No Comment — July 22, 2009, 9:53 am

Did Americans Watch the Massacre at Dasht-e-Leili?

I noted in my earlier post on the Dasht-e-Leili massacre that James Risen’s commendable article was strangely incurious on a vital point. It avoided asking about what American advisors attached to General Dostum’s troops saw and did when all this was going on. Now Mark Benjamin at Salon establishes that Risen made a judgment call to suppress specific allegations that would have fueled that question:

Earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen advanced the story, revealing that the United States had resisted any war crimes investigation into the massacre, despite learning from Dell Spry, the lead FBI agent at Guantánamo Bay following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that many Afghan detainees were telling similar stories of a mass killing. Spry directed interviews of detainees by FBI agents at Guantánamo Bay, and compiled allegations made by the detainees. But what the Times did not report was that many of those same detainees also alleged to Spry’s interviewers that U.S. personnel were present during the massacre, a potentially explosive allegation that, if true, might further explain American resistance to a war crimes probe of the deaths. In an exclusive interview, Spry told Salon that he informed Risen about the additional allegation that U.S. forces were present. Risen confirmed to Salon that Spry told him of the allegations, but said he did not publish them, in part, because he didn’t believe them…

“The allegation was that U.S. forces were present while Dostum’s troops were herding these people into these containers,” Spry, now retired from the FBI and working as an FBI consultant, told Salon. “They were out rounding up alleged Taliban and insurgent folks.” Spry said that at the time of the interviews not long after the invasion of Afghanistan he found the detainees’ claims of a massacre “plausible,” since the detainees separately told similar stories. Spry thought an investigation seemed warranted. He found the claims of the involvement of U.S. personnel, however, more specious, mostly because he doubted that Americans would participate in or stand by passively during a massacre. “I did not believe that then and I do not believe that now,” he said about the alleged involvement of U.S. personnel.

Besides his doubts about their truth, Risen also says he cut the allegations from his story for “space concerns.” His story was 1700 words, with plenty of space for generous discussion of the backroom chatter inside the Beltway. But no space to note allegations that American service personnel were on the scene? That’s a strange judgment call.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today