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Casualties and War Crimes in Afghanistan
"Although, the Taliban regime has been portrayed in the Western media as an Islamic regime which implemented Islamic law and traditions, neither the Taliban or its practices are based on the Qur’an or the life of prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), but are rooted in tribal heritages and environmental influences."
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, set off a putrid spiral of death and destruction. The countless atrocities affected every aspect of Afghan life, but civilians sustained the most disturbing and outrageous losses. Their horror and tremendous agony has, for the most part, been either ignored or glossed over by Western news conglomerates which is yet another form of atrocity.
Although the violence and bloodshed has been carried out by a sordid and varied group of perpetrators ( i.e. warlords, mullahs, gangsters and killers), there are two major players in this grotesque theater of suffering and death.
Soviet Atrocities in Afghanistan
During the Soviet military aggression in Afghanistan, over one million Afghans died and millions more were wounded or left to fend for themselves without the benefit of food, water, medical care, or housing. There were also numerous eyewitness accounts of incredible cruelty and acts of cold calculated murder. One such act was observed by a doctor in September of 1984 who witnessed Soviet troops in a Afghan village: "They tied them up and piled them like wood. They poured gasoline over them and burned them alive."
An Afghan resistance leader recounted how Soviet soldiers treated civilians who were left behind when another village was abandoned: "The Russians tied dynamite to their backs and blew them up." Another eyewitness described a fiendish practice that Russians used to extract information about the mujahadeen (Muslim freedom fighters): "They would slowly roast a child over fire".
The Soviets also, reportedly would encircle villages, enter every dwelling, and kill every inhabitant, including old men, women and children. Before leaving, they would burn down the entire village. A 1986 report gives a chilling account:
"In three small villages near Qandahar, last year, the Soviets killed close to 350 women and children in retaliation for a Mujahadeen attack in the vicinity. After slitting the throats of the children, disemboweling pregnant women, raping, shooting and mutilating others, the Russians poured a substance on the bodies which caused instant decomposition."
Angelo Rasanayogan, offers an analysis of the frustration of fighting an elusive opponent and the tactical brutality of the Russian invasion in his book, Afghanistan: A Modern History:
"The frustration of waging what appeared to be an ‘unwinnable war’ against uconventional guerilla forces, denied the Soviets the prospect of ever hoping to permanently pacify the countryside or to expand the areas under their control. The mujahadeen were like Mao Tse Tung’s fish in the sea, and the Soviets in the mid-1980's began to adopt a policy aimed at draining the sea itself. Civilians were driven out of their homes as Soviet forces indiscriminately bombed villages and destroyed crops, orchards and irrigation systems, and scattered anti-personnel mines over large tracts of the country-side where a guerilla presence was suspected".
Other eyewitnesses describe harrowing incidents of cruelty and almost unspeakable butchery:
"The Russians took 14 of us and made us stand in a line near this wall. Two Russian soldiers stood in front of us with machine guns. We began reciting The Holy Kalima from the Holy Qur’an, because we knew we were about to die. They machined gunned everyone of us. I fell. There were a pile of bodies, all on top of me. The soldiers searched us and took our money.
They moved me but I just pretended to be dead."
An unidentified Soviet soldier described what he perceived as, "..no such thing as a peaceful population, they were all guerrilla fighters. I remember how we once rounded up all the women and children, poured kerosene over them and set fire to them. Yes, it was cruel. Yes, we did it, but those kids were torturing our wounded soldiers with knives."
Another Russian describes the wanton lack of regard for human life, and what he perceives as reasons for the Soviet soldiers propensity to kill without restraint:
"A young soldier might kill just to test his gun, or if he’s curious to see what the inside of a human being looks like or whats inside a smashed head. But there is also the fact that if you don’t kill, you’ll get killed.
It’s a feeling of being drunk on blood. Often you kill out of boredom or because you just feel like doing it—it’s like hunting rabbits."
Maynom, an Afghan villager from Laghman province, describes a living hell:
"The rockets were falling all around us like leaves off a tree. My daughter’s head was smashed open. Her brains were hanging from a branch. I lost Everything–my cousins, my nephews, everybody was killed–my wife, four children."
With the numerous methods of inflicting suffering and devastation on a defenseless civilian population, there are none as revolting and as devilish as the purposeful targeting of children with the dispersal of millions of land mines.
Many of these explosive devises were designed to look like toys, and were fashioned in bright colors to attract the curiosity of children. These land bombs were shaped like butterflies, or kites, or made of translucent plastic (making them especially irresistible to unsuspecting children. Apparently, the purpose was to murder and to maim chidren who the Soviets feared would mature into freedom fighters. This practice, while either ignored or overlooked by Western media, is documented by independent news sources.
The term Taliban has become almost synonymous with human rights abuses and dogmatic zealotry. The evidence shows that this is deservedly so. Howbeit, there are actors behind the scenes, lurking in the shadows, who have played an integral part in launching the Taliban into a major power in Afghanistan.
No doubt, the facts that support cruelty and barbarity on the part of the Taliban are indeed numerous. Later in this section I will attempt to shed some light on how those countries in the region and in the West, facilitated the Taliban’s rise to power, and how they initially ignored its human rights violations so long as it was believed profitable and expedient to do so.
Reports by human rights investigators, indicate that on August 8, 1998, Taliban militiamen and zealots, slaughtered 5,00 civilians in a veritable orgy of mass killing and bloodletting. Reportedly, Taliban militiamen hunted down members of the Hazara ethnic group (Hazara are Shia Muslims considered apostates by the Taliban) and systematically killed them in several ways. Some were riddled with bullets as horrified family members looked on. Some were put to the knife, others were temporarily imprisoned and then summarily murdered in groups by makeshift firing squads. Still others were packed like cattle into tractor trailers and left to suffocate in the sweltering sun. Later, according to eyewitnesses, the dead bodies were dumped like garbage into twisted, grotesque heaps.
Some of the human rights abuses that the Taliban are accused of are torture and ill treatment including beatings in public places, judicial floggings and amputations. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were displaced or fled the country as a result of the Taliban’s intolerable and harsh policies. Also, thousands of Tajiks, were forced from their homes by the deliberate destruction of water supply and irrigation systems. Likewise, thousands of people were held for periods of up to several months on account of their ethnicity. Hundreds of women were beaten by Taliban guards in detention centers or in public places including shops, streets, and bus stops for defying Taliban decrees. Thousands of men were detained and pummeled for alleged un-Islamic behavior or for being accused of not following policies declared by the Taliban.
US and Pakistani Support of the Taliban
Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, there were reports that the United States and Pakistan actively supported the Taliban and ignored human rights violations by the Taliban regime. This was done to promote geo-political leverage and power in the area and to facilitate the construction of a natural gas pipeline from the region of the Eastern Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan.
A’ad Abukhalil reports in his revealing book, ‘Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New War on Terrorism.’ :
What remains mysterious is the extent of America’s involvement in the rise of the Taliban. In a recent interview, the former Saudi Ambassador to Afghanistan, maintains that the US was directly involved in the sponsor-ship of the Taliban because they were anti-Iranian. There is no question that the US tolerated their emergence, and it was no coincidence that their regime, that extended official recognition to the Taliban, were also close allies to the US, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan.
None of these regimes withdrew their recognition of Taliban authority over Afghanistan until after September 11. And we have no information regarding American displeasure with the recognition prior to that date.
The United States government has a long and sordid history of turning a blind eye to the crimes of brutal dictatorships, so long as these regimes are supportive of US economic and political desires. Somoza in South America, the Shah in Iran, apartheid in South Africa, Noriega in Panama, and Papa and Baby Doc in Haiti, are but a few examples.
Nafeez Ahmed, explains in his expose’ "Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the United States:
"Western powers therefore remain content with primarily ignoring Afghanistan’s humanitarian catastrophe; refraining from implementing any significant action. Western motives becomes clearer when one recalls that it was the United States that originally trained and armed the faction in Afghanistan, even long before the USSR sent in troops.
The record illustrates the existence of an ongoing relationship between the United States and the Taliban. AI reports that even though the United States has denied any links with the Taliban, according to then US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel, Afghanistan was a "crucible of strategic interest" during the Cold War, though she denied any US influence or support of factions in Afghanistan today. Yet Raphel’s denial of US interests in the region also stands in contradiction to the fact that, as AI reports, "many Afghanistan analysts believe that the United States has had close political links with the Taliban militia.
From the beginning, Pakistan was a major player in the formation of the Taliban, seeing them as allies and as potential buffers between Iran and its growing presence in the region.
Initially Pakistan’s former ruler Zia ul Haq, was a chief sponsor of the Taliban and so-called fundamentalist factions, providing money, supplies, and logistics as well as setting up religious schools throughout the Afghan- Pakistan border areas.
Although, the Taliban regime has been portrayed in the Western media as an Islamic regime which implemented Islamic law and traditions, neither the Taliban or its practices are based on the Qur’an or the life of prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), but are rooted in tribal heritages and environmental influences. Sadly, most people are unable to keep their harsh treatment in dangerous and hostile surroundings from impacting their mental perspectives and their physical actions. The Taliban, spawned in a chaotic environment and reared in crippling war stricken refugee camps, have imposed their own anguished and distorted vision of Islam and used it to funnel its rage and frustration and (in the process) allowed itself to be utilized as pawns for powerful outside interests.
Looked at through the crumbling facade of American benevolence and support of human rights, US atrocities are especially insidious and despicable.
It is revolting enough when a government is involved in the indiscriminate killing of civilians and the flagrant disregard of international law; but it is particularly disturbing when this government attempts to camouflage it crimes as acts of humanitarian aid and to portray murder and mayhem with such misleading and antiseptic terms as "smart bombs", "surgical strikes", "Operation Breadbasket" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom."
It should not be overlooked, that within the last 50 years, virtually all of the targets of political shenanigans and military assaults have been non-White. The pattern is long and undeniable. Whether making war on the people of Vietnam, the invasion of Panama, the support of despots in Africa, the sorties fired against Libya , the occupation and machinations in Somalia, the support of rebel groups in Cuba and Nicaragua, the missel strikes on a medicine factory in Sudan (along with the financing of destabilizing and destructive forces in the South), the bombing war and subsequent sanctions against Iraq, and more recently the illegal aggression perpetuated on the people of Afghanistan and the outrageous invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq: the evidence is irrefutable.
This section will focus on three areas when detailing US atrocities. The first will give a brief history of American atrocities perpetuated on people of color almost from the moment the first colonists set foot on the American continent. The second will cite US human rights violations against the civilian population of Afghanistan. And lastly, the torture and Geneva Convention violations committed against suspected Taliban prisoners of war, will be highlighted.
American Atrocities, A Historical Perspective
A society can be defined as a group of people that share similar values, principles, and morals that flow from a collective interpretation of concepts of civilization derived from past experiences. When we use this criteria, while studying the roots of American society, a revealing and disturbing pattern is discernable.
American information agencies, educational institutions, and entertainment and cultural networks are very proficient at devising myths, legends, and fantasies. The United States has long been promoted as a country of superior civilization, and a place brought to economic prominence through the dedication and industriousness of hard working European immigrants. Stories of pious pilgrims, rugged frontiersmen, brave soldiers, and honest, straight shooting lawmen are plentiful and have literally become a part of the nation’s folklore. Yet beneath this self-serving and mythical facade of American history and cultural roots, a devious and ugly portrait arises.
On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus, lost and weatherbeaten, landed on an island in the Carribean. He soon realized that (unlike most European colonizers) the Natives he encountered were a compassionate people who shared what they had, and were willing to accept people (even total strangers) at face value and to treat them with kindness. Even the gold and silver that the Europeans were so excited over, held no intrinsic value for the indigenous people. Columbus wrote in his journal:
They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded all that they owned.... They were well built, with good bodies and handsome features....They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants, with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do exactly what we want.
Columbus and his men began a greedy and murderous rampage that would last for centuries. The Spaniards, driven by their quest for gold, land, and other resources, systematically starved, butchered, and diseased to death millions of the indigenous inhabitants. Las Casas, a Spanish conqueror and chronicler, gave a clear account:
Endless testimonies prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives....
But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then....The admiral, it is true, was as blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians...
The mass slaughter that Columbus initiated in Central and South America, Ponce de Leon set in motion in the North. His "expedition" implemented a cold, premeditated, genocidal policy of mass murder by forced labor, beatings, amputations, and burnings. Moreover millions of Native Americans died of bubonic plague, typhus, measles, tuberculosis, and venereal disease.
In colonial North America, the English added to the slaughter. In 1763 "Lord" Jeffrey Amherst ordered his henchmen to infect the tribes of Pontiac’s Algonquin Indians "by means of small pox contaminated blankets, as well as every other means to exterminate this execrable race."
Once the land was stolen, and then eradicated of its indigenous population, labor was needed to clear the terrain of trees and boulders, to work the fields, and to wrest wealth from the bowels of the soil. At first the Indians were tried a slaves, but they proved unsuitable and prompted the European powers to look elsewhere. In ghastly concert, they rested their rapacious sights on Africa. What followed was an onslaught of rape, pillage, mass murder and torture; so protracted and terrible, it would disgrace a nation of savages.
For a period of 400 years, Africa was plundered, and as massive as the physical torment and destruction perpetuated on Africans and their descendants, the mental damage and misery that it (perhaps the worst holocaust ever) caused is immeasurable. Packed into the holds of filthy slave ships like sardines, shackled and forced to lie for months in human blood, mucus, and feces; the screams of the agonizing and the dying echo through the centuries.
Once they landed in the Americas, the Africans fared no better. Whipped and worked like donkeys, stripped of their language, culture, and religion. Robbed of not only their labor, but of their inventions, ideas, and skills. Sold and traded like inanimate objects or things. This barbaric system of misery and horror over a period of years or decades would have been vile enough: but when we reflect on how it continued unchecked for centuries, it boggles the mind.
With the advent of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution (far from liberating people of color) a new form of bondage was legalized and instituted firmly in place.
Black people, powerless, landless, and penniless after hundreds of years of forced labor and chattel existence, had little recourse but to return to the plantation as "sharecroppers" or to be starved, lynched, or beaten to death by their European American countrymen who had succumbed to collective delusional racism.
America has attained economic power and prestige through the oppression and exploitation of people of color as a primary source of wealth, resources and cheap labor. Indeed, the United States has never liberated its blighted masses from this subservient position. Slavery was not abolished with the amendments to the constitution, nor were the various systems , institutions, and agencies of violence, intimidation, and economic exploitation, abolished with proclamations and toothless civil rights bills. It is only appearances that have changed. But the kernel of neo-colonialism and neo- slavery are still firmly intact.
The historical record indicates that America has always initiated and maintained a system of violence and exploitation regarding poor Whites and people of color. And this propensity or inclination continues to have a sickening impact on American traditions, cultural values, inter-personal relationships, and foreign policy. This, in short, has been the pattern of American history. And sadly, it is also the legacy that confronts us today.
US Arial Bombing of Civilians
To kill another human being is not easy. Even professional soldiers are often reluctant or squeamish when killing at close quarters, where they can see and hear the terrible results of their actions: the torn and gaping flesh, the spray of blood, bone, and brain, the look of surprise and horror in the eyes of their victims.
In modern warfare, with advancements in technology and sophisticated forms of ariel bombing, killing has become impersonal and detached. The horror of infantry regiments shooting and hacking their way through enemy territory is described and most people shudder at the thought. But the carnage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (where a single bomb extinguished the lives of over a hundred thousand civilians and permanently injured millions more), somehow does not illicit the same horror and revulsion. Likewise, little international concern is exhibited toward the thousands of Afghan civilians who are the victims of American bombing campaigns, although the US military has displayed a willingness to target heavily populated civilian areas. Author Richard Heckler offers some insight on this propensity to kill from the air in his book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit:
The combatants in modern warfare pitch bombs from 20,000 feet in the morning causing untold suffering to a civilian population, and then eat hamburgers for dinner hundreds of miles away from the drop zone.
The prehistoric warrior met his foe in a direct struggle of sinew, muscle, and spirit. If flesh was torn or bone broken, he felt it give way under his hand. And though death was more rare than common (perhaps because he felt the pulse of life and the nearness of death under his fingers), he also had to live his days remembering the man’s eyes whose skull he crushed.
From the first World Wars, through the carpet bombing of Laos and Vietnam, to the ariel bombardment of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has shown a readiness to kill civilians and to destroy civilian infrastructures. The American public has generally been lethargic about the weaponry being used in its name against human beings from other lands, allowing itself to be satisfied with misleading and dubious reports from corporate controlled media outlets.
The extent of the effects of the bombardment, the loss of human life, the injuries(both physical and mental) and the subsequent enmity for America will, perhaps, never be known. It should be reiterated that although for the corporate bureaucrats in Washington, the military brass, and the pilots dropping their hellish wares the war is impersonal; yet for the Afghans( the young and the old, the innocent and the defenseless) the bombs are very personal indeed. The following is a few of their stories:
"I and all my classmates are very sad because of the situation in our homeland. When our teacher said in the class that many people have been killed in Afghanistan, I and all my classmates started weeping because everyone has relatives there. I expect America not to kill the poor Afghans. They are hungry and poor." (An Afghan girl) Kate Holt, a reporter for the Independent, gives an account:
"The living are as much casualties as the dead. Bibi is one of thousands of innocent people who have been forced to flee their homes as the bombing of Taliban targets continue in the ‘War against terror.’ Her’s is a terrible tale. ‘The bombs started falling from the sky,’ she recalls.
‘My husband ran outside to find our son and then he screamed. I ran to the door. He and my son were lying dead. The rest of us left when the fighting had stopped. We just wanted to get away from the bombs and the killing.’
And eyewitness, Mohammad Gul, a worker at a Kandahar hospital gives a unique perspective:
"Since the American bombing started, a lot of people died. Bombs were hitting peoples houses. They damaged lots of houses and they injured and killed lots of innocent people. We were there and I saw about 50 people who died and some became injured.
There are no health facilities and medicine. The Taliban do not have the power to stop American bombing, because the planes are very high and the anti-aircraft (guns) can’t reach them. When the bombing stops, people come out of their houses and continue their life under the pressure of war.
Because of the bombing, no one can sleep. Women and children cannot eat or drink anything. Everyone is looking to the sky and waiting and thinking when will the American aircraft come and start killing them."
It is estimated that since October 7, 2001, the US has dropped over 18,000 bombs on Afghanistan, a poor country already suffering and ravished from a decade of Soviet warfare and occupation.
There is a strange practice that the American military initiated, which illustrates the madness of those who formulate the procedures and practices of war. Before the bombs were dropped on Afghanistan, the US first dropped food parcels. As if to express a desire that Americans liked their victims well fed, or as if to imply that Afghans are so naive (or so primitive) as to pacified by bread before bombs.
Although the brunt of "war" has turned from Afghanistan and been launched on Iraq, the people of Afghanistan are still suffering from the effects of the devastation. There has been no consistent, coordinated effort to re-build the country. And the construction projects, that were initially mandated to rebuild the country, have been abandoned. This includes the building of schools, roads, housing, water facilities, food production, and medical faculties. This, in the light of the fact that, historically, the US has funneled billions of dollars and extensive resources into rebuilding countries it destroyed during the second World War (i.e. Germany, Japan, and France) gives validity to the argument that the so- called war on terror is in actuality a war on Islam.
In American jurisprudence, if a person aids and abets another in the commission of a crime, then that person shares in the guilt. Likewise, America must shoulder the responsibility for the torture, brutality, and massacres inflicted upon suspected Taliban operatives and sympathizers by the US backed Northern Alliance.
Reportedly Taliban prisoners have been locked inside metal containers to simmer and suffocate in the mid-summer heat. Others have been drowned in wells. Still others have been tied up, blind folded, lined up and summarily shot. Also, the forces of the Northern Alliance, have been engaged in widespread rape and murder, while been lauded as freedom fighters and celebrated as Afghan patriots.
Those Taliban prisoners which are not murdered outright, are held in deplorable conditions in overcrowded and filthy holding pens and crumbling fortresses doubling as jails. In these places of detention, food and medical care is minimal or nonexistent, and, predictably, there are reports of torture being used.
President Bush, and Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, have given torturers the green light by arbitrarily classifying Taliban prisoners of war as "unlawful combatants" in a contrived effort to strip them of their right to humane treatment stipulated by the Geneva Convention and by the Convention Against Torture.
Article 3 of the Geneva Convention prohibits violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture of prisoners of war. And Article 20 mandates that prisoners of war be provided with sufficient food and water and with clothing and medical attention.
There are reliable reports of prisoners being tortured in United States facilities in Guantamano Bay, Cuba and at the military bass at Bagram in Afghainistan. Some of the methods used are: to shackle prisoners for hours in painful "stress" positions, to bombard prisoners with extremely loud music and bright lights, to apply sensory deprivation techniques, to coral prisoners in holding pens exposed to the outside elements of extreme cold and heat, to use fiendish psychological techniques including the threat of rape to coerce and to humiliate pow’s, and to beat, threaten, forcibly shave, and withhold religious and other basic necessities such as soap, towels, clothing, and bedding.
Notes and References:
. "The Eighties Club:47, Afghanistan" accessible online at:
. A. Rasaanayagam "Afghanistan, A Modern History" I.B. Taurus &Co. New York, N.Y. (2003), p.115
. Muhammad Hanif (Villager, Laghman Province) accessible online at:
. M.J. Gohari, "The Taliban: Ascent to Power" Oxford University Press, New York, (2000), p.102
 Ibid p.p. 105, 106
. A. Abu Khalil, "Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism" Seven Stories Press, (2002), p.p. 55,56
. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed " Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the United States" Media Monitors Network, posted May 2, 2001, accessible online at: http://www.mediamonitors.net/mosaddeq2.html
. Howard Zinn "A People’s History of the United States" HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc, New York, NY (2003) p. 1
. Ibid p. 6
. "Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox Blankets" accessible online at: http://www.college.ucla.edu/webproject/micro12/
. Dave Grossman, "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" Little, Brown & Co. (1995) p.p. 99.100
. Kate Holt, The Independent (November 25, 2001)
. BBC News Online (Thursday, 25, October, 2000)
. Gary Leupp, counterPunch.org (July 16, 2002)
. Mona Dokainish "Bush is judge, jury and executer" accessible online at: http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/
by courtesy & © 2004 Steven Malik Shelton
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