with the group. "They said nothing happened."

In addition to protecting Doshttun, another possibility for lack of US government interest is that the US Special Forces troops who worked with Doshtun were more intimately involved with the murders, or at least the cover-up, and the administration may have been protecting this involvement. After all, as the Times reports, these troops lied and claimed that reports of the massacre, which rapidly emerged in 2002, were false.

Pentagon spokesmen have said that the United States Central Command conducted an "informal inquiry," asking Special Forces personnel members who worked with General Dostum if they knew of a mass killing by his forces. When they said they did not, the inquiry went no further.

Were these troops truly ignorant or were they, rather, lying? If, as seems most likely, the latter, then why lie, if there wasn't something to cover-up? And why were these troops obviously interested statements -- being a silent witness to a war crime is itself a crime -- taken as the last word by US officials if those officials were not anxious to quickly shut down any truth-finding effort. Were, perhaps, these Special Forces complicit in the murders or cover-up?

Of course, it is also possible that the murders of Taliban fighters were viewed by Bush administration officials as something to celebrate rather than investigate. After all, the administration had committed the country to work in the dark side. And what is more characteristic of "the dark side" than impunity for mass murder?

Answers can only be obtained by a thorough and independent investigation. Any investigation must look into not only the murders, but into the cover-up. If the Obama, Congress, and the American people don't care about possible complicity in the murder of thousands, then our country is indeed in sad shape.

By the way, I cannot ignore the irony of having an Obama State Department official tell the Times that:

"We believe that anyone suspected of war crimes should be thoroughly investigated."

After all, this is from an administration that has steadfastly asserted that US officials should not be investigated for the war crime of torture. And few in our country have even suggested trying US officials for the war crime of launching an illegal war of aggression against Iraq. Are we again seeing that American exceptionalism that states that only leaders of other countries deserve accountability for their crimes?

However, as Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues told the Times:

"There is always a time and place for justice."

If not now, the time and place for justice for Bush administration crimes may still be found.
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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
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