Rohrabacher’s Team for Decentralizing Afghan Government: War Criminal, Thief and War Hawk

Portion of mass grave of Dostum's victims excavated in 2002 by Physicians for Human Rights. (Physicians for Human Rights photo)

Yesterday, I pointed out that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai denied entry to his country by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) over the weekend. At the end of that post, I posed a question:

Rohrabacher’s freedom-fighting then gave us a wonderful “hero” by the name of Osama bin Laden. Who will his latest adventures bring us?

It turns out that we can get a good handle on whom Rohrabacher wishes to promote in Afghanistan by going back to Rohrabacher’s own press release arising from his January 9 meeting in Berlin that brought his feud with Karzai to a head. Although Rohrabacher would like us to think that he is arguing for a more decentralized model of government in Afghanistan, his real motivation is revealed in the opening sentence of the press release, where he states he brought a group together “to discuss alternatives to Hamid Karazi’s consideration of including the Taliban in Afghanistan’s coalition government”.

Once again, we see Rohrabacher’s primary operating principle at work. His actions are determined by whom he has chosen as his enemy. Unfortunately, once Rohrabacher has chosen his enemy, all he seeks in an ally is someone who also opposes that enemy. As noted yesterday, that was the process that led him and his Freedom Fighters in the Reagan administration to ally us with Osama bin Laden against the Soviets when they were in Afghanistan. Now, with Karzai daring to negotiate with the Taliban, Rohrabacher has decided to team with anyone in Afghanistan whom he sees as opposing the Taliban. In doing so, he chose for his meeting in Berlin to present a group of “National Front Leaders” that contains the war lord responsible for the largest, most heinous war crime committed in Afghanistan since the turn of the century, a criminal former vice president of the country who was stopped with a suitcase containing $52 million and a former security chief described as an unapologetic hawk who advocates escalating the war in Afghanistan.

Batting leadoff for Rohrabacher’s All Stars is the notorious war criminal Rashid Dostum. As a war lord in the Northern Alliance, Dostum was responsible for the killing of approximately two thousand prisoners who had surrendered in November of 2001:

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 said to have been buried in a mass grave in Dasht-i-Leili, a stretch of desert just outside Shibarghan.

A recently declassified 2002 State Department intelligence report states that one source, whose identity is redacted, concluded that about 1,500 Taliban prisoners died. Estimates from other witnesses or human rights groups range from several hundred to several thousand. The report also says that several Afghan witnesses were later tortured or killed.

Of course, Dostum denies the charges, but his denial rings hollow. What is particularly galling about Rohrabacher wanting to team with Dostum now is that the prisoners Dostum killed were Taliban fighters who had surrendered to him after the fall of the government in Kabul. That means that Rohrabacher’s view of “decentralizing” government in Afghanistan means to bring to the negotiating table the war criminal who has murdered more Taliban fighters than anyone else in the world to negotiate with … the Taliban. Clearly, Rohrabacher is more interested in punishing the Taliban and driving them away from negotiations than in finding a peaceful route to a democratic form of government.

It should also be noted that Risen’s article discussed the numerous times investigation of Dostum’s war crimes was blocked, perhaps because Dostum had been on the CIA’s payroll and perhaps because US special forces may have been present during parts or all of the commission of the atrocities by Dostum’s forces. At the time the article was written, Karzai had just brought Dostum back into a ceremonial role in Afghanistan’s military. Notably, the State Department argued strongly against such a move:

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. 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 government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had 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 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.’ ”

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 might not be hostile to an inquiry.

It seems particularly fitting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the one who had to deliver the news to Rohrabacher that he would not be allowed into Afghanistan since it was her State Department that had lobbied against a return of Dostum to the Afghan government and Rohrabacher was angling for an even larger role for Dostum.

The other two figures chosen by Rohrabacher for his meeting in Berlin are also characterized as rabidly anti-Taliban (so, of course, Rohrabacher wanted to team with them). They are former Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud and former intelligence chief Amruallah Saleh.

Despite Rohrabacher’s continued harping on the corrupt nature of the Afghan government, in choosing to team up with with Massoud, he is aligning with known corruption:

Classified diplomatic cables lay bare the extent of corruption at the highest level in Afghanistan, with cash apparently pouring out of the country.

One report claims former vice-president Ahmad Zia Massoud flew into Dubai with $52million in cash and was never asked to explain where it came from.

And, just like Rohrabacher, Saleh defines himself by his hatred for the Taliban:

He is an unapologetic hawk who wants NATO and Afghan forces to escalate the war — more night raids, more targeting killings, more drones inside Pakistan. Many, including President Karzai, believe he is misguided and reckless but Amrullah insists that a greater civil war is inevitable unless the Taliban, their sponsors in Pakistan, and Al Qaeda are forever defeated.

I find it very hard to believe that these are the best candidates who can be found to be put forward for the important task of guiding Afghanistan through the huge challenges it will face as NATO forces leave. Karzai is indeed corrupt, but saddling him with a war criminal, more corruption and a violent war hawk will only make things worse.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
25 replies
  1. Bob Schacht says:

    This reminds me of the old schtick, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” During the Cold War, it lead to our teaming up with tinpot dictators all over the world who were “anti-Communists” and therefore our allies.

    Bob in AZ

  2. matt carmody says:

    Dana just wants his boys in so that he can get his cut of the profits from the CIA-protected opium trade.

  3. Jim White says:

    Rohrabacher’s response to my tweet of link to this post, just now on Twitter:

    How about attacking policy not people. Oppose giving Afghan to Taliban, support traditional village and tribal culture focus

    To which I replied:

    The problem is that your policy seems to be to find someone sharing common enemy, not best person for reaching goals.

  4. harpie says:

    One thing I don’t get is what business members of Congress have meddling in these kinds of issues. It’s not really in their job descriptions, is it?

  5. Jim White says:

    Heh. I forgot to check until just now to see if Rohrabacher went crying to Josh Rogin again. Yup, he did. Here’s the link to Josh letting Dana vent on how gosh-darn unfair it is that Karzai doesn’t want him in the country:

    Even though he mentions the January Berlin meeting as being a part of the Karzai-Rohrabacher feud, he doesn’t bother to mention Dostum’s name…

  6. matt carmody says:

    @harpie: Well, there is that little thing in Article 2 about the president being the foreign policy representative of the US and the executive relies on the advice and consent of the senate in making treaties. Members of the House of Representatives aren’t mentioned.

    It never stopped Charlie Wilson. Maybe Dana’s looking for a movie deal.

  7. Gitcheegumee says:

    Jim, it may be worth revisiting the John Walker Lindh/Dostum connection.

    Remember ,John Walker Lindh was one of the first victims of Rumsfeld’s directives to” take the gloves off” treatment..AND he was dubbed in the press as American Taliban..

  8. hcgorman says:

    In 2005 when I first volunteered to represent men at guantanamo I went to a two day preparation class (for lack of a better description) given by the Center for Constitutional Rights for the volunteer attorneys. During the course of the two days they had a former detainee speak to us via video. He was a Brit and he was in London. He had just been released a few months earlier. He was one of the tipton three I believe. He told us of his arrest and being placed in one of many shipping containers-along with many other men- that they were stuffed in the container and it was hot and there was no air-not to mention water- and that the men started screaming that they had no air and they couldn’t breathe. The “soldiers” used their machine guns and shot holes through the shipping containers and said something like “now you have air holes…” and they laughed. Being an english speaker he recognized American accents along with the Northern Alliance. I don’t remember the number of men that he guessed were in his particular shipping container but it was a staggering number (I have it written down somewhere) but he said when the container was finally opened up only a small fraction of the men were alive. He was one of the lucky ones. He knew that this was Dostum’s men and he knew the location where he was at. I also wrote all of that down at the time. I think it was around 2007 when the site of this particular war crime was bulldozed- there was a small account in the news at the time because human rights groups were protesting that the area needed to be protected for possible war crimes trials and to locate the remains of the many dead…. the bulldozing continued.

  9. Gitcheegumee says:


    Your comment brought to mind a couple of earlier threads:

    Did CIA Misrepresent Interrogation Policy to Court in Passaro Case ……/did-cia-misrepresent-interrogation-p…

    Apr 12, 2010 – … but I think Passaro was trying to get the discovery re: John Walker Lindh, … in the time frame Lindh was being subjected to his metal coffin, …

    Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s and Abu Zubaydah’s Coffins | Emptywheel…/ibn-sheikh-al-libis-and-abu-zubayda…

    Mar 2, 2010 – John Walker Lindh was kept in a coffin sized box. … fastened him to a stretcher with duct tape and placed him in a metal shipping container.

    NOTE: I second harpie’s sentiment -thank you so very much for your noble efforts.

  10. Jim White says:

    @hcgorman: I want to echo the thanks from harpie and Gitcheegumee.

    The fact that US folks, most likely special forces (or perhaps even CIA) does seem to be one of the leading reasons why the multiple calls for a real investigation have been quietly scuttled. However, since so many people do know of Dostum, I’m still stuck with having no explanation for Rohrabacher choosing to work with him other than using him as a ploy to make sure the Taliban would never be interested in negotiating with any group of which Dostum is a part.

  11. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Perverse is right; dancing is just not my gig. Ask my wife’s feet…

    The twitter conversation with Rohrabacher did continue through the afternoon along with comments from one of his Baloch friends. In the end, we all did agree that we would like to see democratic elections.

  12. ondelette says:

    @Gitcheegumee: It’s amazing, isn’t it? General Dostum’s container magic migrated from Dasht-i-Leili to Forward Operating Base Rhino in a couple of weeks and got used on Lindh. It still isn’t clear that all the people up near Kunduz were actually Taliban who ended up in those boxes, because there are still uninvestigated rumors of Pakistani transport planes taking off in the night. But the good money on how a torture tactic moves that fast is on the CIA. Dostum was known for that stuff, he had a reputation for chasing prisoners around closed courtyards in tanks until they ground beneath the tracks, well before Kunduz. And Lindh’s version of the torture changed in print, I’d be willing to swear I’d heard a more brutal version.

    If Rohrabacher has anything to do with the CIA funding warlords in 2002, then he’s on my list of people who should be tried for treason.

  13. Gitcheegumee says:


    Ondelette, it is most interesting to enter Michael Chertoff and Jonh Walker Lindh into your search engine.
    Just for the record,here’s salient timeline worth review:

    Lindh took a plea deal offered by Chertoff,on July 15,2002- just the day BEFORE the infamous July 16,2002 Yoo meeting.

    Part of Lind’s deal was a gag order to NOT talk about torture he received at hands of his captors while aboard torture ships.

    That same day of the Yoo meeting ,7/16/02,Bush publicly unveiled the Homeland Security Plan to the country.

    You may also want to check out an informative 2010 Mother Jones piece on Rohrabacher’s Afghan adventures.(The photo of a heavily bearded and Afghani garbed Dana is worth the prioce of admission,btw.)

    Dana Rohrabacher’s War | Mother Jones

    … In 1988, shortly after winning his first term in Congress, Dana Rohrabacher dabbled … Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, says …

  14. ondelette says:


    Lindh received some ‘treatment’ before ever going aboard any ships. It involved containers, and happened at Camp Rhino or thereabouts. There’s only one way for that treatment to have been learned at Camp Rhino, when it was treatment that came from General Dostum. Somebody brought it there.

    Have you ever read Darius Rejali?

  15. ondelette says:

    He wrote a book called Torture and Democracy. It’s an authoritative text on how torture comes about and spreads, and why societies resort to it.

  16. Gitcheegumee says:

    Thanks to Ondelette and harpie for the info.

    I recognize the cover of the book,and seems that I posted something about this book on a Jeff Kaye thread long ago…or perhaps it was Jeff who posted about Rejali.

    I am getting the names Darius Rejali and Dahr Jamail confused..*G*

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