US Government Covered Up War Crimes Committed by CIA’s Warlord

The NYT, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to dump this James Risen story into the Saturday news black hole, as if they were trying to hide it in a deep dark hole.

Sickeningly, that’s what the story reports: that after Afghan warlord, Rashid Dostum, let perhaps 1,500 men die in a shipping container, he dumped them all in a big hole, and the US government continued to hide his crime in a deep hole of indifference and bureaucracy.

While the deaths have been previously reported, the back story of the frustrated efforts to investigate them has not been fully told. The killings occurred in late November 2001, just days after the American-led invasion forced the ouster of the Taliban government in Kabul. Thousands of Taliban fighters surrendered to General Dostum’s forces, which were part of the American-backed Northern Alliance, in the city of Kunduz. They were then transported to a prison run by the general’s forces near the town of Shibarghan.

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-Laili, a stretch of desert just outside Shibarghan.


A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001, according to the official, who, in keeping with his organization’s policy, would speak only on condition of anonymity and declined to identify the commander.

A few months later, Dell Spry, the F.B.I.’s senior representative at the detainee prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, heard accounts of the deaths from agents he supervised there. Separately, 10 or so prisoners brought from Afghanistan reported that they had been “stacked like cordwood” in shipping containers and had to lick the perspiration off one another to survive, Mr. Spry recalled. They told similar accounts of suffocations and shootings, he said. A declassified F.B.I. report, dated January 2003, confirms that the detainees provided such accounts.

Mr. Spry, who is now an F.B.I. consultant, said he did not believe the stories because he knew that Al Qaeda trained members to fabricate tales about mistreatment. Still, the veteran agent said he thought the agency should investigate the reports “so they could be debunked.”

But a senior official at F.B.I. headquarters, whom Mr. Spry declined to identify, told him to drop the matter, saying it was not part of his mission and it would be up to the American military to investigate.

Click through to see an account of the military "investigation" of this crime–predictably, if you ask a bunch of special forces guys working with a warlord about that warlord’s war crimes, they get forgetful. 

I’m going to have more on this in the next few days, once I finish wading through the IG Report. But in the meantime, don’t let it fall into the black hole of your weekend time away from the computer!

    • emptywheel says:

      Here’s the direct link to an earlier Mary comment (though there are far more)


      What’s new about this story is the detail from inside the US: Wolfie’s arguing abotu it, the military asking a few nice questions, and so forth.

      ANd, of course, new details from Hillary trying to keep him out of Afghanistan, which is recent.

  1. mafr says:

    The New York Times can’t cover this up, cause

    It’s pretty old news.

    A british journalist/film maker made a documentary movie about it several years ago. I saw part of the movie. According to what I recall of the movie, they not only left them in the trailer, they shot it full of holes with people in it.

    • flyarm616 says:

      mafr ..I specifically remember posting about this many years ago, I believe I originally found the story at the Guardian UK..I believe…I just can’t remember exactly where I found it , but I found much Info there many years ago..I will search my files to see what I can find on it from the way back machine. But I do remember this story and the gruesome facts of the mass murders..

      • mafr says:


        This story is bringing back horrible memories for me. The lying, the bombing, wanton destruction, the murdering that started then, and has gone on, ever since. And now continued by a man I hoped would be better.

        Allying with, and protecting these kinds of murderers. And the support for such actions, or ambivilence. and the blase ignoring (or worse, suppressing ) of such things, as thought they are insignificant. (big picture, “terror” fighting)

        And, as someone else mentioned above, I relate this story to Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora. If they had captured Bin Laden, there was no excuse for invading Iraq.

        I am (thankfully I guess, ) unable to fathom this kind of corruption, depravity, I can’t think of the words.

  2. emptywheel says:

    To clarify:

    Trailer shootup: Known since 2001-2002.

    Burial: known since 2002, at least.

    Unburial and destruction of bodies: known since late last year.

    Wolfowitz’s, FBI’s, DOD’s cover-up: known since today.

    We’re getting closer and closer to US actions, rather than just the CIA’s paid warlord (that’s technically new, too, but pretty obvious). At some point this lands on Wolfie’s lap.

    • james says:

      and as with everything else that cries out for accountability, Holder and Obama will do nothing, nothing at all.

      And people will continue to defend this corporatist tool of a president as our country moves furhter and further away from anyone being held accountable for what was done i(and btw continues to be done) in our name.

  3. mafr says:

    The documentary is called:

    Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death

    The filmaker’s name is Jamie Doran, (BBC)

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mass murder of 1500 prisoners of war. It’s no different than using machine guns as the Soviets did in their massacre of prisoners in the Katyn Forest, widely regarded by the US as a war crime.

    If the US thought nothing of covering this up when a petty local warlord did it, what on earth are they hiding about their own behavior the last seven years?

    • PJEvans says:

      They’re afraid we’ll find out, and the pitchforks and torches will not be metaphorical.

    • Loo Hoo. says:

      Beg to differ. A bullet in the head is much more desirable than suffocating to death in a shipping container. What a horrible death.

    • frandor55 says:

      Obama making sure we don’t find out. Who knows? Hard to dismiss tinfoil when there might be some pretty ugly stuff still not known.

  5. Mary says:

    EW is very to the point on what Risen is giving up that is new – the degree of cover up on the “investigations.”

    The FBI agent’s observations that you couldn’t really believe crap like this bc, ya know, everyone knew that al-Qaeda lied about stuff — that they were *trained* to lie about stuff — putting that out there really helped with all the later atrocities and cover ups, didn’t it?

      • Mary says:

        You know, when they were trying to pin the Bin Laden picture on the three Brits at GITMO (a year or so after they originally shipped them there) the main questioning was done a by woman – from Washington.

        It peeves me that women seem to always be cropping up in some of the worst of the CIA stories –

        *the agent who drooled and moaned until they got to have the taxpayers pay for them to go watch a waterboarding in person – chick

        *the agent who ordered up the el-Masri snatch and then couldn’t let their torture toy go for months and months after knowing they had the wrong guy – chick (same chick)

        *the agent who assisted in the destruction of the CIA tapes – chick (maybe same chick still -one who also worked with Rodriguez and maybe even showed up in one of the destroyed tapes?)

        *the agent who helped get the false confession on the picture from the British shipping container survivor – chick.

        I guess if they were just in the lurid tales it would be so bad, but they are always in the incompetent, lurid tales. That’s the peeving part.

          • Mary says:

            There’s a disturbing mental picture – Cyndi Lauper as a CIA agent, ordering up torture and taking shipping container killing trophies back to Bush for his collection.

        • PJEvans says:

          I’ve read comments in various pieces of fiction – some by people with military experience – that when women are involved in running this kind of activity, it’s worse that when it’s being run by men.

    • bmaz says:

      Truth Or Consequences! Who are better and more consistent liars, al-Qaida or the US government?

      My chips are all in on the latter.

      • phred says:

        I owe you a coke. I typed something pretty similar as a response to Mary’s comment, but with substantially more hostility and sarcasm, so I deleted it.

        I can’t believe Risen would include such a quote in his article. After the endless lies and deceit of BushCo with recent able assists from Obama, Risen has the fucking nerve to pretend that al-Qaeda is the one with an honesty problem?!?! That’s just insulting our intelligence.

      • Mary says:

        I’m actually going to give a serious answer on that – bc I think the answer is that it depends on who the audience is.

        If the audience for the lies is the non-Muslim portions of the American public, hands down the US gov. It’s not a matter of knowing how to lie, it’s a matter of knowing how to sell the lie to your audience. I’m betting al-Qaeda does at least as well, if not better, than the US gov when it comes to lies told to someone in an isolated Muslim area or to Muslim fundamentalist audiences in even urban areas, or to non-Fundamentalist young unemployed male Muslims with a lot of rage and hormones and frustration in the cooker.

        So while I’m not sure who that means is complimented or insulted, I have to go with “it depends” as the answer.

        • phred says:

          I’m not sure I would agree with that Mary. How many people are dead now because Bush lied us into a war? Now, how many people are dead now because al-Qaeda lied to those under their influence? On an argument of sheer scale (and this is just war-related deaths, we could also easily go off on tangents related to executive/legislative backstabbing dishonesty in other areas as well), I don’t think the lies are comparable.

          • Mary says:

            On a body count, your argument wins. And that’s without throwing in the Gulf of Tonkin escapade and what that lie ended up costing.

            @20 – Mayer has said that the waterboarding field trip chick and the el-Masri chick are one in the same. I’d lay money that the one involved in the tape destruction is the same, too. The rest I wouldn’t place bets on, but once investigations started, the agent involved with el-Masri was suddenly made covert so no one could discuss her much. Nice how that one was pulled off.

            • fatster says:

              When they’re doing something wrong, you “covert” them. When they’re doing something right (say, tracking down WMDs), they’re “outted.” Funny how that works.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Two points. One, the so-called famous Manchester Al Qaeda manual does not tell members to claim they were tortured, to lie, etc. What it actually says is to expect torture from interrogators (though not from non-military prosecutorial interviews). It tells the “brothers” to get documentation right away. It never says to fake having been tortured. Chalk up another lie by the U.S. government, said loud enough and often enough that it’s now an accepted truth.

      From the “manual”:

      Interrogation: Consists of a psychological warfare and intellectual combat between the intelligence agent and the suspect through questions and answers related to one or more topics. The interrogation uses all kinds of physical and psychological techniques to break the will of the suspect and lead him to a total collapse. The agency that conducts the interrogation is the government’s questioning apparatus that belongs to the Ministry of Interior Affairs. The officers of tht apparatus graduate from the police academy. In our country, that apparatus has no values or code of ethics. It does not hesitate to use all kinds of torture and bodily and emotional harm to obtain evidence that could incriminate the suspect….

      The brother should take the following measures:

      1. Under pressure of torture in the custody of the questioning apparatus, the brother may reveal some secrets. However, in the custody of the prosecution, the interrogation does not use physical force, but may use psychological coercion (threats and harsh words).

      (Notice, btw, that Al Qaeda believes that torture can produce some “secrets.” Oddly, they don’t mention the production of false confessions. I suppose their lower level of sophistication had not yet come up with that contingency.)

  6. maryo2 says:

    Clean-up to do away with anyone who knew that al Quaeda was not responsible for 9-11? Kill 1500 to hide murdering 1 or 2 with knowledge?

  7. esseff44 says:

    I guess this guy is lucky he ended up in Minneapolis instead of a container full of dead bodies.

    He’s been sentenced, but it doesn’t say if he’s given credit for time served which would just about account for the prison term. Or does he qualify for the indefinite detention program?

    According to court documents, in March 2000, Warsame traveled through the mountains from Pakistan to Afghanistan, where he attended an al Qaeda training camp outside Kabul. For the next three to five months, Warsame received training in physical fitness, the use of weapons, and martial arts. Warsame also traveled to the front lines with the Taliban and observed combat between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.…..070909.htm

  8. Gregg Levine says:

    I never thought I’d see the day when the CIA IG report would be used as cover for a war crimes story. And that the NYT would be doing the covering. Very sad; very stupid.

  9. Civlibertarian says:

    Kunduz? These fighters surrendered to Dostum near Kunduz? In November of 2001?

    Does that mean that these poor bastards weren’t important enough to be evacuated in the Kunduz airlift (AKA the Airlift of Evil)?

    The Kunduz airlift is notable in that it was reported contemporaneously – I specifically recall reading about it then and understanding what it implied about the war on terror.

    See The ‘airlift of evil’ by Michael Moran at MSNBC from Nov. 29, 2001. (According to the MSNBC Awards page, in 2002 this story was selected for Third Place by the South Asian Journalist Association in the category Outstanding Editorial/Op-Ed on South Asia – All Media.) From Moran’s story, this might tie the Airlift of Evil to Dostum’s killing of fighters:

    Another report, this in the Times of London, quotes an alliance soldier angrily denouncing the flights, which he reasonably assumed were conducted with America’s blessing.

    “We had decided to kill all of them, and we are not happy with America for letting the planes come,” said the soldier, Mahmud Shah.

    Wikipedia’s Airlift of Evil entry includes a passage from Descent into Chaos, by Ahmed Rashid, published in 2008 (reproduced here since Wikipedia can be edited):

    One senior (U.S.) intelligence analyst told me, “The request was made by Musharraf to Bush, but Cheney took charge— a token of who was handling Musharraf at the time. The approval was not shared with anyone at State, including Colin Powell, until well after the event. Musharraf said Pakistan needed to save its dignity and its valued people. Two planes were involved, which made several sorties a night over several nights. They took off from air bases in Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan’s northern areas, and landed in Kunduz, where the evacuees were waiting on the tarmac. Certainly hundreds and perhaps as many as one thousand people escaped. Hundreds of ISI officers, Taliban commanders, and foot soldiers belonging to the IMU and al Qaeda personnel boarded the planes. What was sold as a minor extraction turned into a major air bridge. The frustrated U.S. SOF who watched it from the surrounding high ground dubbed it “Operation Evil Airlift.” Another senior U.S. diplomat told me afterward, “Musharraf fooled us because after we gave approval, the ISI may have run a much bigger operation and got out more people. We just don’t know. At the time nobody wanted to hurt Musharraf, and his prestige with the army was at stake. The real question is why Musharraf did not get his men out before. Clearly the ISI was running its own war against the Americans and did not want to leave Afghanistan until the last moment.”

    I need to buy and read the book.

    I’m sorry if this is OT, but I’ve been eager for information about the Kunduz airlift since it took place. I’d love to see more reporting on it. It happened at just about the same time as the killings in the Risen story, and it’s likely that the fighters killed by Dostum were part of the same force that was evacuated but were not important or lucky enough to get on the planes.

    • prostratedragon says:

      I recall the airlift and how openly it was covered. Made the Tora Bora caper the next month quite unsurprising, though still disheartening.

      It would be interesting to trace the course of news reported, and access by reporters to military fronts, in the wake of these two events.

      • Civlibertarian says:

        Tora Bora, yep.

        Let’s see, with the airlift out of Kunduz and Dasht-i-Leili we have two major intelligence screwups requiring coverups with the war not even two months old. And of course being a war crime Dasht-i-Leili really needed to be covered up.

        From the Nov 24, 2001 NYT article reporting on the Kunduz airlift:

        “We are not interested in having a large, long-term presence of any kind or managing P.O.W.’s,” said the American official, referring to war prisoners. “But clearly, we’d be interested in interrogating the prisoners.”

        Looks like Dostum took care of that POW issue. But it’s kinda hard interrogating someone who’s dead (or fled).

        (All the titles on the NYT stories about Afghanistan in this timeframe have an obnoxious flag-waving prefix A Nation Challenged. Given the early screwups, that we’re still fighting there all these years later, and NYT’s own admission that our puppet Karzai’s “government is deeply unpopular and widely viewed as corrupt” maybe NYT should start using the prefix A Nation Flummoxed.)

        Of course we’ve since found out that the reason for Kunduz, Dasht-i-Leili, and Tora Bora was that the administration didn’t really care about Afghanistan at all, but instead had its eyes on a different prize: Iraq.

  10. Civlibertarian says:

    EW, a shipping container should probably be shipping containers. The Afghan Massacre video shows someone saying 150-160 dead per container.

    • bobschacht says:

      KO was hot tonight, too. Don’t miss the segment with Jonathan Turley, the MSNBC site at to see the segment #4, “Can Bush be Prosecuted for Surveillance Reports?” It is 6 minutes long.

      One highlight: Why are Democrats paralyzed by fear that Bush might be prosecuted?

      This fear is for some reason the greatest obstacle to prosecution. I think it is founded on an absolutely completely mistaken reading of the Clinton impeachment. Turley thinks that they will OK an “investigation,” but not “prosecution.”

      No wonder the public thinks the Democratic Party is “weak.”

      Bob in HI

  11. Hmmm says:

    So what can the Bushies possibly try to argue here? That if the underlying atrocity occurred outside the US, then preventing investigations can’t rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

  12. Jeff Kaye says:

    Late Update:

    Flash — The Obama administration is saying it doesn’t have any grounds to investigate the killings, as it was done by foreigners! What a surprise!

    From AP:

    U.S. officials said Friday they did not have legal grounds to investigate the deaths because only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country….

    Asked about the report, Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said that since U.S. military forces were not involved in the killings, there is nothing the Defense Department could investigate.

    “There is no indication that U.S. military forces were there, or involved, or had any knowledge of this,” Lapan said. “So there was not a full investigation conducted because there was no evidence that there was anything from a DoD (Department of Defense) perspective to investigate.”

    PHR has already responded (no link yet):

    “For US Government officials to claim that there is no legal basis to investigate this well-documented mass atrocity is absurd,” stated Physicians for Human Rights Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. “US military and intelligence personnel were operating jointly and accepted the surrender of the prisoners jointly with General Dostum’s forces in northern Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has a legal obligation to determine what US officials knew, where US personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre. These questions, nearly eight years later, remain unanswered.”

    “Furthermore,” added Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher on the Dasht-e-Leili case, “The New York Times has shown that the Bush Administration engaged in a coordinated effort to prevent this alleged war crime from ever being investigated. Under the Geneva Conventions, the cover-up of a war crime can itself constitute a war crime.”

    The Obama administration response is an abomination. They appear committed to draping the banner of “war criminals” around their shivering political bones, in thrall to some core center of power that minds not any crime in its quest for infallible rule and brute force power.

    • Hmmm says:

      U.S. officials said Friday they did not have legal grounds to investigate the deaths because only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country….

      It’s so depressing when I turn out (as per @43 above) to have been right about these things…

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        No one wants to be right on this. But the truth is so bad that I and some I know can’t always say how bad it really is for fear of being rejected as Cassandras. I still suffer that fate often enough anyway. One reason I post here is because I know I won’t be so blamed. But elsewhere, feh.

        “Good” catch. Too bad you were so right.

  13. GregB says:

    War crimes, abrogration of treaties, universal spying on our own citizens, secret hit squads, renegade spy agencies……Pshaw.

    Give me some important news like Obama allegedly staring at a girls ass and headline it on Mark Halperin’s favorite website for three days straight.


  14. torgo2009 says:

    Much ado about nothing.
    It’s always fun to see what you socialists are up to each morning.

    • Blub says:

      well, look at it this way… we’re just trying to prevent you from getting tortured… lest our socialist president decide to take his cues from your Deciderer. We’re doin’ you a favor, really. Just go with it ;-P

    • applepie says:

      Unfortunately this will probably become ‘much ado about nothing.’ The NY Times is reporting on it, on a off-news day, but the Pentagon and CIA conduct massacres and mass murder rather frequently. Remember Panama?

      The killers are in our midst, as exampled by torgo’s flippant comment. And who will keep these monstrous id-focused types in check? Obama? No, I don’t think so. The wrenching changes that America has experienced under regressive Republican admins and compliant Democrats show that the only real hope for is with people like us and websites like this.

      The endless war never ends, and the torturers never stopped, and the massacres continue.

      I hope soon we can use this effective ‘whip’ tool to target legislators on issues of endless war and the monstrous anti-human behavior of the security apparatus in this militarist democracy.

      It’s either that or else torgos regressive inhumanity will triumph.

  15. Gitcheegumee says:

    “A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001,”………

    Hmmh, this was JUST after 911 occurred in NYC.

    Wouldn’t cha think ANY activity involving AlQueda would have been TOP priority for investigation?

    And anybody remember how visible the Red Cross was AT FIRST,in the aftermath of 911,but then it was embroiled in susequent years in a probe of allegedly misspent donations and funding?

    I think a couple of their directors had to step down…..

  16. Gitcheegumee says:


    Would suffocation be a violation of Geneva,if this was perpetrated by those who are not subject to Genenva convention?

    Ofcourse not.

    And THAT’S the point.

    Subcontract the dirty work to others.

    Dead men tell no tales… they especially don’t tell the truth of the complicity by foreign governments with the Taliban.

    They literally would or could not breath….a word to anyone about what they knew…ever again….just like Saddam.

  17. sopranospinner says:

    I don’t want to invoke Godwin or anything, but in what way does this differ from cattle cars? I am so ashamed. Again.

  18. Nell says:

    A military commander in the United States-led coalition rejected a request by a Red Cross official for an inquiry in late 2001, according to the official, who, in keeping with his organization’s policy, would speak only on condition of anonymity and declined to identify the commander.

    A reporter of James Risen’s experience ought to be able to determine who that is, or at least lay out the rather small list of possibilities. Dan McNeill? Stanley McChrystal? David McKiernan? (OT: vivid illustration of Jim Webb’s Born Fighting…)

    [@Gitcheegumee: You’re conflating two entirely separate Red Cross organizations and functions. The Red Cross has to maintain discretion to keep its access, and the RC official in question is almost certainly not part of the U.S. Red Cross. The raising and administration of disaster funds in the U.S. by the U.S. Red Cross is another kettle of fish altogether.]

  19. timr says:

    I for one am unsurprised. We have done much worse, covered up things that our “allies” and “clients” did. The CIA has hidden what they did ever since they were founded in 1947. As Rumsfeld would say, we don’t even know what we don’t know. My experience was totally with another agency of the FedGov but stories were passed around, different aims of differing agencies often bumped heads-the left hand never told the right hand what it was doing-the CIA has in fact, at times, operated within the US which is against the law. We have many different intel agencies, the CIA was supposed to coordinate between them, instead we now have a whole new layer and a brand new office of intel that is supposed to be the ones in overall charge. My experience was that the CIA tended to throw money at people, their thinking has always been that you can always find someone who will turn for money, however one can get a lot of BS that way and it can be quite hard to insure that the facts are in fact the real facts and not just BS. We saw how that worked out during the bush years. False stories that were aimed directly at our world view and were taken as truth by both the CIA and our political masters. The biggest operation was Irans agent Chalabi and how Iran managed the US into deposing Saddam and changing Iraq-the most deadly enemy of Iran-into a close friend/client state. Intelligence, raw intel, is useless to the politicals and the political masters, but when they decided to bypass the analysts via the little office manned by feith in the pentagon, we were doomed to failure in the entire mideast. We do many things in the name of the US which, if known, would cause a real political firestorm. We have delt with people much much worse than those “allies” in Afghanistan. We have backed govts that tortured and killed their own people all in the name of containing communism. We continue to do the same, only now it is all in the name of containing terrorism. Remember this, countries have no friends only “interests” and our agents do things in our name that do not fall within our public value system. IOW, to our intel agencies “The ends justify the means” and while the rethugs imagine that TV is reality, the show 24 is not real. Reality is much much worse.

  20. bobschacht says:

    Jeff Kaye @42 re: Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

    Thanks for calling our attention to this wonderful organization; it does important work and deserves our support.

    Bob in HI