Amnesty Report Details US Murder, Torture, War Crimes in Afghanistan Under Obama
A scathing new report from Amnesty International details how the US military has systematically ignored and covered up the torture and killing of innocent civilians committed by its forces in Afghanistan.
The report, titled “Left In The Dark,” contains detailed investigations of 10 separate incidents in which at least 140 civilians, including pregnant women and at least 50 children, were killed by US forces between 2009 and 2013. In nine of the 10 cases, survivors and witnesses claim they were never interviewed by the US military.
“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress,” Amnesty International Asia Pacific director Richard Bennet wrote. “The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses.”
“None of the cases that we looked into — involving more than 140 civilian deaths — were prosecuted by the US military,” added Bennett. “Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”
The Amnesty investigation focused mainly on US air strikes and night raids, including Special Forces operations, which have killed and terrorized many Afghan civilians and stoked widespread anti-Americanism.
Amnesty interviewed survivors of a botched February 2010 Special Forces night raid in Khataba, Paktia province in which numerous innocent civilians, including two pregnant women, a teenage girl, the local police chief and a district prosecutor, were killed while celebrating the birth of a grandson.
Civil servant Muhammad Tahir’s daughter, who was seven months pregnant, was killed in the raid. Tahir told the Daily Beast how he had been forced to listen to the dying woman’s last gasps and sobs while the Americans threatened to kill anyone who moved.
“She was calling out for help, maybe she wanted to share her last words before she left us forever,” Tahir said. In addition to leaving him forever, the two pregnant woman left behind 16 orphaned children between them.
When the Special Forces troops realized their error, witnesses claim they attempted to conceal their slaughter by digging bullets from the victims’ bodies with their hands and knives before washing the wounds with alcohol and lying to their superiors about what happened. US officials then attempted to conceal the atrocity by suggesting the women had been murdered, possibly in ‘honor killings’ or Taliban executions, prior to the Special Forces night raid.
“The immediate effort to cover up what had been done suggested that [the Americans] realized it was a crime,” said Joanne Mariner, author of the Amnesty report. “And changing the story over time definitely suggests a cover-up.”
US and NATO officials initially denied killing the civilians or covering up their deaths. But NATO officials later acknowledged evidence to the contrary.
“There was evidence of tampering at the scene, walls being washed, bullets dug out of holes in the wall,” a NATO official told the New York Times, adding that investigators “couldn’t find bullets from the wounds in the body.”
Four years later, Tahir and other survivors and witnesses are still waiting to be interviewed by US officials, who pledged a thorough investigation and accountability.
“America, the killed nation, we will never forgive you,” vowed Tahir.
In addition to the killing of innocent civilians, the Amnesty report also details forcible disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture committed by US forces during the supposedly torture-free Obama era. Many of these alleged war crimes occurred in Wardak province, where what has been described as a “rogue US unit” based at Combat Outpost Nerkh reportedly committed war crimes and atrocities with impunity.
Ministry of Culture employee Qandi Agha, 51, was captured by US forces who stormed his home and dragged him off to a dark wooden cell.
“On the first night, the Americans told me they were going to try 14 different types of torture on me,” Agha told Amnesty. “If I survived, they said they’d let me go.”
Agha claims the Americans subjected him to electric shocks, beatings, interrupted drowning, hanging from the ceiling, partial burial and exposure to extreme cold. He also claims to have had a string tied around his penis for four days so that he could not urinate. These torture techniques are among those which have been previously reported to have been committed by US military and intelligence personnel during the course of the 13-year global war against terrorism.
“Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick,” Agha told Amnesty. “They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor.”
Agha also says half of the eight men he was imprisoned with died while in US custody. He claims to have personally witnessed an American commando beat detainee Sayed Muhammed to death. The same “rogue unit” that captured him has been implicated in the disappearance or killing of at least 15 Afghans, with many more reportedly tortured.
“A lot of bodies were found showing horrendous crimes of torture — people missing body parts and people whose corpses have been mutilated,” said Mariner.
There have been multiple reports of US forces desecrating Afghan corpses during the course of the 13-year war.
As is so often the case, US officials at first denied allegations of atrocities committed by Special Forces based at Combat Outpost Nerkh. But by February 2013, those allegations were so pervasive that Afghan President Hamid Karzai took the unprecedented step of expelling all US Special Forces troops from Wardak province.
“The US knew about complaints, and that obviously raises concerns as to why this wasn’t stopped sooner, because the abuses went on,” said Mariner. “There were people who were disappeared as late as February.”
Throughout his candidacy and into the early days of his administration, President Barack Obama pledged to end the torture that plagued America’s forces — and reputation — during the Bush era.
“I intend to close Guantánamo, and I will follow through on that,” Obama said on CBS 60 Minutes shortly after his historic 2008 election victory. “I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”
But even during the early days of his tenure, there were reports that torture continued under the new guard.
Earlier this month, Obama publicly acknowledged for the first time that “we tortured some folks.” Although the president was referring to crimes committed during the Bush administration, few corporate mainstream media outlets reported that Obama only said that he had banned “some” — not “all” — of the “extraordinary interrogation techniques” practiced under Bush.
Obama has disappointed many progressives, not only by failing to close Guantánamo, but also by refusing to bring the Bush officials responsible for torture to justice despite promising to do so during his 2008 presidential campaign.
But after taking office, Obama said he was “more interested in looking forward than… in looking backwards.” Not only did the president refuse to prosecute anyone in connection with the illegal torture of terror suspects, the Justice Department provided legal aid for John Yoo, the Bush lawyer who authored a memo claiming anti-torture laws did not apply to overseas terror detainees. The DOJ under Eric Holder also attempted to prevent torture victims from suing Yoo.
Under both US and international law, failure to prosecute those responsible for torture is itself a war crime.
Despite what the Amnesty report calls “abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes,” no one has been criminally prosecuted for the overwhelming majority of the incidents in the latest Afghanistan investigation. Amnesty says thousands of Afghan families have waited in vain for justice for their slain loved ones.
The trouble is, the US military, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is responsible for investigating and policing the actions of its own troops. This creates obvious conflicts of interest. Military officials have routinely failed to properly investigate alleged war crimes and atrocities. Worse, it appears that in some cases, such as the Khataba massacre, officials have engaged in cover-ups. All of this is happening under the watch of a president who claims to have ended torture.
“President Obama has admitted that ‘we tortured’ people in the past — but this is not the Bush administration, this is torture happening under Obama,” asserted Mariner.
Amnesty said it is aware of only six cases since 2009 in which US troops have faced trial for war crimes and atrocities committed in Afghanistan. Only two of the scores of witnesses and survivors interviewed for the Amnesty report said they had been contacted by US investigators. Often, victims’ relatives reported being kept in the dark when investigations did occur.
A Pentagon spokesman interviewed by the Daily Beast did not deny any of the allegations in the Amnesty report, but claimed that the Pentagon does not condone or allow torture.
“The Department of Defense does not permit its personnel to engage in acts of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any person in its custody,” said Maj. Bradlee Avots.
Amnesty urged the Pentagon to “immediately investigate all the cases” documented in the new report.
“The victims and their family members deserve justice,” wrote Bennett.
The report also urged reform of a “deeply flawed US military justice system.”
“Lacking independent prosecutorial authorities, it expects soldiers and commanders to report potential human rights violations themselves,” the report states, noting that “the conflict of interest is clear.”
Back in Khataba, Muhammad Tahir is still waiting for justice.
“We lost five members of the family and about 20 kids became orphans,” he lamented to the Daily Beast. “What was our crime? Can the Americans tell us?”
Tagged Afghan night raids, afghanistan civilian casualties, Afghanistan war crimes, american torture, Amnesty International, Barack Obama, bush torture, Combat Outpost Nerkh, Khataba raid, NATO. ISAF, obama torture, the pentagon, u.s. war crimes, war in Afghanistan