Thursday, July 23, 2009

Did U.S. forces watch Afghan massacre?

Afghan detainees allege that Americans witnessed a mass killing -- a charge the New York Times chose not to report

Editor's note: Read an interview here with a detainee who claims he saw a "big, tall" American near the site of the massacre.

By Mark Benjamin

The Dasht-e-Leili site.

It has long been known that soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, hundreds or thousands of Taliban prisoners who had surrendered in the city of Kunduz were herded into metal containers and suffocated or shot, allegedly under orders from an Afghan warlord. As Newsweek reported in August 2002, the bodies were then piled into mass graves in Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, near Shibarghan.

Earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen advanced the story, revealing that the United States had resisted any war crimes investigation into the massacre, despite learning from Dell Spry, the lead FBI agent at Guantánamo Bay following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that many Afghan detainees were telling similar stories of a mass killing. Spry directed interviews of detainees by FBI agents at Guantánamo Bay, and compiled allegations made by the detainees.

But what the Times did not report was that many of those same detainees also alleged to Spry's interviewers that U.S. personnel were present during the massacre, a potentially explosive allegation that, if true, might further explain American resistance to a war crimes probe of the deaths. In an exclusive interview, Spry  told Salon that he informed Risen about the additional allegation that U.S. forces were present. Risen confirmed to Salon that Spry told him of the allegations, but said he did not publish them, in part, because he didn't believe them.

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