WASHINGTON: Aug 31: Jamie Doran, the director of an explosive new television documentary on the Afghan war, says US troops failed to stop a massacre of thousands of Taliban prisoners and Pakistani volunteers by Afghan militiamen allied with the United States.
Although Doran's film was screened in June, it's a Newsweek cover story last week that brought new credibility to this award winning filmmaker who claims that US troops turned a blind eye while Northern Alliance fighters massacred as many as 3,000 Taliban last November.
But the British-born director says that Newsweek's own investigation contained "less than half the full story" and failed to acknowledge what Doran says was its debt to his documentary. Still the news magazine did him a service by "confirming the facts we already knew" and by "bringing the issue to the attention of American policy-makers."
The grim story was first revealed in detail when Doran showed his film to the European parliamentarians in Brussels two months ago.
"At the time, US officials were denying any large scale killings had taken place and said American troops were nowhere near the site of the massacre," says the filmmaker.
Pentagon officials insist that US soldiers were not aware of the alleged deaths. They had interviewed members of US Special Forces teams in the area at the time as well as reviewed their reports, and found no evidence of knowledge, let alone wrongdoing, by American troops, they said.
In follow-up questions on Monday, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that Special Forces who go on operations are expected to report any abuses they observe and to intervene to stop them. But Pace said a review of the incident produced "zero reported cases of human rights violations by the teams that we had on the ground."
But "Massacre at Mazar," which is due to be broadcast in many countries in October, alleges that American troops failed to prevent the massacre. The Taliban fighters had surrendered to the US-backed Northern Alliance after the Nov. 21 fall of the Taliban's last stronghold at the town of Konduz.
Following an aborted uprising at Mazar-i-Sharif, 7,500 prisoners were taken to a crowded jail in Sheberghan where, according to Afghans interviewed for the film, they were tortured by US Special Forces. After interrogation, thousands of Taliban fighters were stuffed into container trucks, and driven to the Dasht Leili desert. Hundreds suffocated on the way, and the rest were shot by Northern Alliance gunmen in the presence of US troops, and then buried in mass graves, the film charges.
Doran said he was "surprised by the extent of world interest in the film but disappointed at the reaction of the United States and Britain - the two countries most involved in the conflict."
The film quotes Afghan witnesses claiming to have seen US troops torturing the Taliban prisoners. Doran denied reports that the witnesses had anything to gain by making their claims.
"The witnesses had no reason to come forward - indeed one even admitted to killing people on tape. They received no money and put themselves in immense danger by taking part in the film. I think that lends greater credibility to the film," says Doran.
The filmmaker also said the Pentagon told journalists he was a communist and that the film was actually shot in neighbouring Pakistan. "It's the usual flak you pick up when you break a story that isn't liked," he shrugs.
Pace said he understood the Afghan government planned to conduct its own investigation. But Doran says that though Kabul is under pressure to look into the alleged atrocities, the government "does not have the time or money to carry out the type of investigation that is needed."
Instead, the London-based filmmaker, who worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation for seven years before setting up his own production company, believes an independent UN enquiry is the only way to establish the truth. Last May a visit to the scene by a UN forensic team turned up indications of mass graves in the area.
Doran's skepticism about the capacity of the Afghan government is shared by human rights experts.
"The crucial need is for a credible investigation by experienced and competent forensic scientists," Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, told journalists in Washington last week.
"We believe that a full investigation of this complexity is currently beyond the capacity of the Afghan government and needs the leadership and the mandate of the United Nations," he added.
"The United States is particularly keen to deflect interest away from the role of its soldiers and onto the Afghanis. But if US troops are genuinely innocent, they have nothing to fear from such an investigation," he says.
"It is beyond doubt that a number of American soldiers were at Sheberghan Prison," says Doran while commenting on Pentagon's denial. "Either they walked around blindfolded with ear-muffs for eight days or they saw what was going on."
Doran said that the documentary, which has already been sold to broadcasters in 15 countries, contained a "lot more evidence" than the rough-cut viewed by Euro-parliamentarians in June.www.dawn.com/2002/09/01/int6.htmE-mail this article