US President Barack Obama said in an interview to be aired yesterday that he ordered a probe into attempts to quash an investigation into the mass execution of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reported on Friday that top officials from the previous administration of president George W. Bush discouraged separate probes by the FBI, the State Department and the Pentagon.
They wanted to hush up the killing of up to 2,000 prisoners in 2001 because it was carried out by the forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostam, an Afghan warlord then on the CIA’s payroll, it said.
“The indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention,” Obama told CNN television during his visit to Ghana over the weekend.
“So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known, and we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all of the facts gathered up,” Obama said, according to excerpts released by CNN.
“I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have, even in war,” Obama told CNN. “And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.”
A powerful commander in control of a section of northern Afghanistan, Dostam first allied with the Soviets during their invasion of the country in the 1980s. But later he sided with the Americans and received military and CIA support after the US invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Dostam’s militia worked closely with US Special Forces and was part of the Northern Alliance, which helped the US topple the Taliban.
Dostam also served as a defense official in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is facing elections this year. The killings took place in late November 2001, shortly after the invasion that ousted Kabul’s Taliban government.
Taliban prisoners captured by Dostam’s forces after a major battle in northeastern Kunduz Province were allegedly packed into shipping containers and left to suffocate, or were shot through the container walls, before being buried in mass graves. Estimates on the number of people killed have ranged from several hundred to several thousand.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) found the mass grave site in the northwestern Dasht-i-Laili desert in January 2002.
“President Obama is right to say that US and Afghan violations of the laws of war must be investigated,” Nathaniel Raymond, PHR’s lead researcher in the case, said in a statement. “If the Obama administration finds that criminal wrongdoing occurred in this case, those responsible — whether American or Afghan officials —- must be prosecuted.”
Raymond said the White House should support the appointment of a criminal prosecutor to investigate the US use of torture as well as the creation of a commission of inquiry to gather all the facts in the case.
Meanwhile, one soldier under NATO command was killed in a Taliban attack, while a district police chief and three of his bodyguards were killed by a roadside bomb, officials said yesterday.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldier died as a “result of an insurgent attack” on Sunday, the alliance said in a statement.