Did U.S. troops tamper with evidence to cover up civilian casualties in Afghanistan? That’s a central premise of the accusations outlined in a new report released Monday by Amnesty International. The human rights organization accuses the U.S. military of systematically covering up examples of civilian casualties, failing to investigate cases it knew about and participating in torture and brutality.
The report, “Left in the Dark: Failures of Accountability for Civilian Casualties Caused by International Military Operations in Afghanistan,” details 10 cases and Amnesty International says it gathered information through interviews with witnesses and family members.
“Judging from interviews with 125 Afghan victims, family members and eyewitnesses to attacks that resulted in civilian casualties, as well as from a thorough review of the documentary record, the U.S. military’s investigative and prosecutorial practices fall far short of what is needed to ensure accountability for alleged crimes against civilians,” the report said. “In numerous cases in which there is credible evidence of unlawful killings of civilians, the military has failed to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations.”
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force overseeing coalition operations in Afghanistan responded in a statement by saying it was reviewing the report and its findings. There has been a significant reduction in civilian casualties by coalition troops, a point that is noted in both Amnesty International’s latest report and a July 2014 report released by the United Nations, ISAF said.
“ISAF thoroughly investigates all credible reports of civilian deaths and injuries when tactical circumstances allow, and conducts after-action reviews to determine the specific circumstances of each event,” the coalition said. “Coalition leadership also ensures that ISAF takes steps to minimize the risk to civilians during military operations and works with our Afghan partners to do the same.”
The 10 cases probed in the new Amnesty International report include several that were high-profile at the time, but subsequently received little attention from investigators, the human rights organization said.
One in particular occurred Feb. 12, 2010. U.S. Special Forces raided a home in Paktia province around 3 a.m. where a party was being held and killed five people, including two pregnant women, the report alleges.
“The shots were fired by snipers positioned on a nearby rooftop. According to all the Afghan witnesses, there was no exchange of fire, just a one-sided barrage. When the shooting ended, Special Forces troops blasted open the gate to the house’s yard,” the report states. “Most of the guests were hiding in the salon, terrified, but Haji Sharabuddin, who had also been jolted awake by the gunfire, had run outside.”
Sharabuddin, an elder in the family, told Amnesty International that the Special Forces would not let him help his wounded son, and instead ties up the older man. Eight people were eventually taken away for questioning, and sniper rounds were dug out of the walls of the house to hide evidence, witnesses allege.
ISAF later announced that it found bodies in the raid, already dead and bound, in an apparent mercy kiling. But that wasn’t true, Amnesty alleges. Sharabuddin told them that the U.S. military has never interviewed his family about what happened, and he has no indication anyone was ever held responsible.
ISAF did not address that or any of the other specific incidents outlined by Amnesty in its statement.