U.S. Atrocity in Afghanistan: The Convoy of Death

Revolutionary Worker #1247, July 25, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

The following correspondence was received from a member of the Chicago Revolutionary Writers and Artists Collective.

All around the bombs were falling and the sound of machine-gun fire filled the air. As many of the prisoners ran and ducked for cover through the halls of the fortress-prison, it was abundantly clear that not all of them would make it.

The prisoners, many of them reportedly fighters with al-Qaida or Afghanistan's Taliban government, had staged an uprising in this Qalai Janghi prison in northern Afghanistan during the U.S. war in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. Some accounts say their revolt was triggered by brutal treatment and that, in the opening minutes of their revolt, these prisoners had first killed the CIA agent who was in charge of interrogating them.

As they lost control of the prison, the Northern Alliance troops and U.S. Special Forces brought down their full wrath on the uprising--including artillery and aerial bombing. Prisoners watched and cried as men were shot down or blown into pieces. Many prisoners headed to an underground bunker. Hundreds of other prisoners were tied up and could not escape the onslaught, and many of them simply died, with their hands behind their backs, sitting in the middle of the open courtyard. Those who ran for the underground bunker dodged and stepped over the separated arms, legs, torsos, and heads of the bound prisoners. As the violent explosions and gunfire began to fade away, prisoners could hear the voices of the Americans screaming out demands, in a language most of them could not understand.

The prisoners who survived the bombardments and heavy fire eventually surrendered--hoping against hope that this would be the worst of the massacres they would experience. In fact as they emerged from the underground bunker to surrender, they were told not to be scared, that they would be taken to another prison and put under the jurisdiction of the UN.

They would soon find out this was a lie and the worst was yet to come.

The survivors were rounded up and put into what was left of the massive courtyard of the prison--surrounded by the dead, including hundreds of torsos with their arms still tied behind their backs. Most of the prisoners were grouped by nationality and their heads were covered with black bags. And as American soldiers stood some of them up, to pose these trembling prisoners for demeaning and disgusting photographs, the prisoners could hear through their dark masks the approaching rumbling of dozens of large trucks.

Under sweltering heat, close to 1,000 men were loaded and crammed into massive containers on the back of these trucks -- many of them wounded or dying from the attacks on the prison. The prisoners were packed in so tight that nobody had an inch to move. The doors of the containers came down and were sealed tight. It did not take long to realize that the containers were absolutely airtight. As the trucks slowly began to move out, the trapped men immediately began to scream out and gasp for breath, begging that the doors be opened. They continued to yell and after a few minutes, the trucks rolled to a halt. The prisoners could hear some muffled orders being yelled outside the trucks. There was a moment when nobody knew what would happen. And then the explosions of gunfire rang into the desert air, as bullets came piercing through the walls of the containers and into the bodies of the men crammed at the edges. The truck drivers, who were local men forced by the U.S. and Northern Alliance to provide transport, watched in horror from the outside as blood came gushing out of the fresh bullet holes and the screaming became more intense. Inside, the men on the edges were dying or wounded but there was hardly room for them to even fall. The little air that now circulated through the containers through the newly formed "ventilation holes" was hardly a solace as the engines roared and the trucks started moving again.

The prisoners did not know it but they were headed to another prison called Sheberghan, which was 75 miles away. After a number of grueling hours, the trucks lined up outside the prison walls and rolled to a stop. Already, the hundreds of men inside the containers were immersed in blood, urine, and vomit. Some of them lay dead while others wailed in agony over their unattended gunshot wounds. And they had no idea where they were or what was going on outside. When would the doors open, letting them out? The agonizing minutes slowly ticked by, becoming hours as the desert sun beat down and moved through the sky. The men were given absolutely no water or food. According to the accounts of a few survivors, men began to lick the sweat off of themselves and each other. Some of them bite into those beside them and tried to drink up the blood, in a desperate effort to gain fluid of any form.

They would remain in the containers for days. Men began to faint and show signs of starvation. Many died a very slow and torturous death. The survivors found themselves surrounded by the dead bodies and the human excrement that covered the floors.

"I shall never forget the sensation as long as I live. It was the most revolting and most powerful stench you could ever imagine, a mixture of feces, urine, blood, vomit, and rotting flesh. It was a smell to make you forget all other smells you ever experienced in your life."

Eyewitness, from the documentary movie, Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death

Then the doors were finally opened, not many prisoners were still alive or fully conscious. The bodies of the dead were taken to nearby Dasht-e-Laile, to a pit in the desert. They were dumped into what would become a massive unmarked grave. Many men who were only half-dead were also piled in. And some who had somehow managed to survive were taken to the site and shot or had their necks brutally snapped before being added to the pile of bodies. Sand was poured in to conceal the massacred bodies. Their families may never know exactly what happened to their sons, brothers, and fathers. This would be the beginning of a massive cover-up headed by U.S. forces to hide the absolutely disgusting and brutal reality of what "liberation" by American forces looks like.

There are many, many events that have occurred in the continuing U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that are completely outrageous. But this massacre of December of 2001 is particularly disturbing and disgusting.

An "American official" was cited in the New York Times on November 24, 2001 as saying, about prisoners in Afghanistan, "it's safe to say that Cent Com [Central Command] is involved in a lot of aspects, including what they might do if some prisoners come out." The people at the top of the U.S. military were closely monitoring the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan. About the same time, in late November 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: "It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan--the al-Qaida and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban--if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts."

Rumsfeld was clear: These so-called "foreign fighters" captured in Afghanistan were not to be "set free." And meanwhile, in Washington, high-level memos were written saying that these captured fighters should be considered "unlawful combatants," not "prisoners of war"--and that they could be denied the protection of the international laws governing war. It was a virtual green light to the killing and brutal treatment of prisoners that followed.

It is clear that U.S. forces had no intention of keeping their surrendered prisoners alive. Forces on the ground were carrying out these kinds of attacks with the blessings of Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration, and in fact under their direction. And as the winds shift the sands today over the bodies of the massacred Afghan prisoners, the U.S. imperialists are making further plans for the consolidation of empire as their hands are absolutely drenched in blood.

It is still not known exactly how many prisoners were killed in these events--or exactly who died where. There has been a massive cover-up of this massacre by U.S. officials, aided by the mass media. According to some sources, including the documentary filmmaker Jamie Doran, as many as 3,000 men are unaccounted for and believed to have been murdered at some point.

The award winning documentary film Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death by Irish filmmaker, Jamie Doran, provided much of the information for this article. This documentary can be viewed in full at informationclearinghouse.info or ordered online.