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Qala-i-Janghi massacre

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Torture, rendition, and other abuses against captives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere

 
  

Project: Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

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Early November 2001

       The Northern Alliance, under the direction of Gen. Dostum and with US support, manage to break through the Taliban line in Kunduz, eventually leading to the surrender of Taliban forces. [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002]
People and organizations involved: Abdul Rashid Dostum, John Walker Lindh
          

November 19, 2001

       When asked under what terms the US might be willing to accept a surrender from Taliban Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Rumsfeld reponds: “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders, nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners. ... Any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent. They're people who have done terrible things. ... The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect. So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner [by the Northern Alliance].” [Times of London, 11/20/2001; Department of Defense, 11/19/2001]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld
          

November 20, 2001

       When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is asked by a reporter what the US might do to prevent Chechen and the Arab Taliban soldiers surrendering in Kunduz from going free, Rumsfeld responds, “It would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan—the al-Qaeda 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.” [Associated Press, 11/22/2001; Fox News, 11/22/2001; Department of Defense, 11/20/2001]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld
          

November 22, 2001

       Uzbek Northern Alliance leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum meets with Mullah Faizal, the Taliban commander in Kunduz, to discuss what should be done with the Taliban's fanatical “foreign legion.” They agree that the 5000 Afghan Taliban fighters “would be given safe passage after surrender, but the foreign fighters would be handed over to General Dostum.” [Guardian 11/27/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001] This is in line with orders from Washington, which has demanded that the foreign fighters not be freed. Top US officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have publicly opposed any plan that would allow the foreign Taliban troops to be freed in exchange for their surrender (see November 19, 2001). John Walker Lindh, an American Muslim, is among the legion of foreign fighters (see September 6, 2001). [Guardian, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 11/27/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001 Sources: Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court, 10/4/2002]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Donald Rumsfeld, Mullah Faizal
          

November 23, 2001

       Foreign Taliban fighters agree to be transported to Erganak, located 12 miles west of Kunduz. But to their surprise they arrive in a desert on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. According to some sources, the “foreigners [were] tricked into going to Mazar on the understanding they would attack it.” Tension increases when they realize they have actually surrendered. After some negotiating, a second agreement is made with Amir Jan, a Northern Alliance commander with Pashtun roots. The foreign fighters are told by their Taliban commander to disarm—but are not told that they will later be detained as prisoners. Amir Jan tells the Guardian of London: “The foreigners thought that after surrendering to the Northern Alliance they would be free. They didn't think they would be put in jail.” [Guardian, 11/27/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh, Amir Jan
          

November 24, 2001

       The foreign Taliban fighters, who surrendered in Kunduz the day before (see November 23, 2001), are taken into custody by General Dostum who wants to send them to a Soviet-built airfield in Mazar-i-Sharif. But American Special Forces say the runway might be needed for military operations. A last minute decision is then made to transport the prisoners to Dostum's 19th Century Qala-i-Janghi fortress. Prior to leaving for the compound, all of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are supposed to be disarmed, but for some reason fighters in only three of the five transport vehicles are actually checked. [Guardian, 12/1/2001; Guardian 11/27/2001] The foreign Taliban fighters arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fort early in the morning. When some of Dostum's men attempt to frisk the group of fighters who have not yet been disarmed, one of the Chechen prisoners detonates a hand grenade, killing himself, several other prisoners, and two Northern Alliance commanders. As a result, the weapons search is abandoned and the prisoners are herded into a stable area north of the fort. Between two and eight of the prisoners in the stable area blow themselves up that night. As a result, the Northern Alliance decides to relocate them into the basement of the fortress. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001]
People and organizations involved: Abdul Rashid Dostum
          

Earyl Morning November 25, 2001

       After a sleepless night in the overcrowded basement in Dostum's fortress, the Taliban prisoners, including John Walker Lindh, are led out, one-by-one by the guards. They are searched, tied up and later seated in rows on an open lawn. [Guardian, 12/1/2001; Newsweek, 12/1/2001] Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross in northern Afghanistan, arrives at the Qala-i-Janghi compound seeking an assurance from Said Kamal, Dostum's security chief, that the prisoners will be treated in accordance with international law. He also wants to write the prisoners' names down and get messages for their families. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] Another official from the Red Cross, Olivier Martin, is also inside Qala-i-Janghi making sure that the prisoners are being cared for in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. [Independent, 11/29/2001] Meanwhile, Northern Alliance fighters are tying up prisoners at the south end of the fortress. [Times of London, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; Guardian 11/29/01] The prisoners are scared and think the Northern Alliance is preparing to execute them. They believe that the two television crews—from Reuters and the German station ARD—present intend to film their deaths. One of the prisoners recalls, “Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.” [Newsweek, 12/1/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; New York Times, 11/28/2001] One guard hits Johnny Walker Lindh in the back of his head, so hard, he “nearly [loses] consciousness. ” [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh, Simon Brooks, Olivier Martin
          

11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001

       One of the prisoners who is being interrogated by the two CIA agents tells Mike Spann that he has come to Afghanistan “to kill” him. With that, the prisoner lunges towards him. At this point accounts differ over what happens. According to an early account, Mike Spann immediately shoots the prisoner and three others dead with his pistol before the nearby Taliban prisoners join the sckirmish and “beat, kick, and bite” Spann agent to death. [Times of London, 11/28/2001] In the other account, the prisoner who lunged towards Spann, used a grenade to blow him and Spann up, killing both of them immediately. [Guardian, 12/1/2001] Dave then shoots at least one of the foreign Taliban fighters dead and flees the vicinity. He goes to General Dostum's headquarters in the north side of the fort where he contacts the American embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan using a satellite phone borrowed from the German TV crew. He tells the embassy, “We have lost control of the situation. Send in helicopters and troops.” [Guardian, 12/1/2001] One witness later recalls, “David asked his superiors for choppers to be brought in, as well as ground troops to get everyone out. They sent about 40 American soldiers, but the choppers were too far away in Uzbekistan. David's people offered to bring in gunships and bomb the Taliban. They would flatten the whole castle and kill us all. David told them twice they shouldn't do that. They were really pressing for airstrikes and after three hours they started.” [Times of London, 11/28/2001] Meanwhile, Dostum's soldiers began to shoot indiscriminately at the rows of bound prisoners. Some are killed and as prisoners stand up and run for cover, more are shot in their flight. John Walker Lindh too tries to run but after two or three paces a bullet hits him in his right thigh and he falls to the ground. Unable to walk, with chaos all around him, Lindh pretends to be dead. He remains on the ground for the next twelve hours. The Taliban soldiers soon overpower their Northern Alliance captors, take their weapons and break into the arms depot located towards the center for the compound where they help themselves to Dostum's mortars and rocket launchers. [Guardian, 12/1/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001 Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh, Mike Spann, "Dave"
          

(2:00 p.m.) November 25, 2001

       Eight British SAS soldiers dressed in civilian clothes arrive in Land Rovers after receiving orders from US Central Command in Florida. They position themselves on the perimeter of the fortress and shoot over the walls at the prisoners inside who are armed with thirty guns, two anti-tank guns, and two grenade launchers. “They pulled up in two long-range desert patrol vehicles, ” one witness tells reporters. “They were clearly British and not American. They have been leading the firing at the Taliban's positions. You can tell they are special forces because their firing is more disciplined: they use single shots rather than bursts.” Some time later, six uniformed American Special Forces officers arrive, positioning themselves in the southwest corner of the fort to prevent any Taliban prisoners from fleeing the compound. [BBC, 12/01/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001; Guardian 11/27/2001]
          

(3:30 p.m.) November 25, 2001

       American jets arrive over the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, and over the next two days, drop nine or 10 bombs directly into the compound. The aerial attacks are coordinated by Special Forces and CIA operatives on the ground. [BBC, 12/01/2001; Times of London, 11/28/2001; Guardian 11/27/2001] The air strikes drive surviving detainees into the basement for cover. As night falls, John Walker Lindh is helped by his comrades into the basement as well. They will remain there for seven hellish days. [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002] Describing how the scene appears the following day, the Times of London reports: “The nighttime raids left many bodies half-buried in the ground. Limbs and torsos rose out of the disturbed ground like tree trunks after a forest fire.” [Times of London, 11/28/2001]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh
          

Morning, November 26, 2001

       Northern Alliance troops establish a command post near Qala-i-Janghi 's northeast tower where they position a tank and begin shelling prisoners at the south end of the compound. [BBC, 12/01/2001; CCN Presents, n.d.]
          

(10:00 a.m.) November 26, 2001

       Four members of US Special Forces and eight soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division join the US and SAS troops already there. They call in more airstrikes. During the two days of airstrikes, which began the day before (see (3:30 p.m.) November 25, 2001), two bombs miss their targets. One strays off into a field located more than a kilometer away, while the other, a 2,000lb laser-guided bomb dropped on November 26, between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., mistakenly hits a Northern Alliance tank killing at least four Northern Alliance soldiers and wounding five US soldiers and two SAS soldiers. [BBC, 12/01/2001; CCN Presents, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Alim Razim
          

November 27, 2001

       In the morning, CIA agent Dave, US Special Forces, SAS soldiers, and an additional 200 Northern Alliance troops arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress to fight the remaining 10 or so Taliban fighters who are still resisting. One of the US soldiers warns journalists not to be inside the compound at night. [CCN Presents, n.d.; Times of London, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/01/2001] “To clear the last pockets of Taliban resistance in the afternoon, Alliance soldiers approached the houses in the middle of the compound and fired at random into basement windows,” the Times of London later reports. “Some 20-liter petrol canisters were thrown in, then grenades.” [Times of London, 11/28/2001] Alliance soldiers roaming the complex shoot at the bodies to make sure there are no survivors. They also loot corpses, stealing rifles, boots, clothing, and even gold fillings from their teeth. [Independent, 11/29/2001] According to an escaped prisoner, a Northern Alliance tank runs over the bodies of injured survivors. [Paknews, 12/3/2001] A tank attacks the western half of the compound and reportedly kills the last two remaining holdouts who are still fighting. By noon, “the ground was littered with countless mangled bodies,” the Times of London reports. [Times of London, 11/28/2001; BBC, 12/01/2001] Foreign reporters are allowed in the compound. One Associated Press photographer sees Northern Alliance soldiers removing the bindings from the hands of the dead Taliban fighters. [Independent, 11/29/2001] In the afternoon, it is discovered that there are about 100 survivors in the basement of a one-story building at the center of the compound. US Special Forces order Northern Alliance soldiers to pour diesel fuel into the basement and ignite it. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] Dostum's men pour fuel down several air ducts, two of which lead into a room where Lindh is sitting, drenching him. Unable to walk, he has to crawl away from the air ducts. Some minutes later, the fuel is lit and fire spreads quickly throughout the basement. “People were being burned alive,” an eyewitness will recall. Lindh loses consciousness in the smoke-filled air, while Dostum's soldiers fire rockets amidst the surviving Taliban. The report by Lindh's defense will say, “Human remains litter the entire basement floor.” [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002] At dusk, US soldiers recover Spann's (see September 10, 2001) booby trapped body. [CCN Presents, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: John Walker Lindh
          

(12:00 a.m.) November 27, 2001

       The US intensifies its aerial attack against the Qala-i-Janghi fortress. An AC-130 Spectre gunship rakes the compound with machine gun and cannon fire for several hours at close range. One US Special Forces soldier calls the bombing, “fireworks you'll never forget.” It destroys the fortress's armories. [Times of London, 11/28/2001; Guardian, 12/1/2001; CCN Presents, n.d.] Alim Razim, General Dostum's adviser, reportedly says, “Those who are left over will be dead.” [Guardian 11/29/01; Times of London, 11/28/2001]
People and organizations involved: Alim Razim
          

November 27, 2001

       Amnesty International calls for an inquiry into the violence at Qala-i-Janghi. “An urgent inquiry should look into what triggered this violent incident, including any shortcomings in the holding and processing of the prisoners, and into the proportionality of the response by United Front, US, and UK forces. It should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life, and that the key role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in overseeing the processing and treatment of prisoners is facilitated.” [Amnesty International, 11/27/2001]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

November 28, 2001

       Northern Alliance General Dostum returns to the Qala-i-Janghi fortress from Kunduz. Three health officials attempting to enter the basement where Taliban survivers are still holding out are shot by armed Taliban who refuse to surrender. Several Taliban mullahs brought in by Dostum are unable to convince the holdouts to surrender. [CCN Presents, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Abdul Rashid Dostum
          

November 30, 2001

       After a number of survivors are discovered in the basement of the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Northern Alliance soldiers drop artillery rockets into the basement and detonate them by fuses. [CCN Presents, n.d.; Newsweek, 12/1/2001] Northern Alliance soldiers then redirect an irrigation stream into the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress where surviving Taliban soldiers are, flooding it with freezing cold water. John Walker Lindh almost drowns and suffers from hypothermia. Most of the remaining prisoners die because of the water, and throughout the basement “the stench from decaying human remains becomes particularly acute.” [Newsweek, 12/1/2001 Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Rumsfeld
          

December 1, 2001

       UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, joins Amnesty International (see November 27, 2001) (see December 5, 2001) in a call for an investigation of killings at Qala-i-Jhangi. [Agence France-Presse, 12/1/2001]
People and organizations involved: Mary Robinson
          

Morning, December 1, 2001

       Taliban survivors who have been holding out in the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress surrender. [Newsweek, 12/1/2001] John Walker Lindh is found “with approximately 15 dead or dying persons on the floor.” [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002] Of the more than 300 prisoners who arrived with Lindh a week before, only 86 survive. “Everyone was in poor health, and most of them were traumatized, with absent looks on their faces,” Oliver Martin, chief of the ICRC delegation at Mazar-i-Sharif, later recalls. “It must have been hell and horror for them.” [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002] For around six hours, Lindh and many other wounded and dying prisoners are locked in an overcrowded dark container. He is then moved to the back of an open-air truck, from where he notices ICRC officials and members of the media. It then appears that Dostum intended to suffocate the prisoners inside the container, but that the presence of the ICRC and journalists has prevented that. [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002] Lindh and the other surviving but wounded Taliban are taken to the town of Sheberghan. [Sources: Proffer of facts in support of defendant's suppression motions submitted June 13, 2002]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Rumsfeld
          

December 5, 2001

       Amnesty International issues a second call for an inquiry “into the large-scale killing of captured Taleban fighters and others at a fort on the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif.” Amnesty insists that the “events at the Qala-i-Jhanghi fort must not simply be brushed under the carpet, like so many other killings before them.” [Amnesty International, 12/5/2001]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          


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