Pakistan military chief orders probe of execution video
Friday, October 8, 2010; 3:01 AM
The head of Pakistan's military has ordered an investigation into a video, circulating on the Internet, that depicts the country's soldiers executing blindfolded men in civilian dress.
In an order released Friday, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appointed a two-star general to head a board tasked with determining the identity of the uniformed personnel and "the veracity of the video footage." He pledged to take the "strictest possible disciplinary action" if warranted, calling the actions "unacceptable under any circumstances."
The video, which appeared several months ago on Web sites used by insurgent groups, surfaced last week on YouTube. It shows a group of soldiers firing at a row of six men, in traditional Pakistani dress, whose eyes are covered and whose hands are secured behind their backs. The men fall to the ground, and one soldier walks up to the bodies and delivers coups de grace.
In Friday's statement, Kiyani warned that the shooters in the video might be militants disguised as soldiers to "malign" the military or to mask their identities. But Obama administration and U.S. military officials, under pressure from Congress to address Pakistani military abuses, have urged action.
Pentagon and State Department officials briefed House and Senate staffers on the Pakistan human rights issue Thursday on Capitol Hill. U.S. law prohibits assistance to any foreign military units shown to have committed rights abuses unless the government involved takes action against the guilty.
That provision has been invoked without public announcement on several occasions involving Pakistan, according to sources who would discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity. Allegations of extrajudicial killings and illegal imprisonment by Pakistan's military have surfaced repeatedly since last year.
In response to a wave of such reports last spring, Kayani issued a human rights directive and said that no violations would be tolerated. But Pakistan has not publicly responded to human rights organizations making abuse allegations, nor has it released the results of any investigations.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds foreign aid programs, and author of the law prohibiting military assistance to rights abusers, said Thursday that he expected action from Pakistan.
"Given what's happening in Pakistan, with the closing of the border, the attacks against U.S. supply vehicles, and the reports of executions of civilians by Pakistani soldiers, I want to know what changes will be made before we provide additional aid," Leahy said.
In addition to the video, Leahy's reference was to ongoing U.S.-Pakistan conflict over the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers killed last week by missiles fired by U.S. helicopters flying across the border from Afghanistan. Pakistan kept a key crossing into Afghanistan closed to NATO convoys Thursday, despite U.S. apologies for the incident.
At a news conference in Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Pakistani authorities were evaluating the security situation for trucks carrying supplies through the Torkham pass to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. He said a decision about reopening the pass would "be taken in due course."
Meanwhile, hundreds of trucks remained idled at the pass, where drivers complained that they were easy targets for gunmen who have torched dozens of NATO convoys throughout Pakistan in recent days.
In its apologies Wednesday, the United States acknowledged that two of its helicopters had entered Pakistani airspace "several times" and mistakenly fired at a military post. On Thursday, U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, extended an additional apology in a letter to Kayani.
Also Thursday, the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for two suspected suicide bombings that killed at least eight people and wounded scores of others inside a crowded Sufi shrine compound in the southern city of Karachi, police said.
Brulliard reported from Islamabad.