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CNN documentary on Mazar-i-Sharif prison revolt

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  • robalini
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org CNN
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2002
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.


      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      World Socialist Web Site

      CNN documentary on Mazar-i-Sharif prison revolt: film footage
      documents US war crimes
      By Kate Randall
      17 August 2002

      "House of War: The Uprising at Marzar-e-Sharif," broadcast August 3
      on CNN, documents the events at the Qala-i-Janghi prison fortress in
      northern Afghanistan last November. Broadcasting footage shot by
      German, American and other film crews, much of which has never been
      seen by a US audience, the program records events that, by their
      conclusion, would leave at least 400 captured Taliban soldiers dead.

      Pieced together, scenes from the documentary serve as an indictment
      of the US military and government for war crimes in direct violation
      of the Geneva Conventions and international law. The CNN documentary
      clearly confirms that what transpired at Mazar-i-Sharif last year can
      only be described as a massacre, led and orchestrated by US forces.

      Some of the most harrowing images come near the conclusion of the
      program, on the final night of the prison siege, as the fortress was
      bombed by US air strikes. That night, warplanes dropped 2,000-pound
      bombs on the compound. AC-130 helicopters gunships, firing up to
      1,800 rounds a minute, as well as tanks were ordered in by US forces
      on the ground. The next day, witnesses describe—and the cameras
      record—a scene of horrific carnage, with dead bodies and body parts

      Events leading up to this final assault depicted in "House of War"
      confirm that this slaughter was in no way a defensive response of the
      US and Northern Alliance forces, but was provoked and orchestrated by
      Special Forces and CIA operatives on the scene with authorization at
      the highest levels of the Bush administration and the US military.

      Footage near the beginning of the program shows Uzbek warlord General
      Rashid Dostum and his forces during the negotiation of the surrender
      of Taliban forces to the Northern Alliance near Mazar. Curiously,
      several CIA agents, donning sunglasses and scarves, accompany him.
      The program's narrator notes that while Dostum indicated that
      captured Afghans would be allowed to go home upon surrender, and
      foreign Taliban should be handed over to the UN, this notion was
      considered a "slap in the face to the Americans." The implication of
      the CIA agents' presence at the surrender negotiations is that they
      were on the scene to see to it that such a "slap in the face" did not
      take place.

      It is well-documented that during the weeklong siege of Konduz which
      preceded the Mazar-i-Sharif uprising US Defense Secretary Donald
      Rumsfeld made repeated statements calling for the killing or
      imprisonment of all captured foreign Taliban. In direct violation of
      the Geneva Conventions—which expressly prohibit discrimination on the
      basis of race, nationality or religion—all of the foreign Taliban
      were subsequently transported to the Qala-i-Janghi prison.

      Some of the most indicting footage involves the treatment of the
      prisoners following their transfer to the fortress. The program shows
      them being taken out in groups with their hands tied behind their
      backs to the prison courtyard, where they are interrogated by CIA
      agent Johnny Michael Spann and another agent referred to as "Dave."
      The narrator indicates that the US operatives are attempting to
      single out the terrorist "leaders" among the prisoners.

      The two CIA men strut among the prisoners, barking provocatively in
      their faces: "You are terrorist," and, "You come to Afghanistan to
      kill people, no?" The prisoners—who on their surrender had been led
      to believe they would be allowed to return home—were now confronted
      by the two American bullies and feared for their lives, with
      legitimate reason. CNN freelancer Robert Pelton comments: "It started
      to sink in to these prisoners they weren't going anywhere. The
      Americans want to use them for intelligence."

      Alex Perry from Time magazine underscores this point: "Threats have
      been made to the Taliban and that could quite plausibly have set off
      the revolt. You tell people they're all going to die, and then they
      talk to the CIA and that completely undermines what Dostum said about
      guaranteed security and so on."

      The situation quickly unravels. The narrator reports that "the revolt
      was under way" and the Taliban prisoners have seized the main
      weapon's store in the facility. A German news team films "Dave,"
      running from the courtyard with his Kalashnikov and pistol, as he
      arrives at another area of the fortress. He reports that prisoners
      have overpowered Spann and he believes he is dead. "Dave" says he
      shot and killed four prisoners, and he believes Spann killed two.
      Obviously shaken, he nervously attempts to fasten his pistol under
      his waistband. He then uses the German crew's satellite phone to
      contact the American Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, reportedly to
      call in air support.

      German reporter Arnim Stauth (ARD-TV) says that "Dave" is in charge
      at this point, and tells them, "It's time to go." "Dave," the film
      crew and Northern Alliance forces make their way out of the fortress
      under Taliban fire and find a car waiting for them. The narrator
      reports that "allied and US reinforcements" and "a few special
      forces" then began to arrive on the scene. The stage is set for a
      brutal assault on the fortress and its captives that will last for
      two more days. Among those on hand are the British Special Air
      Service commandos and the US 10th Mountain Division troops. The air
      raids begin.

      One of the first bombs hits the wrong target, reportedly killing six
      Afghans and wounding five Americans. The Americans don't appear
      overly concerned about bombing their allies. Some of the reporters on
      hand are enthusiastic about the show of military might. Cameraman
      Damien Degueldre comments about one of the bomb blasts that it's
      a "beautiful explosion ... pretty impressive" and one comments later
      that reporters came "looking for adventure—looking for a story. It's
      wild, just a wild story."

      The Special Forces want the journalists to do them a favor, with one
      asking, "We do a lot of cool stuff and we never get to see it—can we
      get a copy of your video?" A member of the Special Forces warns them,
      however, "Whatever you do, don't be inside the fortress tonight,"
      indicating that a scorched earth campaign is planned.

      As members of the German film crew accompany a number of the Special
      Forces as they direct the operation, one US trooper orders them to
      turn their cameras off—"I'm going to f—-ing shoot you," he says,
      clearly nervous over the operation being filmed. One of the reporters
      retort: "You're not in America. You're a guest, just like we are." In
      the end, they are allowed to continue filming, and the footage they
      capture is both gruesome and damning.

      One journalist describes the actions of the Northern Alliance forces,
      clearly operating under the direction of the Americans, as
      the "carpet-bombing approach." A number of them go to the top of the
      wall of the fortress and begin shooting into the prison to slaughter
      any Taliban prisoners still left alive after the air strikes. They
      shoot through windows. They pour huge cans of gas into the building
      followed by grenades. Finally, a tank is brought in and few final
      shots are fired.

      The Northern Alliance troops exhibit particularly heinous behavior. A
      reporter recounts how the soldiers were seen throwing rocks at the
      head of a Taliban prisoner they found alive. Footage shows the dead
      body of a Taliban being propped up as a sandbag as the soldiers
      continue to fire into the compound.

      At the time, an Associated Press photographer who entered the area
      reported seeing the bodies of about 50 prisoners, who appeared to
      have been executed with their hands tied behind their backs with
      scarves. Northern Alliance soldiers were seen cutting the scarves
      with knives and scissors, evidently to destroy evidence they had been
      executed. There were other news reports of the corpses of Taliban
      prisoners propped up in a gateway, each killed by a single bullet to
      the head.

      On Wednesday, November 28, General Dostum returned to this scene. The
      siege continued into Friday, when the US and Northern Alliance pumped
      cold water into the fortress in a final effort to rout the prisoners.
      On Saturday, those who miraculously survived the three-day assault
      finally walked out, giving themselves up.

      Among those who survived was John Walker Lindh, the so-
      called "American Taliban." Lindh is filmed shortly after his
      surrender describing the assault, clearly disoriented and in pain. He
      describes the treatment of the prisoners holed up during the
      siege, "Yesterday we were bombed; with airplanes, missiles, guns.
      They poured gas and burned us; poured water down into the basement.
      Every single one of us believed we were going to die."

      The documentary at this point flashes back to CIA agent Spann's
      interrogation of Lindh, who has been singled out for questioning and
      is seated with his hands ties behind his back. Spann says: "The
      problem is he needs to decide if he wants to live or die, and die
      here. I mean, if he don't wanna die here, he's gonna die here 'cause
      this is ... we're just gonna leave him and he's gonna sit in prison
      for the rest of his f—-ing short life. It's his decision."

      Robert Pelton comments that "in a strange way, they sort of threaten
      him with death." Spann continues: "We can only help those guys that
      want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many
      guys." In another violation of the Geneva Conventions, the CIA agent
      indicates that medical treatment will be withheld if Lindh does not

      The narrator concludes that John Walker Lindh has subsequently
      pleaded guilty to charges in the US and sentenced to 20 years in
      prison, and that the majority of those who survived the massacre at
      Mazar-i-Sharif have been transferred to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay,
      Cuba. No mention is made of the fact that these prisoners are being
      held indefinitely, without being charged; again, in violation of
      international law.

      "House of War: The Uprising at Marzar-e-Sharif" leaves one with the
      impression that the US authorities allowed journalists to film and
      report on the events because they anticipated it might result in
      useful propaganda for the US war effort; an object lesson for would-
      be rebels who might challenge US policy. While the program does
      indeed illustrate the brute force of the military campaign, at the
      same time it depicts an operation tenuously controlled by its

      Most importantly, despite the CNN's efforts to provide a "balanced"
      presentation of the events, the savage methods of the US military and
      its collaborators are clearly on display. The camera doesn't lie. The
      actions depicted in the program further substantiate that what took
      place last November in Mazar-i-Sharif was a war crime, and that the
      responsibility for the slaughter rests with the highest levels of the
      United States government and military.

      An interpreter, Jauibullah Qureshi, speaks at the end of the program
      to the level of bloodshed at the prison fortress, and the one-sided
      attack perpetrated by the Americans and their allies: "Just one
      American was killed here, Mike Spann," he says. "But more than three
      hundred of them [Taliban] were killed here, more than three hundred,
      and I saw many of them with my own eyes."
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