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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 11:47 GMT
Should there be an inquiry into the Mazar killings?
More than 80 survivors are reported to have emerged from the ruins of an Afghan fort-prison where hundreds of their Taleban colleagues were killed in a three-day revolt earlier this week near Mazar-e-Sharif.
A New York Times journalist, James Hill, told the BBC that 13 men surrendered on Friday, while the rest emerged on Saturday after Northern Alliance forces flooded their hiding place in the fort's basement.
It is believed the wounded were being taken to hospital, while the fittest of the survivors would be interrogated by troops under the Northern Alliance commander in the area, General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had rejected calls for an inquiry into the deaths of the prisoners, saying it would be unnecessary and impossible.
The Northern Alliance, which also lost dozens of fighters, put an end to the rebellion with the help of American bombers and US and British special forces. The Alliance says the uprising began when the prisoners killed some of their guards with guns they had reportedly smuggled into the fort, and seized more weapons.
Could, and should, an inquiry be held into the Mazar-e-Sharif killings? Or are these incidents inevitable consequences of war?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
There should be no inquiry. The prisoners brought this action upon themselves by killing their guards and the CIA agent with them. What they did was planned and was orchestrated accordingly, and if the action taken had been less forceful there would have been a lot more Alliance deaths. When these terrorists joined the Taleban, they knew what the end result of their actions could be.
There seems to be a huge amount of glee from some anti US/UK factions about those countries "being in the dock of international opinion" over this massacre which was apparently committed largely by the Northern Alliance. Perhaps it is time to remind people that this is not yet a peacekeeping mission, this is a war being fought by armies of different nations (like WW2). It has never been the responsibility of one of the armies to police the actions of the others - this is the responsibility of that army's commander. I suspect that a lot of these international bodies like Amnesty International and the UN would like to heap the sole blame on the Western forces because they know that the Afghan forces will take no notice whatsoever of their complaints and admonishments, thus exposing exactly how impotent these "international" bodies really are at influencing the activities of any region outside Western control.
How do we know that there was a revolt? I think it is all a smoke screen for killing the prisoners by Northern Alliance on the advice of US/UK administration as they would not have succeeded in getting a conviction in a court, so they chose the easiest option.
Many have said hat war is a bloody and terrible business, and terrible things are likely to happen. Of course, that's true and most of us support this war whilst accepting the consequences.
We must, however, remember what we're fighting for. If we condone, allow or make light of atrocities that are committed against our enemy, we become like them, and we lose the moral authority that supports us in the prosecution of this offensive.
We're supposed to be defending freedom and fighting terrorism. There's no point if the only freedom that counts is "ours" and the only terrorists to be eradicated are "theirs".
Why are there so many statements here justifying present treatment of the Taleban prisoners with past actions? We can only move forward into a just society by changing how we treat our fellow humans, by breaking the cycle of violence, by setting an example for future actions. There is no hope for peace and justice for ALL, if we continue to remain in the past by acting purely on vengeance. This incident should be looked into.
Sam Asher, USA
So they found some bodies burnt beyond recognition! What do you think we are still finding in the rubble of the twin towers? These Kaliban casualties were fanatics sworn to die for their perverted cause not civilians who merely went to work one day and were murdered for it. There is no sensible comparison to be made.
Britain & America are in the dock of international opinion on the Mazar kilings. They have been called to account by the UNHCR and this call has been supported by Glenys Kinnock among others. Mr Straw's assertion that somehow this atrocity can be overlooked in the heat of a vicious war should be rejected. British & American special were present and must be made accountable.
This is war, it happens! How about the 10,000 people killed by the Taleban in Bamiyan? Why not have an enquiry for that too?
If Jack Straw and others have nothing to fear, then let's have an enquiry. Strange that Jack considers the deaths of several hundreds of human beings unimportant and not worth an enquiry. What's up Jack, never heard of human rights?
This massacre should be investigated. The Northern alliance is composed of notorious criminals and if let off will carry out more massacres. The tragedy is that the US was an accomplice in this.
Those people who can justify the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can also just any act horrendous terror on the earth. This is just a small thing for them to ignore. What happened at the fort should be fully investigated.
The deaths of prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif should not be looked into. Yes they may have had their hands bound, but should Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters be treated any differently to the way they treated their POWs and civilians? No.
Dr. Zahoor, Malaysia
Of course they have a right to investigate, there is no question about that. Fighting POW with fighter jets it's something we never seen or heard in our history. It's a crime against Humanity.
My ignorance of Amnesty International may well show clearly here, but I thought that they were an international "society" (rightly) concerned about those who are falsely imprisoned and/or persecuted for their beliefs (religious and/or political)? I appreciate that these were indeed prisoners and no doubt treated harshly in their arrest. However, we seem to forget that this was the Taleban's "last stand" in this area and they revolted within the prison. As prisoners of this war, it is hardly in doubt that (like all those who are members of the Al Qaeda) they were willing to fight to the death - as war often demands. So we are essentially criticising the deaths of many prisoners who were killed as a result of their own insurrection and willingness to kill in dong so.
Is not the action of the Northern Alliance one of self-defence? Is this not a war where such occurrences and casualties are (sadly) common? During WWII didn't the Allies who tried to escape POW camps know the risk involved - that they may well not survive? But this was not merely an attempt to escape for their own safety but a deliberate intent (and quite cunning war strategy) to undermine and kill their captors? I think that Amnesty International would have been right if the reports of an insurrection are not true, or if the Northern Alliance did massacre these people for no reason other than prejudice/persecution. An enquiry would then be justified and such actions would defy international law as well.
A lot of the comments seem to be asking where Amnesty were when the human rights of Afghans were being abused. Agreed but where were the Americans too?
Unfortunate but unavoidable are the words that come to mind. How would one quell a prison revolt by well armed zealots who had come to the country "to die for Islam"? Apparently, they got their wish. As noted in another article Iraq and Pakistan asked for a "day of mourning" for the dead. Funny how there's been no similar call from them for the scores of local dead Afghani innocents, victims of these misguided jihadi's.
I think a team of Britain's best social workers should have been sent to the fort to listen to the "issues" at the heart of Taleban angst. I think some form of community service would clearly be more appropriate for these people - I'm sure if we only took the time to "understand their pain" they would lay down their rocket launchers and hand grenades, and may even join Amnesty in a poster campaign to encourage other violent psychopaths to "feel the love".
Lets hope Amnesty manage to get hold of that poor Mr Bin Laden before those nasty Americans do. I'm sure they can persuade him to end his bloody jihad over a nice mug of herbal tea and some group therapy. Then we can all rest safely in our beds and all live happily ever after.
And what shall Amnesty International do if their inquiry finds the Northern Alliance didn't conform to its western held politically correct views? slap the NA on the wrists and tell them not to do it again?
Anyway, if the Northern Alliance have nothing to hide then why not have an inquiry. We do know from reports, however, that there have been revenge killings in Kunduz and elsewhere and these revenge killings are war crimes and it makes the international community hypocrites if we persecute some war criminals (Serbs & Croats for example) and not others, just because we are allies with them. Also AI isn't saying that the allied forces should fight with one arm behind it's back, just that they should fight in accordance with international law. As to the comments about Amnesty giving aid and comfort to the enemy and should watch their steps that guy should get a grip.
They are justified to look into this. It was a massive loss of life with questionable circumstances. I have no doubt the result was needed after an uprising, bombings were used instead of sending troops in which would have ultimately been more casualties. Yet what army, government, or sane person would stockpile weapons in the same place as prisoners are to be kept. While the Northern Alliance says it needs no outside help, events like these concrete the fact that they are still far from being able to go it alone.
Definitely, if only to remind the more bloodthirsty elements of the Western public and media that it isn't up to the winning side to decide what is or is not a war crime. Amnesty exists to hold legitimate governments to account so their silence over the September 11th attacks is totally irrelevant.
The presumed guilt or barbarity of the dead has no effect whatsoever on our legal and moral obligations towards them. Even if these actions were necessary to suppress a revolt, the obligation to maintain a proportionate response remains paramount. Mr Rumsfeld's rhetoric effectively gave the besieging troops carte blanche to act as they wished. America's human rights record in Vietnam and Korea was truly appalling - and it seems they haven't learnt from that yet.
Let's face hard, cold facts here: War is a messy, bloody affair for all involved and a lot of actions in war are executed based on the ground conditions at that moment in time. Armed forces are trained to work and react in real-time: if someone is hell bent on putting a bullet in you, you neutralise that threat with all available force - period. It is easy for Amnesty International to retrospectively theorise on what should or shouldn't have happened - they weren't there on the ground as events evolved. I believe Amnesty do an excellent job in raising human rights issues in areas of the world where people's basic rights are being infringed. But the Taleban gave up their basic rights the moment those planes went into the WTC - they have duly reaped the consequences of what they tried to sow.
Russell Mason, USA
If the US had really wanted to kill all of these prisoners, why didn't they just bomb the entire fort instead of just the position from which rockets were being launched? Why would they have let the fighting continue for three days?
When Amnesty International calls for an inquiry, I for one am interested in both the result and the reason. They don't exactly have a reputation as appeasers and pacifists. What are we scared of, the wrong outcome?
I feel that the killings in Mazar-e-Sharif should be investigated. The Taleban are not cockroaches and the US is not a legitimate pest controller. Anyway, the Taleban did not start the war. They have been forced to fight. They do not even have anything to do with the September 11 attacks. Remember that the US still has not provided evidence as to who was behind it.
The Northern Alliance had already a dark record of killing. They are now committing far more heinous crimes. In Mazar-e-Sharif they killed 400 men in a school building. Now they have killed 700 prisoners of war in cold blood. This is all in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The world community must take a note of it. Surprisingly the UN is just looking on and its inaction is most condemnable. The Secretary General has not said a word about the killing of these prisoners.
Surely these guys were martyrs and are now in heaven with their 72 virgins each. So what's the problem?
Christso Georgalas, UK
Yes. Somehow the US and UK seem to think that the horrors of September 11 justify any action that they choose to take. They must be held accountable.
The chance that all of the Taleban soldiers died inside the fort before the battle was over is about zero. It is most likely the case that some who surrendered were executed. Of course Amnesty International should demand an investigation.
Did not we all expect this? It's a shame that the Americans assisted the Northern Alliance in the massacre of these prisoners by bombing the fort they were held in.
Makes you believe that the prisoners were set-up by being provided with "smuggled Arms" which would give those holding the prisoners an excuse to commit this dastardly massacre.
Amnesty is right in calling for an international inquiry.
The International community specially the US has got a moral duty to protect these prisoners even if they were the worst of our enemies.
Unlike most Afghan soldiers, these people chose to fight in a war in support of terrorism, they chose to surrender, then they chose to try and rejoin the war. They posed a current and future threat to the Alliance, which the Alliance neutralised. What is there to investigate?
Comments here about Amnesty not speaking out against the September 11 attacks, or not speaking out on women's rights. That is not Amnesty's job. They only highlight the rights of prisoners (mainly political) and have no remit to discuss anything else.
Is it just me who is reminded of all those war films where the Nazis murdered British POWs in cold blood and then said 'shot while trying to escape'? Of course this has to be investigated.
Amnesty International have the right to voice their concerns. However I find it unlikely that US and British special forces would be involved in the mass slaughter of prisoners. It seems clear that these foreign Taleban intended on staging some form of armed uprising. If it had been a massacre surely it would have been over more quickly and without the level of casualties sustained by the Northern Alliance and British and US forces? The incident needs to be investigated but unlike some commentators on this site there needs to be a sense of objectivity and a realisation that the foreign Taleban are not above staging their own last stand.
Rory McKnight, UK
Of course Amnesty is right. It is their job to stand up for prisoners' rights. Associated Press stated today that their journalist had witnessed 50 dead Taleban in the fort with their hands tied behind their backs. It would be hard to describe these cases as anything other than executions (except perhaps as murders). Of course the US has absolutely no problems with executing their own citizens often on dubious evidence so they are not going to lose sleep over a few hundred enemy deaths, even if it is a war crime.
As in any act of war, people will either be taken prisoner or killed in combat. These so-called foreign Muslin freedom fighters veterans came to Afghanistan in full knowledge of this. In what appears to have been an act in-line with the Geneva convention, the N. Alliance imprisoned their captives with the declared intention of honouring their rights as described under said convention. That these foreign elements had so little regard for the lives of their immediate captors, was an act for which they paid for dearly...with their own lives in kind. What role can the international community play in reeling in such religious fanatics?
If they're not willing to accept the roles of combat, in this case as prisoners, and would rather die trying to escape...it is they who have chosen their own fates, so why should intervention, international or otherwise, even be an issue???
What have we come to when we in the West sanction actions such as this?
The situation is very much getting out of control. A UN peace-keeping force needs to be sent in immediately and some kind of democratic government installed that reflects all the cultural groupings within this country.
No, they are not right to ask for an enquiry in this case. Those inside the fort were combatants, and thus a legitimate target for the Northern Alliance and their allies. A force of several hundred armed fighters, actively seeking their martyrdom, surely constitutes a considerable threat, and could thus be dealt with by air-strikes and tanks without this being considered disproportionate. Those involved were adults who made a choice to resist, and as veterans of war surely knew the potential consequences. I'm sure they expected a hard fight, but wished to die for their cause.
Where were Amnesty International when Yvonne Ridley and other journalists and aid workers were imprisoned by the Taleban? No outcry on their part was reported. Where was Amnesty International when the Taleban were committing myriad atrocities in the field of war, against civilians, and against people imprisoned for clipping their beards, or not wearing required dress, or listening to music? Their outrage at these events was vociferous only by its absence.
Could this just be more fashionable US/UK bashing by Amnesty. Perhaps they should worry more about the rights of victims, rather than perpetrators. Those fighting for the Taleban, were belligerents and upholders of brutal tyranny, and thus brought destruction upon themselves.
To Graham Mallaghan: For your information, Amnesty has been highly critical of the Taleban for years, long before the US or UK governments decided to do anything about them.
Ed Vista, England
What about September 11, all those 4,000 plus innocent lives? Will Amnesty even mention an inquiry for those innocent. These innocent didn't even have any firearms.
The long term effects of this inappropriate action against a regime we supported until 9/11 - even as they oppressed the Afghani people - and now using that record of oppression to justify our inappropriate tactics to respond with asymmetrical warfare,
will have some lasting dire effects upon the legitimacy of US government intentions.
My heart goes to all the families of those who lost their life on both sides of the war.
It seems we may be holding the Northern Alliance to a higher standard than we would hold ourselves to in similar, desperate circumstances.
War is a bloody business. Always was and always will be. God knows where we would all be now if Amnesty had been given free rein to criticise the Allies' actions and call for constant enquiries during two World Wars.
Zarak Khan, Afghanistan
The greatest threat to world is not Al Qaida but US refusal to act as a responsible member of the global community. The current disregard of the Geneva Convention and George Bush's Wild West rhetoric can only perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Ronald Vopel, Belgium
The idea of a handful of prisoners armed with hand weapons being attacked by US warplanes fills me with disgust. It is high time for the US to be brought down from its lofty moral position and made to stand trial for war crimes of its own.
David Levy, UK
We should have got the UN forces in early to prevent this massacre. We didn't on purpose. We have killed thousands of Afghans on purpose. Are our American friends happy? Do the deaths of these people make up for the losses in NY? Have you seen the proof that Bin Laden did it? Is Afghanistan in a better position without the Taleban? We are failing again in our International meddling. When will we learn?
Amnesty should be ashamed to even consider supporting these vile people.
I'm an Amnesty International member and I don't think Amnesty should be involved. These men wanted to be martyrs and they got their wish. End of story.
If you agree with it or not Afghanistan is in a state of war, Amnesty do an excellent job, but they have to realise in war these things happen. The Taleban involved decided to fight to the death, they decided that fate it was not thrust upon them.
The facts aren't known yet anyway, but you have to despair at the fact that jailed Taleban prisoners weren't even searched before being jailed. The sooner we get Bin Laden, then get out and let them sort it out for themselves, the better.
Amnesty has called for an inquiry. This doesn't seem to pre-judge the issue in any way so why should it be a problem? The treatment of prisoners is governed by the Geneva Convention, to which both the US and the UK are signatories, even though Afghanistan isn't. It would be reassuring to know that our obligations are being honoured despite the pressure of recent events. Let's not even contemplate becoming what we hate.
Mike Bell, UK
Like all focus groups and political police, I think maybe the group's profile has become more important than their role. Given the circumstances of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the conditions in the air-conditioned offices of Amnesty International, I do not think they could understand the problems faced by the people on the ground who are being shot at. The trend of focus groups seems to be towards the fantasy rather than the real world. Is this why people no longer pay heed to what they say?
Whilst I support the US in the War on Terror, I cannot help but feel uneasy about the killing of Prisoners of War. It would be in the best interests of the US and UK for an independent enquiry to validate the actions taken.
Let's remember, we still haven't seen any evidence that Bin Laden was behind September 11th - the whole sorry episode is just spiralling out of control because of the puerile revenge tactics of the American and British authorities.
I thought that humanity had progressed beyond such medieval instincts - but it appears we have a long way to go. Amnesty International is right is demanding an investigation and should publish the results. Anybody who is responsible for crimes against humanity must be brought to account, irrespective of which side he/she belongs to.
Amnesty International should keep their mouths shut. We are in a war, their voice could be treason. I consider it such.
Amnesty's job - as treasonous as it might seem to most hawks - is to investigate any and every occurrence where prisoners' rights are violated. Their mandate is prisoners, not acts of terrorism. Of course foreign Taleban would balk at protection from any Western Non-Governmental Organisation that pretends to care. This is a case of battle hardened fighters fighting to the bitter end. At least it showed the US/UK agenda to foreign fighters.
Over 500 Muslims have been slain in cold blood. Muslims worldwide were sensitive to the grief felt by the West during the World Trade Centre/ Pentagon attacks. Western people should show the same respect to us also. Not every PoW was armed; not every PoW initiated the events. Why these events occurred is still word of mouth - obviously not from the PoW side. It's time that not every Muslim tragedy is now compared to September 11th in order to diminish it. It seems obvious from their comments that many people don't want an investigation - what are they afraid of? The truth? So much for western Justice.
Where is Amnesty International when the perpetrators of atrocities like Sept 11th and in Northern Ireland strike? Perhaps they ought to be standing up for the "human rights" of the victims rather than the perpetrators.
It seems to me that besieging the fortress would have made more sense. We have been led to believe that food, and indeed water, is in short supply in Afghanistan. Bottling the prisoners up until their supplies dried up would probably have forced a surrender, and certainly would have reduced their fighting capabilities making storming the fort less hazardous for the Northern Alliance.
Amnesty International is quite right to be concerned - and speak out about its concerns. However, this should in no way alter the prosecution on the war effort. This was a POW revolt after all, and even under the Geneva Convention the captures - in this situation - are well within their rights to put down this sort of insurrection by any means they feel is proportionate to the circumstance...And the fact is - in this circumstance - the prisoners were not going to surrender, but instead fight to the death. It was their decision to act against their capture violently, and thus they reaped the results of their own violence.
We've already witnessed the brutal treatment of prisoners at the hands of the Northern Alliance: with their feet tied together and summary executions, in captured cities. This isn't the first time prisoners have been massacred in conflicts such as this, and a very thorough and unbiased investigation does indeed need to be carried out. It's hard to believe all 500 prisoners had access to weapons and were all willing to die. Especially considering the less than amiable track record of the Northern Alliance, itself not really much better than the Taleban.
This was the Taleban's last stand in Mazar. They were cornered and detained, and they felt threatened, so they rebelled. It's that simple. The whole point of war is "its us or them". It's a very sad fact, but that's war. They knew that they would be killed, and they have now become Martyrs, their ultimate goal. They brought it on themselves.
I don't recall Amnesty International asking Bin Laden to hold an enquiry into the WTC, Pentagon or the hi-jacked airliners to ensure that nothing "excessive" was done! Amnesty are bordering on "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" and ought to watch their step.
I am sure Amnesty will investigate and I hope politicians and historians of today and future understand that this was more of an execution plan carried out by the US and Northern Alliance. Donald Rumsfield and many others were adamant that they should not be allowed to go back to their countries. It would not have been possible to finish them off in Kunduz as Northern Alliance would have suffered heavy losses and also the Geneva convention would have been questioned. Hence, these foreign fighters were assured that they will not be harmed with guarantees of safe passages into their own countries. However, they were soon to find out the plans and in the end had no choice but to carry this to the end. By this the Americans, British and Northern Alliance have managed to convince the world it was a prison revolt safeguarding their interests and Geneva conventions all in one hit.
Maybe Amnesty International should assemble an international task force to deal with this kind of incident, of course battle hardened religious zealots would immediately become becalmed by their presence.
I'm sorry Amnesty International, but if you go around executing women because they expose an inch of skin, then you lose your "human rights". If you go around flying jets into skyscrapers, then you lose your "human rights". If you belong to an organisation that conducts these acts, then you lose your "human rights". Amnesty International - how about supporting the VICTIMS of the Taleban/Al-Queada instead?
As I understand it there was a revolt, the Taleban prisoners killed their guards. Amnesty doesn't appear to be concerned about that!
I suspect that all Amnesty will want to do is to have the US lead coalition fight with one hand tied behind their backs, and in this they must not succeed.
A war crime is a war crime even if it's committed by one of our puppet regimes.
Any incident such as this deserves to be investigated. Nothing is gained by not investigating this incident. The international community has played a part in putting the northern alliance in the strong position its now in. We all have a responsibility to ensure they don't start to commit atrocities.
Guy Hammond, England
To Guy Hammond: Amnesty were protesting the Taleban's human rights abuses well before it was fashionable to do so. To portray amnesty as somehow partisan, and against western powers, or "for" terrorists is doing no-one any favours.
I would like to point out to Guy Hammond that Amnesty has always protested against the Taleban's treatment of women. If we are to fight a war against terror we have a duty to do so from a strong moral standing and neither commit nor support atrocities. Freedom is neither protected nor served by hushing such things up.
Looks as if vengeance killing has begun. I fear the Northern Alliance will take their 'revenge' upon the whole of Afghanistan, much the same way as the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia. This will be the legacy that the US war against this sad little country will leave. I would have thought the 'International Community' would have done enough by bringing the carnage, so no role for them to play except to keep their noses out in future. They have done enough damage already.
Not only does Amnesty International have the right, they have the responsibility to examine the results of governmental actions. Then they have the responsibility to convey their findings to the world.
Killing of prisoners is never something one can be glad about but in this specific case, these prisoners had revolted and killed several of their captors. Under the laws of war (and the Geneva convention for the same matter), their captors have the right to self-defence and to assert control over their prisoners.
Mario B. Nieto, Kuwait
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