Film Raises Questions on Afghan Killing Fields | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 19.12.2002
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Film Raises Questions on Afghan Killing Fields

A controversial documentary on the alleged complicity of American soldiers in a gruesome massacre against Taliban prisoners, aired recently in Germany, is up for discussion in parliament.


Scene of the horrific crimes in the desert near Mazar-i-Sharif

Irish filmmaker Jamie Doran is a much sought-after man.

Ever since his groundbreaking documentary on the depiction of American troops as collaborators in atrocities against Taliban fighters whipped up a storm this summer, newspapers and television channels worldwide have been queuing up to interview him.

Jamie Doran in Berlin

Jamie Doran in Berlin

In Berlin on Wednesday, Doran, a former producer at the BBC, presented footage of his explosive documentary, "Massacre in Mazar" to the human rights commission of the German parliament.

The same evening German public broadcaster ARD aired the 45-minute documentary which shows how thousands of Taliban troops were rounded up after the battle of Kunduz in late November last year under the command of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. They were then transported in sealed shipping containers to Sherberghan prison, a jail then under U.S. control in northwest Afghanistan.

Horrific crimes against Taliban prisoners

Doran’s documentary makes for shock viewing. Though there is little footage of actual events, witnesses including a Northern Alliance general recount harrowing tales of having seen U.S. troops participating in the torture and killing of thousands of Taliban fighters near Mazar-i-Sharif.

Two of the witnesses, who were truck drivers commandeered to transport the containers, said that the prisoners were intentionally smothered within the containers by Northern Alliance soldiers, who apparently then randomly shot at the containers to punch holes in them to allow the prisoners to breathe. But they are believed to have killed several of the squashed prisoners inside.

The film alleges that large numbers of the prisoners died during the journey. U.S. troops proposed that the drivers take the corpses out into the desert at Dasht-i-Leili for burial and many of the living were shot in the desert, according to another witness.

However the film offers no concrete proof that American soldiers know of the massacre or stood watching on the sidelines as the shootings in the desert took place.

The film footage shows large areas of sand dotted with bones and pieces of clothing.

America shrugs off film as lies

Doran’s film predictably has run into strident American criticism. Even the German ARD channel, which ran the documentary under the name – "Massacre in Afghanistan – Did the Americans turn a Blind Eye?" has been come in for scathing flak from the United States.

"It’s a mystery to us, why a respected television company wants to screen a documentary, whose facts are completely false and that unfairly portrays the U.S. mission in Afghanistan," a speaker from the U.S. State Department, Larry Schwartz said.

Even a spokesman of the American embassy in Berlin told DW-WORLD that the claims were totally misplaced. "There weren’t any American forces at the place. Only in January, once the mass graves were discovered," he said.

The spokesman also said that "internal investigations" made about human rights abuses during deployments had come up with no proof.

It’s a line that has followed by the U.S. ever since the film was first shown in summer.

A Pentagon spokesman told the British newspaper Guardian in June, "U.S. Central Command looked into it a few months ago, when allegations first surfaced when there were graves discovered in the area of Sherberghan prison. They looked into and did not substantiate any knowledge, presence or participation of U.S. service members."

The U.S. also dismissed the showing of a clipping from the film in German parliament by the left-wing, PDS party in summer as "the work of commie propaganda".

Doran tenaciously hangs on

But despite the derisory American reaction to his film, Doran isn’t giving up on his mission of "bringing the truth to light".

During the presentation of his film to the German parliament on Wednesday, he said that all his witnesses were ready to speak before a U.N. tribunal. He’s now advocating a witness-protection program for them in the German parliament and also plans to take the plea to the British parliament .

Two of the witnesses, he says have already been murdered in Afghanistan by northern Alliance forces. He describes the witnesses as "fantastic and courageous" people, who voluntarily feel obliged to tell the terrible truth.

In summer this year, Doran fearing a cover-up, presented parts of his documentary to the European Parliament and human rights groups, many of whom have conducted their own investigations into the mass graves and condemned the abuses.

And much to the dislike of America, Doran’s film is bound to create further waves. It’s already been sold in 11 countries and aired on British channel 5 and Italian channel RAI. Doran reckons with the film being broadcast in 35 countries, including the U.S.

"I have a duty to tell the truth," is how Doran explains the force driving him on his risk-fraught mission.