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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

Massacre at Qala-i-Janghi Fortress in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is asked by a reporter what the US might do to prevent the Arab Taliban and Chechen 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.” (US Department of Defense 11/20/2001; Fox News 11/22/2001; Buzbee 11/22/2001)

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 5,000 Afghan Taliban fighters “would be given safe passage after surrender, but the foreign fighters would be handed over to General Dostum.” (Harding 11/27/2001; August 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). (Harding 11/27/2001; August 11/28/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001; Prepared Statement of John Walker Lindh to the Court. United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 10/4/2002)

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.” (Harding 11/27/2001; August 11/28/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001)

Taliban fighters being transported to Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Taliban fighters being transported to Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]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 US 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. (Harding 11/27/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) 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. (August 11/28/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001; Soloway 12/1/2001)

Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]After a sleepless night in the overcrowded basement in Dostum’s fortress, a group of 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. (Soloway 12/1/2001; Harding et al. 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. (Harding et al. 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. (Huggler 11/29/2001) Meanwhile, Northern Alliance fighters are tying up prisoners at the south end of the fortress. (August 11/28/2001; Hilto 11/29/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) 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.” (Gall 11/28/2001; Soloway 12/1/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001) One guard hits Lindh in the back of his head, so hard that he “nearly [loses] consciousness.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

CIA agent “Dave”.CIA agent “Dave”. [Source: CNN/House of War]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 skirmish and “beat, kick, and bite” Spann to death. (August 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. (Harding et al. 12/1/2001) “Dave,” the second CIA agent, 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.” (Harding et al. 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.” (August 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. (August 11/28/2001; Harding et al. 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

SAS soldiers fighting for Qala-i-Janghi fortress.SAS soldiers fighting for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Eight British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers dressed in civilian clothes arrive at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress 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. (Harding 11/27/2001; August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001)

CIA officer “Dave” (center) and US special forces near Qala-i-Janghi fortress.CIA officer “Dave” (center) and US special forces near Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]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. (Harding 11/27/2001; August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001) 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. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Describing how the scene appears the following day, the London Times 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.” (August 11/28/2001)

A Northern Alliance tank fires on Qala-i-Janghi fortress.A Northern Alliance tank fires on Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]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 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002)

US special forces in Afghanistan.US special forces in Afghanistan. [Source: CNN/House of War]Four members of US Special Forces and eight soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division join the US and SAS troops already at the Qala-i-Janghi fort near Mazar-i-Sharif. 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 2,000-lb 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 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002)

A Taliban fighter killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress.A Taliban fighter killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Amnesty International calls for an inquiry into the violence at Qala-i-Janghi. The organization states, “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)

Mike Spann.Mike Spann. [Source: CIA]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 ten or so Taliban fighters who are still resisting. One of the US soldiers warns journalists not to be inside the compound at night. (August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002) “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 London Times later reports. “Some 20-liter petrol canisters were thrown in, then grenades.” (August 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. (Huggler 11/29/2001) According to an escaped prisoner, a Northern Alliance tank runs over the bodies of injured survivors. (Pakistan News Service (Newark, CA) 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 London Times reports. (August 11/28/2001; BBC 12/1/2001) 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. (Huggler 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. (Soloway 12/1/2001) General Dostum’s men pour fuel down several air ducts, two of which lead into a room where John Walker 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.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) At dusk, US soldiers recover CIA agent Mike Spann’s (see September 10, 2001) booby-trapped body. (CNN 8/3/2002)

The Northern Alliance assaults Qala-i-Janghi fortress.The Northern Alliance assaults Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid 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. (CNN 8/3/2002)

Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Northern alliance fighters retaking Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]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. (Soloway 12/1/2001; CNN 8/3/2002) 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.” (Soloway 12/1/2001; United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

Taliban fighters killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress.Taliban fighters killed in the battle for Qala-i-Janghi fortress. [Source: CNN/House of War]UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, joins Amnesty International (see November 27, 2001 and December 5, 2001) in a call for an investigation of killings at Qala-i-Jhangi. (Agence France-Presse 12/1/2001)

Taliban survivors who have been holding out in the basement of a one-story building in the Qala-i-Janghi fortress surrender. (Soloway 12/1/2001) John Walker Lindh is found “with approximately 15 dead or dying persons on the floor.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) 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 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation at Mazar-i-Sharif, later recalls. “It must have been hell and horror for them.” (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) 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 Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum intended to suffocate the prisoners inside the container, but that the presence of the ICRC and journalists has prevented that. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file) Lindh and the other surviving but wounded Taliban are taken to the town of Sheberghan. (United States of America v. John Walker Lindh 6/13/2002 pdf file)

Amnesty International issues a second call for an inquiry “into the large-scale killing of captured Taliban 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)


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