Obama on the Afghan Massacre

Given President Obama’s apparent order that his national security team look into the Afghan massacre, I wanted to look at the various statements about the Administration response to the massacre and disaster, because I think it speaks to the same internal tensions as described in the Klaidman story on Holder.

Risen’s original story on Afghan massacre lacked any statement from the White House. But it did have several comments from the State Department suggesting the Obama Administration was laying the groundwork to marginalize Dostum. 

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.


While President Obama has deepened the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan, sending 21,000 more American troops there to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, his administration has also tried to distance itself from Mr. Karzai, whose government is deeply unpopular and widely viewed as corrupt.

A senior State Department official said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, had told Mr. Karzai of their objections to reinstating General Dostum. The American officials have also pressed his sponsors in Turkey to delay his return to Afghanistan while talks continue with Mr. Karzai over the general’s role, said an official briefed on the matter. Asked about looking into the prisoner deaths, the official said, “We believe that anyone suspected of war crimes should be thoroughly investigated.”

While I’m not entirely sure how much the statement, "and suggested that the administration might not be hostile to an inquiry" is Risen’s or is his State Department source, it does suggest that the Obama Administration was laying the groundwork to marginalize Dostum, making it easier to conduct an investigation into his actions.

Within hours of the publication of Risen’s article, Laura Jakes had a seeming response–attributed to the Obama Administration generally–disavowing any intent or jurisdiction to conduct an investigation. The article starts by stating the opposition to an investigation generally.

Obama administration officials said Friday they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by U.S.-backed forces


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.

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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. Read more