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How Feminists Can Support Afghan Women Living Under the Taliban

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 5:27am in

WASHINGTON (Jacobin) Since the Taliban took control of Kabul and the central government on August 15, efforts to support Afghan women have become extremely challenging. According to some prominent U.S. feminists with strong ties to Afghan women, the Taliban “has no legitimacy beyond the brutal force it commands,” and governments, the United Nations and regional actors should not recognize or work with it. For some, this means isolating the Taliban by continuing to freeze Afghan funds held overseas and suspending any assistance that is coordinated with a government agency. But does that position really help Afghan women?

There’s little question that gains made by Afghan women over the past 20 years, particularly urban women, have been rolled back—at least temporarily. Since coming to power, the Taliban have said girls would be allowed to go to school, but in some parts of the country, girls are being kept out of grades 7-12. And while female students have continued to attend private universities, most women enrolled in public universities have not been attending classes due to fear, canceled classes or Taliban restrictions. Even though Taliban spokesmen insist that women can continue to work, there are also frequent reports of Taliban militants ordering women to leave their workplaces.

While we should all be outraged about the abuses and deterioration of rights that Afghan women are experiencing, the Taliban aren’t the only cause of women’s distress right now. The economy and public services are screeching to a halt because the international community has pulled the plug on funding. Afghanistan is a country that has relied on outside donors to fund its vital services for most of its modern existence. When the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, it froze $9.5 billion of the Afghan Central Bank’s assets and pushed the International Monetary Fund to block Afghanistan’s access to over $450 million earmarked for COVID-19 relief. Adding fuel to the fire, the World Bank suspended financing to the Afghan healthcare system through its Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. Given that foreign aid to Afghanistan had previously been about $8.5 billion a year — nearly half of the country’s gross domestic product — the impact of freezing these funds is catastrophic for women and their families.

There are about 220,000 teachers in Afghanistan, and UNICEF estimates that about a third of them are women. Since June, most teachers haven’t been paid their salaries. On October 6, the 45,000-member Afghan Teachers Association put out an urgent appeal calling attention to their dire situation. “The Ministry of Education has very few resources, and it is hard to ask our teachers to keep working without salaries. Many of them are the sole breadwinners in their families, and they are really struggling. It will be difficult to keep the schools open if we have no funds.”

And it isn’t just Afghan teachers. Most of the nation’s healthcare workers have also been working without salaries. Right now, the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that due to the suspension of funding, Afghan medical facilities have been unable to buy supplies and pay salaries. According to UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Director Kanni Wignaraja, only about 17 percent of some 2,200 health facilities in Afghanistan are fully functional and the personnel who are working are doing so on a voluntary basis. “There is a risk that the Afghan people will have virtually no access to primary health services,” she said.

Prior to the U.S. military withdrawal, the World Bank funded the Sehatmandi project—a project administered by NGOs that in 2020 provided healthcare services to 30 million people. To avert a total collapse in healthcare, the UN Development Fund recently announced that it will temporarily take over management of the Sehatmandi project from the World Bank, but this is just a stop-gap measure.

The European Union’s announcement on October 12 of a $1.2 billion aid package is certainly welcome news. So is the announcement by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that the US would help fund humanitarian aid. But it will be nearly impossible to effectively distribute aid while Afghan banks remain under US and UN sanctions, unable to access physical dollars. And humanitarian aid will not provide salaries for the nation’s civil services.

For that, Afghan’s frozen funds must be released. We understand the opposition to payment mechanisms that flow through Taliban hands. For salaries, the option of direct payments through UN agencies and NGOs is indeed the preferred option, as already existed in the case of many healthcare workers. But can this really be accomplished for the nation’s over 350,000 public workers? And how can the banking system be saved without lifting sanctions? These are issues that the Biden administration and world leaders must solve. The intricacies will be discussed at the October 11-17 World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington and at the G20 summit in Rome at the end of the month.

Feminists must also discuss the complexities. They should not take the simplistic view that a policy of non-cooperation with the Taliban is the way to support women. As John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said, “Afghanistan’s underlying economic and humanitarian problems, which disproportionately affect women and girls, cannot simply be ignored because of the Taliban’s record.” We in the West who call ourselves feminists must grapple with the complexities and emerge as strong advocates for releasing funds that can stop an entire nation of 40 million people from facing a future of starvation and misery.

Feature photo | Afghan women march to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a demonstration near the former Women’s Affairs Ministry building in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2021. | AP

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ariel Gold is the national codirector and senior Middle East policy analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

The post How Feminists Can Support Afghan Women Living Under the Taliban appeared first on MintPress News.

Peter Oborne’s Diary September 2021: The Magic Circle of Client Journalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/10/2021 - 8:00pm in

september 2021The Magic Circle Of Client Journalism

Exclusive to print for a month, Peter Oborne shares his observations of the political media class. For the latest diary subscribe to the October Digital Edition


The Magic Circle

SEVERAL FACTORS HAVE COME TOGETHER to plunge Boris Johnson into the dangerous political crisis he faces this autumn. A lack of general purpose and direction, added to the poisonous rift between Downing Street and the Treasury, create a sense that the Government is unravelling. 

This poses a serious challenge for the press management system installed after the departure of Dominic Cummings nine months ago. 

Cummings operated through favourites, including the BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg and ITV’s Robert Peston, before losing out in a well-publicised power struggle against Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife (and a PR professional). 

Since then, the circle of favoured reporters has grown even smaller. The most important is the Sun’s political editor Harry Cole. Again and again, Cole obtains advance access to the most important public announcements (three major examples this year are the defence review, the Government’s immigration announcement, and the Budget). A second member of the inner circle is Politico journalist Alex Wickham (according to the Spectator, Wickham is godfather to Boris and Carrie Johnson’s son Wilfred). Cabinet ministers read him with close attention because (they say) he articulates the Downing Street line so closely. He has led the way with attacks on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and recently produced a spectacular if (in my view) distasteful scoop setting out granular details of the plan for ‘Operation London Bridge’ – the death of the Queen. 

This system of favouring journalists close to the Johnsons causes resentment. Newspapers which were formerly loyal feel excluded. It may not be a coincidence that both Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph, fawningly loyal for so long, have started to turn on the Prime Minister

Peter Oborne’s Diary August 2021 Channel 4 Privatisation, the Clermont Set & Craig Murray
Peter Oborne

An Unhealthy State

IN THE ERA OF CLIENT JOURNALISM, the most revealing reporting comes from outside of the mainstream media. 

Thanks to the Health Service Journal – which covers the NHS – we learnt the sordid details of exactly how Boris Johnson plans to get away with his deceitful plan to build ‘48 new hospitals’. Naturally, the figure is a fabrication. Instead, in an Orwellian touch, civil servants have been ordered to change the meaning of the word ‘hospital’. Renovations, rebuilds, or new wings are now classified as hospitals. It is like a used car salesman putting on a splash of paint and a new gearbox, then passing off a second hand car as new. 

We learnt of this calculated deception courtesy of HSJ reporter Dave Ward, who has exposed the existence of a health department publication called the ‘New Hospitals Programme Communications Playbook’.

The “playbook” states that “the schemes named in the announcement are not all identical and vary across a number of factors. However, they do all satisfy the criteria we set of what a new hospital is and so must always be referred to as a new hospital”.

At best, only around 15 of these 48 hospital schemes can be classified as ‘new hospitals’ in the ordinary sense of hospitals that did not previously exist. 

Ward’s scoop raises troubling questions about the politicisation of civil service officials. Needless to say, his revelations have been largely ignored by newspapers which noisily amplified Boris Johnson’s fabrications of hospital-building.

Peter Oborne’s Diary June 2021Sir Robbie Gibb, Media Enforcement & a Sinister Merger
Peter Oborne

An Inevitable Fall

THE SUCCESS OF THE TALIBAN bears comparison with both Brexit and Donald Trump. The movement expresses the resentment of small town and country people against foreign dominance and metropolitan values. 

I’ve never forgotten my conversation with a Kabul doctor who lived and slept in the hospital where he worked, and kept a loaded pistol beside his bed. He’d been forced to take these precautions after being kidnapped on his way home from work by bandits posing as intelligence officers. They took him to an underground dungeon where they tortured him for three weeks. While the beatings were going on, the bandits would hold a mobile phone to his mouth so that family members could hear his cries of pain. Then at night, the bandits would handcuff his hands behind his back and hang him from a hook on the ceiling. His kidnappers had political protection and he directed me to many others who had suffered in the same way. “Life was much better under the Taliban,” he said. “Security was 100% in Kabul at the time of the Taliban.”

Every businessman, without exception, told me the same thing. They had no desire to return to the beatings, beheadings, and religious fanaticism of Taliban rule. Yet, they saw that brutal regime as preferable to the chaos, lawlessness, and anarchy that followed it.  

No wonder Afghanistan fell. 

Racing Ahead

I FIRST MET RACING JOURNALIST ALASTAIR DOWN in 1989, the year Desert Orchid won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Now he’s retired. His final column began: “This is a very simple thank you letter from a man who has been lucky enough never to do a day’s work in his life.” 

Asked if he would do it all again, Alastair says: “I would have liked to have gone into the law, been a history teacher or, perhaps most of all, a trawler skipper.” 

Alastair Down was the greatest racing columnist of all time – and an even better writer than his former colleague Jeffrey Bernard. There’s no higher praise.

For the latest Oborne diary subscribe to the October Digital Edition




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The post Peter Oborne’s Diary September 2021: The Magic Circle of Client Journalism appeared first on Byline Times.

The Crash Landing In Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/10/2021 - 2:07pm in

image/png iconimage.png

article I wrote on my blog about American exit from Afghanistan

Instead of a world divided between nation-states organized hierarchically according to the world-economy, which constantly compete with each other for political-economic influence, we can act to create a humanity that freely cooperates to meet it's needs

read more

War Is a Racket: Ex-State Department Official Matthew Hoh Speaks Out

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/09/2021 - 12:05am in

What was the Afghanistan War all about? That is the question on many people’s lips after a devastating 20-year campaign that has killed an estimated 176,000 people and displaced nearly 6 million more.

Today, Watchdog host Lowkey is joined by a man who knows the war from both inside and out. Matthew Hoh was at the forefront of the American empire’s campaign in the Middle East, first serving as a captain in the U.S. Marines, then moving to the Department of Defense and the State Department. In 2009, he publicly resigned from his position in the State Department in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, over U.S. policy in the country, which he saw as both illogical and immoral.

The recent fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, only days after NATO troops withdrew, and the Taliban’s quick re-emergence as the dominant political force in the country were no surprise to him. “The same thing would have happened in 2009 [when I was there],” Hoh told Lowkey today. “This has always been a house of cards; any little thing was going to cause it to collapse.”

Hoh, who has since become an anti-war activist, discussed the reasoning behind his decision to follow his conscience and leave his lucrative and distinguished career behind him. Already jaded after his experiences in Iraq, he told Lowkey that he was “holding on to the hope that somehow the Afghan War was going to be different and somehow fundamentally a war worth fighting… I didn’t want to let go of who I had become and the career I was in.”

Afghanistan, however, was as corrupt, unwinnable and immoral an endeavor as Iraq was. Hoh’s efforts to stem the heroin boom proved completely futile, as the country was run by the biggest kingpins, all with American government approval. “The Afghan government is the drug trade,” he said, “They are the ones that control it over there.” Ultimately, he realized that the American presence there was only fueling the insurgency, a position that has now been clearly vindicated.

The North Carolinian also described the extraordinary waste and corruption in both the U.S. and the Middle East, noting that 40% of the “aid” money scheduled for places like Iraq and Afghanistan never leaves the U.S. at all, staying in what is now colloquially known as “Raytheon Acres” — the ring of expensive suburbs around Washington, D.C., home to the headquarters of a myriad of weapons contractors and aid agencies alike. “The one place that reconstruction was successful was in Northern Virginia,” Hoh quipped. And 20% more goes to management fees, leaving barely 10 cents on the dollar for the actual projects in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, American officials in those countries were living the high life. “Holy cow, I was living like Scarface… I was paying out anywhere between $300,000 to $400,000 per week to $5 million per week at times. All in cash,” he said. “The most I ever had at one point was $24 million on hand, in $100 bills, sitting in safes in my bedroom. And there was hardly any oversight whatsoever. Once we signed that money out of the vault in Baghdad, it was up to me how to document that money was spent and where the money went.”

“I Was Living Like Scarface”: The Ludicrous Costs of the War in Afghanistan Revealed in New Documents, Testimonies

Today, Matthew Hoh has left that life behind and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy and a member of the Eisenhower Media Network, organizations challenging orthodox thinking in U.S. foreign policy.

Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Hoh took part in the American occupation of Iraq, first in 2004-5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006-7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. When not deployed, Matthew worked on Afghanistan and Iraq war policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002 to 2008. He is a 100% disabled veteran.

The new MintPress podcast “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip-hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know — including intelligence, lobby and special-interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media. 

MintPress News is a fiercely independent, reader-supported outlet, with no billionaire owners or backers. You can support us by becoming a member on Patreon, bookmarking and whitelisting us, and by subscribing to our social media channels, including Twitch, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

Also, be sure to check out the new Behind the Headlines channel on YouTube.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn.

The post War Is a Racket: Ex-State Department Official Matthew Hoh Speaks Out appeared first on MintPress News.

Afghanistan: The Graveyard Of Empires

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/09/2021 - 3:01pm in

In light of the Biden administrations withdrawal from the Afghanistan, host, Ross Ashcroft met up with Former Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, Scott Ritter, and Founder of Krainer Analytics, Alex Krainer, to discuss the disastrous two decades-long US intervention in Afghanistan and its possible geopolitical implications.

The post Afghanistan: The Graveyard Of Empires appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Afghanistan: The Graveyard Of Empires

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/09/2021 - 3:01pm in

In light of the Biden administrations withdrawal from the Afghanistan, host, Ross Ashcroft met up with Former Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, Scott Ritter, and Founder of Krainer Analytics, Alex Krainer, to discuss the disastrous two decades-long US intervention in Afghanistan and its possible geopolitical implications.

The post Afghanistan: The Graveyard Of Empires appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The US defeat in Afghanistan: An epochal moment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 3:00am in


afghanistan, War

There is no doubt that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has caused pain, misery, fear and a loss of hope for many. This experience is real and undeniable. We do not know how the Taliban will rule when they settle in. They may be cruel, as we saw in the past, their rule typified by a male -warrior-dominated aggressivity that takes hold of all aspects of life. It will almost certainly be ‘cruel’ in another sense: there is little doubt that the Taliban will not support the form of cosmopolitan social living that is increasingly these days termed ‘freedom’. They especially will not support the way of life that some people in the cities in Afghanistan have experienced and built their hopes around, in large part facilitated by the Western presence.

There is every likelihood that the West, because it was defeated by the Taliban, will make conditions worse for ordinary people by denying all support for the country. Joe Biden’s declaration ‘We will not forget’, even though it referred to the loss of US soldiers, is a reminder of the widespread experience of the end of warfare, especially when one side is humiliated. The United States took a generation to relax its hatred of the Vietnamese rulers after the end of the Vietnam war. More to the point, there are few signs that the United States, or the West more generally, ever came to terms with what went wrong in Vietnam. They merely accommodated a new reality over time while denying that they were defeated.

The United States will probably attempt the same response to the defeat in Afghanistan (as it has also done in Iraq and Libya). There are certainly no signs of deep thinking about their own way of life given what has happened. They may be stung by declarations, like that of William Maley in the media, that they are no longer a trusted ally, but this is a declaration that seeks more of the same interventions (endlessly)—one that assumes the moral high ground against both terrorists and cultures where they have no affinity with the West. It is that moral high ground that needs interrogation.

One does not have to be a Taliban supporter to see that this defeat reflects deep changes in not only geopolitical relations but ways of life that are making their mark on what the West can do practically. Even declaring the war in Afghanistan and, for that matter Iraq, a disgrace—which they are—does not get to the nub of the problems that now confront the West. If we can say that a world dominated by the West in varying degrees has been a reality for four centuries, this defeat is not simply the end of that kind of imperialism. It reflects mechanisms that combine technological and military dominance with an incapacity to put in place a social order that would stabilise an alternative way of life. In other words, apart from the initial years of the Afghanistan invasion related directly to 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, the United States attempted a wholesale transformation of Afghan culture to bring the country into the ‘modern world’. Despite Joe Biden’s denial that the United States engaged in such state building, that is exactly where they failed. The same can be said about Iraq and Libya. This was not the case in South Korea or Japan after the Second World War.

This was no mere failure of bureaucracy or military knowledge on the part of the United States. Nor does it bear directly on this or that person or even the president of the day. It is a consequence of the institutional transformation that has overwhelmed lives in the West for at least the last four decades. In a strong sense we have so changed that we can no longer understand cultures that have not experienced this transformation of how we live and think. This new setting is actually the source of what we now tend to call freedom, a notion far different to the sense of freedom against power that is our historical tradition starting with Magna Carta.

To capture this change we need to be able to distinguish between social relations that rely on the presence of others as well as the spoken word in communities (the so-called face-to-face relations) that take place for granted and value it; and relations that draw upon technology to allow them to function socially even while absent from others—where there is no need for the other to be present. If community-based and family institutions as well as the experience of touch and tangibility serve as examples of the former, the written word, electronic media, email and social media illustrate the latter. These are not black-and-white distinctions, but who could deny that social absence is a widespread reality within the West today? This ‘culture’ is given its power by the revolution of high technology that has unfolded in stages through the twentieth century. While it is a revolution of potential and practical reality when it comes to technology, its other side—our way of life—is increasingly composed of fragile and fleeting social relations that are a mystery to cultures that constitute the whole history of Homo sapiens prior to the twentieth century. The latter are typically structured around kinship and generational renewal of a predominantly face-to-face social life. The cosmopolitan life of fleeting others is found to a degree in all cultures, but it moves towards becoming a norm in the life of the West. In a strong sense the West can no longer rely upon intuition to grasp and understand the core assumptions of cultures in the Middle East or Afghanistan. And those cultures are often appalled by what they now encounter in the West. Difference in belief and practice has now become difference in social kind.

Here then is the problem. The West has technologies easily available to it that can cause enormous pain for those who oppose it. Think of the role of drones that engage in warfare via absence in the savaging and slaughter of oppositional leaders, even as ‘collateral damage’ for civilians is often devastating. Nevertheless these technologies do not easily break those survivors who have a multilayered social formation. Of course they may be brutalised, but their social commitments are deep structured. On the other hand, the West’s capacity to engage in state building is radically undermined because it can only pursue ‘cultural’ strategies that it knows from its own experience—a complex but thin network of connections. At best these find a place in cosmopolitan settings in the cities that, to a degree, offer this type of nihilistic freedom from constraint. But state building in cultures like Afghanistan will always be thin if it relies on such relations. That it suddenly collapses when it is no longer propped up should be no surprise.

It is also good to keep in mind that those societies in the West who have come to rely more and more on the fragile and ever-moving network are themselves experiencing novel and deep-going crises that lead some, with good reason, to reflect on their viability over time. In other words, we are losing our predictable substance. This means that William Maley is quite correct to conclude that the United States is no longer a predictable ally, but this should not be the main point. The West has entered social transformations that are a threat to it and the conditions of life on the planet while also being a poor basis for state building in other cultures.

The Rules-Based Order

Clinton Fernandes, Sep 2021

Military historians are well aware that Australian governments have not gone to war for sentimental reasons or because they were duped. The organising principle of Australian foreign policy is to remain on the winning side of a worldwide confrontation between the empire and the lands dominated by it. 

I’ve been struck of late how Britney Spears has been in...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 3:19am in

been struck of late how Britney Spears has been in the news at the same
time as we are experiencing the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and the end of
the Afghanistan War. Here are two cartoons I made that involved her,
though they really weren’t about her. The first was from the months
after 9/11, when bodies were still being recovered from Ground Zero. The
second was from years later after the US plunged into war in Iraq while
still also in Afghanistan. Just today the New York Times is reporting
that Britney is newly engaged.

I’ve been struck of late how Britney Spears has been in...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 3:19am in

been struck of late how Britney Spears has been in the news at the same
time as we are experiencing the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and the end of
the Afghanistan War. Here are two cartoons I made that involved her,
though they really weren’t about her. The first was from the months
after 9/11, when bodies were still being recovered from Ground Zero. The
second was from years later after the US plunged into war in Iraq while
still also in Afghanistan. Just today the New York Times is reporting
that Britney is newly engaged.

The Guantánamo Bay Internment Camp Is an Unresolved Vestige of the American Occupation of Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 1:12am in

Guantanamo Trials

A man imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay peers out through the “bean hole” which is used to allow food and other items into cells at Camp Delta, Guantánamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Cuba, on Dec. 4, 2006.

Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP

As the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan draws to a close, it is my hope that fair-minded people will begin to reexamine the history of this long and bloody conflict. There are two especially prominent episodes from the opening stage of the war that deserve renewed attention due to their historical significance as well as their direct relationship to the unresolved issue of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp.

During the final week of November 2001, a total of around 5,000 unarmed Taliban prisoners of war were massacred in two closely related incidents near Mazar-e-Sharif. Several dozen survivors were among the earliest detainees sent to Guantánamo Bay. These massacres received widespread media coverage at the time but elicited minimal sympathy from an American public still deeply shaken by September 11. Reporter Robert Young Pelton spoke for many Americans when he said, “We could have wiped out every Talib on earth and no one would have cared.”

Now that the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has finally ended, the time has come for these events to be reevaluated dispassionately and for the issue of prisoners of war to be resolved once and for all.

During the summer and fall of 2001, I served as a Taliban infantryman in northern Afghanistan. In mid-November of that year, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was on the verge of collapse. Kabul and several other major cities had been overrun by the Northern Alliance, a warlord cartel described by journalist Robert Fisk as “a symbol of massacre, systematic rape, and pillage” that would form the nucleus of America’s collaborationist regime for the next two decades. Our commanders told us that the Taliban had begun to evacuate their forces from urban centers to protect civilians from dangers posed by 15,000-pound Daisy Cutters, Tomahawk cruise missiles, cluster bombs, and depleted uranium munitions. I saw the toll that some of these weapons took on Afghan civilians with my own eyes.

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2001 file photo, Northern Alliance soldiers watch as U.S. air strikes pound Taliban positions in Kunduz province near the town of Khanabad, Afghanistan. The American military death toll in Afghanistan surpassed 1,000 at a time when President Barack Obama's strategy to turn back the Taliban is facing its greatest test, an ambitious campaign to win over a disgruntled population in the insurgents' southern heartland. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

Northern Alliance soldiers watch as U.S. air strikes pound Taliban positions in Kunduz province near the town of Khanabad, Afghanistan, on Nov. 19, 2001.

Photo: Ivan Sekretarev/AP

By mid-November, our division of about 8,000 mujahideen had been surrounded by the Northern Alliance in Kunduz. An agreement was made between our commanders and Northern Alliance warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had recently subordinated his militia to the CIA. The agreement guaranteed us safe passage through Mazar-e-Sharif to Herat, near the Afghan border with Iran. From there, my understanding was that the Afghan mujahideen would return home, while foreign volunteers would evacuate to neighboring countries. In return, Dostum would be left to take control of the northeastern city of Kunduz without a fight.

The agreement stipulated that we would travel to Herat in a convoy of trucks with only our light weapons, and it was decided that the foreign volunteer brigade would go first. We were about one-third Arab, one-third Uzbek, and one-third Pakistani, with smaller numbers of other nationalities totaling a few hundred. The remaining mujahideen were primarily Afghans and were to follow the same route from Kunduz through Mazar-e-Sharif to Herat.

A few days earlier, thousands of miles away and unbeknownst to us, the following exchange had taken place at a Pentagon press briefing:

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you had mentioned earlier that the U.S. is not inclined to negotiate nor to accept prisoners. Could you just elaborate what you meant by “nor to accept prisoners”?

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: We have only handfuls of people there. We don’t have jails, we don’t have guards, we don’t have people who — we’re not in the position to have people surrender to us. If people try to, we are declining. That is not what we’re there to do, is to begin accepting prisoners and impounding them in some way or making judgments. That’s for the Northern Alliance, and that’s for the tribes in the south to make their own judgments on that.

REPORTER: So they would be taken — you’re not suggesting they would be shot, in other words?

RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness, no. You sound like Charlie. (laughter)

Once we were on the road, instead of permitting our convoy to pass as had been agreed, the CIA-led force insisted that we lay down our weapons before proceeding through Mazar-e-Sharif. After tense negotiations and a great deal of hesitation on our part, we complied. But instead of fulfilling their side of the agreement and letting us proceed, Dostum’s militiamen diverted our trucks to the Qala-e-Jangi fortress on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif and began to bind us with our own turbans. The CIA interrogators made it clear that if we did not talk to them, we would be killed:

CIA OFFICER MIKE SPANN: You believe in what you’re doing here that much, you’re willing to be killed here? How were you recruited to come here? Who brought you here? Hey! What’s your name? Hey! Who brought you here? Wake up! Who brought you here to Afghanistan? How did you get here? What? Are you Muslim? Put your head up. Don’t make me have to get them to hold your head up. …


SPANN: Yeah, he won’t talk to me.

TYSON: OK, all right. We explained what the deal is to him.

SPANN: I was explaining to the guy we just want to talk to him, find out what his story is.

TYSON: Well, he’s a Muslim. You know, the problem is he needs to decide if he wants to live or die, and die here. If he don’t want to die here, he’s gonna die here. … It’s his decision, man. We can only help the guys who want to talk to us. …

SPANN: Do you know the people here you’re working with are terrorists and killed other Muslims? There were several hundred Muslims killed in the bombing in New York City. Is that what the Quran teaches? I don’t think so. Are you going to talk to us?

TYSON: That’s all right, man. Gotta give him a chance. He got his chance.

Our Uzbek brothers were acutely aware of the likelihood they would be sent back to a country that Secretary of State Colin Powell described as “an important member of this coalition.” Political prisoners in Uzbekistan faced torture with cattle prods, asphyxiation with gas masks and plastic bags, dousing with freezing cold water, beatings with steel pipes and nail-studded wooden clubs, involuntary psychiatric treatment, electric shocks applied to the genitals, the removal of fingernails and toenails with pliers, the burning of body parts, rape, repeated kicks to the head, flogging the soles of the feet, forced labor in subzero temperatures, and being boiled alive.

When it became clear that we had been betrayed, some of the Uzbek mujahideen detained in the fortress spontaneously launched a desperate revolt that could have only resulted in a massacre, but as the poet al-Mutanabbi said: “I am drowning, so what do I have to fear from getting wet?”

As this began to unfold, the remainder of the convoy proceeded along the same route. They were stopped in the desert about five miles west of Kunduz and surrounded by U.S. Special Forces, along with their proxy militia. The convoy was then commandeered to a different fortress, known as Qala-e-Zeini, on the road between Mazar-e-Sharif and Sheberghan. Detainees were taken down from the trucks and tied up with their turbans. Survivor Abdul Rahman recalled seeing about 50 people buried alive; survivor Mohammad Yousuf Afghan recalled seeing more prisoners beaten to death and others drowned in pools of standing water. However, the vast majority were locked in metal shipping containers and left to die.

Each of the containers held 200 to 300 detainees. By the time they arrived at Sheberghan and the containers were opened, most of the detainees had suffocated. In some containers there were no survivors. One of the truck drivers recalled: “They opened the doors and the dead bodies spilled out like fish. All their clothes were ripped and wet.” The thousands of bodies were then buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert outside the city. Another witness said that some survivors were summarily executed at the burial site under the supervision of U.S. Special Forces.

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2001, file photo two men with U.S. Special Operations forces walk nearby as the Northern Alliance troops fight pro-Taliban forces in the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan. The Central Intelligence Agency together with U.S. special operations were the first Americans into Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11th, and will likely be the last U.S. forces to leave.  (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)

U.S. Special Operations forces walk nearby as the Northern Alliance troops fight pro-Taliban forces near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Nov. 26, 2001.

Photo: Darko Bandic/AP

A confidential U.N. memorandum shared with Newsweek concluded that evidence gathered at the site was “sufficient to justify a fully-fledged criminal investigation,” as the mass graves contained “bodies of Taliban POWs who died of suffocation during transfer from Kunduz to Sheberghan.” However, due to “the political sensitivity of this case and related protection concerns, it is strongly recommended that all activities relevant to this case be brought to a halt until a decision is made concerning the final goal of the exercise: criminal trial, truth commission, other, etc.”

As Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, said in a 2009 report: “Gravesites have been tampered with, evidence has been destroyed, and witnesses have been tortured and killed.” PHR researcher Nathaniel Raymond added, “Our repeated efforts to protect witnesses, secure evidence and get a full investigation have been met by the U.S. and its allies with buck-passing, delays and obstruction.”


Human bones and clothing lie in the sand at a mass grave site near the northern Afghan city of Sheberghan on Aug. 31, 2002.

Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/Ap

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban government’s ambassador to Pakistan, who was detained for three and a half years in Guantánamo Bay, later wrote that of some 8,000 Taliban fighters who surrendered, “only 3,000 were to survive captivity. I had been in Islamabad trying to secure their release, and talked to Dostum several times, and he had assured me that the prisoners would be well treated. I even went to the United Nations to inform them about the prisoners, as well as the Human Rights Commission and the Red Cross.”

Survivors of the twin massacres at Qala-e-Jangi and Dasht-e-Leili were initially detained together in a massively overcrowded prison in Sheberghan. Some would be killed by guards or die of medical neglect, starvation, or disease, but most would later be released. Several dozen others would be among the first planeloads of prisoners transported to Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay.


Qala-e-Jangi survivors Yasser al-Zahrani, left, and Mohammad al-Hanashi, right, both died at Guantánamo under dubious circumstances.

Photos: U.S. Guantánamo Bay military prison

In June 2006, Qala-e-Jangi survivor Yasser al-Zahrani, along with Ali al-Salami and Mani al-Utaybi, would be found hanging in their cells at Camp Delta, according to their autopsies. It later emerged that rags had been shoved down their throats. Their battered bodies were subsequently mutilated and returned to their families with their throats removed. In early 2009, Guantánamo detainees selected Qala-e-Jangi survivor Mohammad al-Hanashi as their representative and negotiator. Shortly thereafter, he was involuntarily committed to the Behavioral Health Unit, the camp mental hospital, and subsequently died on June 1, 2009, under dubious circumstances. Internal documents from the BHU dated June 1 and 2 were later described in a memo as “missing and unrecoverable for inclusion in the case file.” According to former detainee Mansoor Adayfi, what these four had in common was that they all played prominent roles in various forms of protest at Guantánamo, including mass hunger strikes. The same was true of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was sent to the BHU shortly before being transferred to Camp V, where he died in solitary confinement under similarly questionable circumstances in 2012, two years after he had been cleared for release.

The history of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp did not begin in January 2002 with the opening of Camp X-Ray. It began in November 2001 with the mass slaughter of Taliban detainees on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif. The CIA has yet to release its video footage of the massacre at Qala-e-Jangi and what led up to it, some of which I watched them film, nor has an exhaustive inquiry ever been conducted into the suspicious deaths at Guantánamo of Yasser al-Zahrani, Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, Mohammad al-Hanashi, or Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. There has also never been any satisfactory explanation for the death in custody of Guantánamo detainee Abdul Rahman al-Umari in 2007, nor of Awal Gul and Haji Naseem in 2011.

The conflict in Afghanistan will not be fully resolved until the issue of prisoners of war has been justly settled. All remaining detainees must be set free, and comprehensive independent investigations must be conducted into these massacres and suspicious deaths. As the 20-year American occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end, so too must the obscene mockery of justice at Guantánamo Bay.

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