Did Americans Watch the Massacre at Dasht-e-Leili? | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

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.

More from