McChrystal Probe of SOF Killings Excluded Key Eyewitnesses

Published on
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Inter Press Service

McChrystal Probe of SOF Killings Excluded Key Eyewitnesses

by
Gareth Porter and Ahmad Walid Fazly

As a member of the SOF community who had promoted night raids as a privileged tactic in his strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal had an obvious personal and political interest in keeping evidence of an SOF cover-up of the killings out of any official U.S. report on the Gardez raid. (AFP/Pool/File/Mustafa Quraishi)

WASHINGTON - The follow-up
investigation of a botched Special Operations
Forces (SOF) raid in Gardez Feb. 12 that killed two government
officials and three women, ordered by Gen. Stanley A.
McChrystal Apr. 5, was ostensibly aimed at reconciling
divergent Afghan and U.S. accounts of what happened during and
after the raid.

That implied that the U.S. investigators
would finally do
what they had failed to do in the original investigation -
interview the eyewitnesses. But three eyewitnesses who had
claimed to see U.S. troops digging bullets of the bodies of
three women told IPS they were never contacted by U.S.
investigators.

The failure to interview key eyewitnesses, along with the
refusal to make public any of the investigation's findings,
continued a pattern of behaviour by McChrystal's command of
denying that the SOF unit had begun a cover-up of the
killings immediately after the raid.

Both the original report of the U.S. investigation and
initial NATO report on the Feb. 12 night raid in Gardez
remain classified, according to Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale,
the officer who was spokesman for McChrystal on the issue
before the general was relieved of his command Jun. 23.

Casting further doubt on the integrity of the investigation,
the officer who carried out the follow-up investigation was
under McChrystal's direct command after completing the
investigation.

As a member of the SOF community who had promoted night
raids as a privileged tactic in his strategy in Afghanistan,
McChrystal had an obvious personal and political interest in
keeping evidence of an SOF cover-up of the killings out of
any official U.S. report on the Gardez raid.

Even while claiming that he could not reveal anything about
the conclusions of the report, Breasseale told IPS, "Based
on the findings of this investigation, I can reaffirm what I
wrote on 5 April - there is no evidence of a cover-up."

Breasseale had said in an e-mail to IPS before McChrystal
was relieved of command that "many" survivors of the raid
were interviewed, "depending on whether they were available
to speak to the investigating officer".

But the father and mother of an 18-year-old girl who died
from wounds inflicted by the raiders and the brother of the
police officer and the prosecutor killed in the raid all
said in interviews with IPS last week that they had never
been contacted by U.S. investigators about what they had
seen that night. All three gave testimony to the Afghan
investigators.

In an interview with IPS, Mohammed Tahir, the father of
Gulalai, the 18-year old girl who was killed in the raid,
said, "I saw them taking out the bullets from bodies of my
daughter and others."

Tahir said that he and as many as seven other eyewitnesses
had told interior ministry investigators about the attempted
cover-up they had seen. But he insisted, "We have never been
interviewed by the U.S. military."

Mohammed Saber, the brother of the two men killed in the
raid - Commander Dawood, the head of intelligence for a
district in Paktia province, and Saranwal Zahir, a
prosecutor - said he had not been interviewed by any U.S.
investigator either. Saber told IPS, "The Americans were
taking out the bullets from the bodies of the dead with
knives and with other equipment that they always have."

Saber said the U.S. soldiers refused to let relatives of the
victims go to help them as they lay bleeding to death. Saber
said he and other eyewitnesses were taken to a U.S. base and
detained for three nights and four days.

Sabz Paree, the 18-year-old woman's mother, also denied
being interviewed by U.S. investigators. "I saw everything,"
she told IPS. "The Americans had knives and were taking out
the bullets from her."

In response to a request for comment on the denials by the
three family members that they or other eyewitnesses had
been interviewed by the U.S. investigator, Breasseale wrote
in an e-mail, "All available family members who offered
themselves up to take part in the investigator's questions
when he was there were interviewed during his visit(s)."

Breasseale said the name of the Army colonel in charge of
the investigation would not be made public for reasons of
"privacy". He acknowledged in an e-mail before McChrystal
was relieved of duty, however, that the officer was under
McChrystal's "operational control", although he was not at
the time he was appointed and during the investigation.

The target of the raid was a young man who had been at the
celebration at the compound but had not even been detained,
according to Mohammed Saber, who was shown pictures of the
target while being held in detention for four days. The man
turned himself in for questioning a few days later but was
then released without charge, according to Saber.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the
combined U.S.-NATO command then headed by McChrystal, issued
a statement within hours of the Feb. 12 raid declaring that
the two men who died in the raid were "insurgents" who had
fired on the raiding party, and that the troops had found
the bodies of three women "tied up, gagged and killed" and
hidden in a room.

Military officials later suggested that the women - who
among them had 16 children - had all been stabbed to death
or had died by other means before the raid.

The officials told reporters the bodies had shown signs of
puncture and slashing wounds from a knife - a claim that
appears to support the eyewitness accounts by family members
of the use of knives by SOF members to dig bullets out of
the dead bodies.

The New York Times quoted a family member, Abdul Ghafar, as
recalling that he had seen bullet entry wounds on the bodies
of the three dead women that appeared to have been scraped
out to remove bullets. "The holes were bigger than they were
supposed to be," Gafar was quoted as saying.

When Jerome Starkey of The Times of London reported Mar. 13
that more than a dozen people interviewed at or near the
scene of the attack had said the three women were killed by
the U.S.-NATO gunmen, McChrystal's spokesman, Rear Adm.
Gregory Smith, tried to challenge the accuracy of Starkey's
reporting.

On Apr. 4, ISAF admitted for the first time that the woman
had been killed as a result of the SOF raiders firing on the
two men.

However, the ISAF statement suggested that the U.S. and
Afghan investigators had conducted a "thorough joint
investigation" and maintained that there was no evidence of
a cover-up. It explained the earlier statement about the
women being found bound and gagged as the result of "an
initial report by the international members of the joint
force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs".

But the head of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Criminal
Investigation Department, Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, publicly
contradicted to the ISAF statement, telling the New York
Times Apr. 4 that his investigators had gotten eyewitness
accounts from survivors of tampering with the bodies of the
dead.

Yarmand told the Times that his investigation had concluded
that "there was evidence of tampering in the corridor inside
the compound by the members" of the SOF raiding unit.

Within 24 hours of the publication of Yarmand's revelations,
McChrystal's spokesman was telling reporters that McChrystal
had ordered a new U.S. investigation, even as he was
continuing to deny that there any evidence of SOF tampering
with the evidence.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist
specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback
edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance
of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam
", was published in
2006.

Ahmad Walid Fazly reported from Kabul.

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