December 3, 2001

What Happened in Mazar?
Riot or Massacre?

Five hundred prisoners of war are now dead. You see, they were starting a prison riot. It wasn't as if anyone broke the Geneva Convention or anything, but these fanatics were asking for it, you know how fanatics are. That is why they were prisoners. What they wanted was martyrdom, where they could get their seventy-two black-eyed maid servants (this is a family site so excuse the less than literal translation) and their turquoise mansion. Call me stupid, actually that's one of the nicer things people are saying about me; but if they wanted to die as glorious martyrs wouldn't they, well, die on the battlefield. It just seems to me in my naive little way that there are more direct routes to martyrdom on a battlefield than being taken prisoner.

Then there is the arms cache that I cannot quite figure out. You see getting a load of guns into a prisoner of war camp chock full of enemy soldiers would be quite difficult. Now, before I have some half-witted radio show host saying "how do you know, you weren't there" I'll just point out that common sense would dictate that the last thing you allow enemy prisoners of war to keep is weapons. So how did they get the weapons?

After a couple of days (!) the answer seemed clear. There was an arms cache right next to the prison. I can imagine how that one went. Imagine, if you will, General Dostum (the Afghan commander in Mazar) and some underling:

Underling: We have a problem sir.

Gen. Dostum: Tie them to the tank tracks, go two circuits round the track, end of problem.

Underling: Not a discipline problem, sir, but some prisoners of war.

Gen. Dostum: Tie them to...

Underling: With respect, sir, there's not just four or five like last week; there are five hundred of them.

Gen. Dostum: Then they can join us, we can't all be on the winning side. Even I fought for the Russians once.

Underling: But these aren't Afghans, they're foreigners Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens, the lot.

Gen. Dostum: How many tanks do we need? We just tie them...

Underling: But sir, what about the media?

Gen. Dostum: They can come and film it. They've been whining about how we don't give them good enough footage.

Underling: Well I don't think the Americans would like that.

Gen. Dostum: They can drive a couple of the tanks.

Underling: No, you see they don't like the idea of their public thinking that the liberators of Afghanistan are just like the Taliban with public executions and all.

Gen. Dostum: Oh, I see, and what do they do?

Underling: They make them "prisoners of war."

Gen. Dostum: And then they tie them to the tank tracks?

Underling: Not exactly, they put them into a prison.

Gen. Dostum: And?

Underling: Well, they keep them there.

Gen. Dostum: And?

Underling: Well, sir, that's it. It's all written down under the Genie Conventicle, or something like that.

Gen. Dostum: So when does this conventicle say we can start tying them to tank tracks?

Underling: It doesn't, sir.

Gen. Dostum: So, where do we put them?

Underling: Somewhere safe, so they can't escape.

Gen. Dostum: Like a fortress, or something like that?

Underling: That's right, sir.

Gen. Dostum: How about Qala-i-Janghi?

Underling: Good idea, sir. Whereabouts in Qala-i-Janghi?

Gen. Dostum: Hmm... I know. Next to the arms cache.

Now it wouldn't happen like that, would it? Why were all these prisoners of war placed next to an arms dump? Or was an arms dump placed next to them?

Then there's the question of all of these guys dying. All of them, during a three-day battle? Did not one surrender in all of those three days? After all, they had already surrendered once before. A spokesman for the Northern Alliance said, "They got killed because of their own stubbornness." Well, it seems that eighty or so did surrender after the fighting finished. Not any of them during the fighting itself, but only after the media started paying attention. Then they had to get some survivors. And you know what? They actually found some.

Wasn't that odd, all these people fighting to the death and then surrendering when the media asked why there weren't any survivors. But before that every last one of them was stubborn enough to face death. All five hundred, even those who had their hands tied behind their back.

Then there was something that Donald Rumsfeld said. Allowing the Al-Qaeda fighters to go free would mean they could "make their mischief elsewhere". He also said, "my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner". On the other hand, there was this charming line:

Any idea that those people ... should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilise other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent.

Now, I am not claiming that the Northern Alliance did this under Rumsfeld's orders. They are perfectly capable of doing this sort of thing for themselves, and they need no prompting. But it hardly looks good just before a "battle" in which every last enemy prisoner dies, does it?

If there were no British troops or bombs, I wouldn't mind. Civil wars in Afghanistan can be bloody things, and the "Arabs" should have known that they were more than a little unwelcome. However, British Special Forces and planes have been involved, and if this turns out to have been anything less than some suicidal revolt where everyone was willing to die, we will be in trouble.

The Arab "street" will not spare a second thought on the culpability of General Dostum, but they will think of all those "brave" Muslim fighters who were shot after surrendering. And they will remember whose special forces directed the attacks and which markings the bombers had when they bombed the buildings. I still have enough faith in my government to believe that they may not have done something as stupid as collaborated in a wholesale massacre of prisoners. However, I do not have enough faith to take it on trust.

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Emmanuel Goldstein is the pseudonym of a political drifter on the fringes of English classical liberal and Euro-sceptic activity. He is a former member of the Labour Party, who knows Blair and some of his closest buddies better than they realise, yet. He has a challenging job in the real world, working for a profit-making private company and not sponging off the taxpayer in politics, journalism or the civil service. "Airstrip One," appears Mondays at

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