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Jul. 16 2009 - 6:25 am | 59 views | 2 recommendations | 3 comments

The Man Behind The Massacre at Shibarghan

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Gen. Dostum, seen here in Traditional Uzbek dress (photo by Getty)

Last week The New York Times broke this story on a Bush administration cover up of a mass grave, full of Taliban POWs. The prisoners had been captured in 2001 by forces loyal to a man named Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was then assisting the US fight against the Taliban.

After surrendering to Dostum’s men, between 1,500 and 2,000  prisoners were loaded into metal shipping containers for transport to a prison near the town of Shibarghan. They were given no food or water. A senior FBI investigator who interviewed some of the prisoners that made it out alive, told the The Times that the Taliban dead were “stacked like cordwood” in the containers and the living “had to lick the perspiration off one another to survive.”

Dostum’s men also fired bullets at random into the containers. The dead were buried in a mass grave near Shibarghan, in a town called Dasht-i-Leili.

These acts were committed by a US ally. Now, Dostum has been invited back to Kabul and offered an important position in President Karzai’s government.

Dostum’s record of ruthlessness is long. After the jump, I’ve posted a brief history of the man that will very soon hold the reins of power in Afghanistan once again.

The mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili, near the town of Sheberghan, northern Afghanistan (photo by Physicians for Human Rights)

The mass grave at Dasht-i-Leili, near the town of Sheberghan, northern Afghanistan (photo by Physicians for Human Rights)

General Abdul Rashid Dostum is a member of Afghanistan’s Uzbek minority, from northern Afghanistan. During the Soviet era in Afghanistan, Dostum transformed himself from an oil-field union leader to a decorated general, leading 20,000 Uzbeks against the Mujahidin on behalf of the Russian invaders.

When the Russians left Afghanistan and the political winds changed, so did Dostrum’s allegiances.

He joined the Taliban government in Kabul for a short time, before returning to his stronghold in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif. The town thrived under Dostum’s iron grip, even as the rest of Afghanistan lay in ruins. According to BBC, convicts could expect public execution. One of Dostum’s favorite methods was to crush the condemned under tank treads.

In the late 90’s Dostum fell out with the Taliban government and was forced to flee to Turkey. He returned to Afghanistan in 2001 after forming a partnership with former rival and Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Once again, Dostum switched sides, now fighting to destroy the Taliban.

After Massoud was killed by suicide bombers, just days before Sept. 11, 2001, Dostum became the leader of the northern alliance and therefore, a vital ally in Afghanistan for the US.

It was during this period that the shipping container incident took place.

After the Karzai government was formed, Dostum became the leader of a political party called Junbish-i-Milli. He also held a symbolic title as an advisor to Karzai.

But last year Dostum pulled a crazy.

He and about 50 of his supporters stormed the home of a former ally-turned-political rival. They shot one of the rival’s bodyguards, beat him and his son unconscious and dragged them back to Dostum’s house. The police showed up shortly thereafter and surrounded Dostum’s house, where a standoff ensued. (Note the houses in the background of the photo in that story. Look familiar?)

Eventually the beaten men were taken to the hospital, but Dostum had to flee, once again, to Turkey.

Until now.

About two weeks ago, Dostum was invited back to Kabul by Karzai to take a top Army post. I’m certain that foreign diplomats in Kabul are trying their damnedest to get Karzai to rescind the offer. The US State Dept. is probably particularly unhappy, given these new revelations.

Pres. Karzai with his good pal/warlord Dostum (photo by AFP)

Pres. Karzai with his good pal/warlord Dostum (photo by AFP)

But I doubt the president will budge. This is classic Karzai; consolidate power by co-opting leaders who have the support of huge ethnic blocks, no matter how repugnant those leaders may be.

So it is likely that we will soon see Dostum here in Kabul. I did not think this government could become any more corrupt or incompetant, perhaps with is arrival I will be proven wrong.


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  1. collapse expand

    What gets left out of this story over and over again is the plight of prisoners actually delivered to the prison at Shebarghan, where they couldn’t possibly be provided for.

    PHRUSA (Physicians for Human Rights USA) had their delegation denied entry, along even with the Red Cross, for far too long, by US agents thereby taking responsibility for the rest of the operation. Thus making even the prison situation, however humane for the region, a war crime because of lack of supplies and medical care and sanitation, and overcrowding.

    PHRUSA also went after the mass graves, and their original prison report gets harder and harder to find, but here’s part of it, as reported by Amnesty International.

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA11/004/2002/en/76803b9c-fb00-11dd-9fca-0d1f97c98a21/asa110042002en.pdf

  2. collapse expand

    What gets left out of this story over and over again is the plight of prisoners actually delivered to the prison at Shebarghan, where they couldn’t possibly be provided for.

    PHRUSA (Physicians for Human Rights USA) had their delegation denied entry, along even with the Red Cross, for far too long, by US agents thereby taking responsibility for the rest of the operation. Thus making even the prison situation, however humane for the region, a war crime because of lack of supplies and medical care and sanitation, and overcrowding.

    PHRUSA also went after the mass graves, and their original prison report gets harder and harder to find, but here’s part of it, as reported by Amnesty International.

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA11/004/2002/en/76803b9c-fb00-11dd-9fca-0d1f97c98a21/asa110042002en.pdf

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    About Me

    I’m a writer and reporter living in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the past four years I’ve been an investigative reporter at various Village Voice Media weeklies, and before that I worked on documentary films in New York City.

    I am currently a journalism mentor and news editor for The Killid Group, a not-for-profit radio and print organization based in Kabul, with five radio stations and many bureaus throughout Afghanistan.

    My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, Modern Drunkard and other fine publications.

    Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve also worked in south Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 165
    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Kabul, Afghanistan