In late 2001, around 8,000 Taliban fighters, including Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks as well as suspected members of al-Qaeda, surrendered to the forces of Northern Alliance General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan, after the siege of Kunduz. The program recounts that several hundred of the prisoners, among them American John Walker Lindh, were taken to Qala-i-Jangi, a fort near Mazar-i-Sharif, where they staged a bloody uprising which took several days to quell. It shows footage of Walker Lindh being interrogated by CIA man Johnny Micheal Spann, taken just hours before the latter was killed. The programme describes how the remaining 7,500 prisoners were loaded onto sealed containers for transport to Sheberghan prison. The journey was to last several days in some cases; many of the prisoners did not survive it.
The prisoners had given themselves up on the understanding that they would be allowed to go home if they gave up their weapons or – in the case of al-Qaeda and foreign fighters – that they would be treated in accordance with UN conventions. Afghan witnesses presented in Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death, their faces and voices digitally disguised, recount in sometimes harrowing and graphic detail how most of the prisoners died.
Reports from survivors of the transports speak of bound men, locked up in the containers for several days without food or drink, having resorted to licking the sweat of each other’s bodies, even biting into other prisoners’ bodies in their desperation to obtain fluids from any source. The documentary quotes the account a former Afghan soldier gave to a Pakistani newspaper, describing what he experienced when the containers were opened: “I shall never forget the sensation as long as I live. It was the most revolting and powerful stench you can imagine: a mixture of faeces, urine, blood, vomit, and rotting flesh. It was a smell to make you forget all other smells you have experienced in your life.”
Witnesses say that when the trucks arrived and soldiers opened the containers, most of the people inside were dead. They also say US Special Forces re-directed the containers carrying the living and dead into the desert and stood by as survivors were shot and buried. Now, up to three thousand bodies lie buried in a mass grave. Outraged human rights groups and lawyers are calling for an investigation but the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan refuses any U.N.-backed investigation until the Afghan government can protect witnesses. Two of the witnesses in the film have already been killed.
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