Northern Alliance Warlords Slaughtered POWs
Dramatic corroboration of the massacre of Afghan prisoners by the US-backed Northern Alliance at the start of the war in 2001 was last night provided by American pathologists commissioned to investigate the claims by the UN.
A vivid account of the slaughter was provided to The Observer last week by three Britons who were released from the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba more than two years after they were first seized in Afghanistan. They told how they narrowly escaped the massacre before being handed over to American forces and flown to Guantanamo Bay.
Forensic anthropologist William Haglund, who earlier led inquiries into mass graves in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone, told The Observer how he dug into an area of recently disturbed desert soil outside the town of Shebargan, and exhumed 15 bodies, a tiny sample, he said, of what may be a very large total.
Thanks to the cold and arid climate, they were well enough preserved to carry out autopsies. Haglund's conclusion 'that they died from suffocation' exactly corroborates the stories told by the Guantanamo detainees in last week's Observer .
'They are the first survivors to describe what we already believed happened to the victims we discovered,' Haglund said yesterday. 'The time has come for a full investigation, under the protection of the international community.'
Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed, from Tipton in the West Midlands, told in their interviews how weeks before they were handed over to the Americans, they were captured by Northern Alliance forces led by General Abdurrashid Dostum in November 2001, as they tried to flee war-torn Afghanistan.
At Shebargan, they were herded into two of several truck containers. Then, Iqbal said, the doors were sealed. He and the others lost consciousness, and when he came to he was 'lying on top of dead bodies, breathing the stench of their blood and urine'.
'We lived because someone made holes with a machine gun, though they were shooting low, and still more died from the bullets. When we got out, about 20 in each container were still alive.'
Haglund visited the mass grave at Shebargan twice in 2002, in the wake of the coalition's war against the Taliban. On the first occasion, he was part of a team from the US-based Physicians for Human Rights, which identified dozens of mass graves in northern Afghanistan, many containing the remains of prisoners killed by the proxy warlord forces backed by Britain and America.