How our Afghan allies applied the Geneva Convention

Prisoners massacred, the dead plundered for boots, guns and even gold teeth
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The Independent Online

The bodies of the dead lay everywhere. Some were laid out in roads to be taken away, others were still lying on the ground where they died, slowly beginning to decay in the morning sun.

An Afghan soldier leant over a body, his hands working intently in the dead man's mouth, clutching a long thin instrument. He was trying to wrench the fillings out of the corpse's teeth even as the flesh began to rot around them.

The outside world got to see what the war in Afghanistan was really like yesterday. For the first time reporters were allowed into Qalai Janghi, the old mud-walled fort outside Mazar-i-Sharif where hundreds of Taliban prisoners of war had been killed in a pitched battle with American and British special forces and Afghan soldiers under command of General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Inside the fortress reporters saw a scene of devastation. Rubble was piled high where buildings had collapsed. The charred remains of trees had to be cleared away from the entrance before the bodies could be taken away. The Americans had bombed the quarters from the air. Yesterday the Afghan soldiers were busily stripping the bodies of everything they could find. One soldier, his head wrapped in a white turban stepped over the dead, swinging the boots he had taken from their feet. Another dressed in a long blue Afghan shirt carried four machine guns he had taken.

Several of the bodies were recognisably Arabs and Pakistani. The foreign Taliban volunteers believed to be loyal to Osama bin Laden but who surrendered were brought to the fort from the besieged city of Mazar-i-Sharif..

Amnesty International yesterday demanded a full inquiry into why hundreds of prisoners of war who should have been protected under the Geneva Convention were slaughtered .

The Americans insisted they only bombed Qalai Janghi because their own personnel were under threat. They said the Taliban prisoners seized weapons and attacked their Afghan captors along with CIA agents who were interrogating them. Yesterday it was confirmed a CIA agent named Johnny Michael "Mike" Spann, 32, was among the fort's dead.

General Dostum striding through the slaughtered yesterday in a long flowing brown shirt and leather jacket, insisted his soldiers had treated the prisoners humanely. As he spoke, a soldier kicked the body of a man who was lying on his side to make sure he was dead. The body rolled over to reveal that the man's arms had been tied together behind his back. Several of the dead men's arms had been tied together above the elbow, some with their own black turbans. General Dostum publicly denied the practice but an Afghan soldier under his command admitted he and his comrades had been tying the prisoner's hands when the fighting started.

Reporters inside counted 150 bodies yesterday. Between 300 and 400 foreign Taliban volunteers were seen surrendering to General Dostum's troops. They are all believed to have been brought to Qalai Janghi, which means more than 150 bodies are missing. Many of them could have been lying in the rubble in the fortress. There were few Taliban survivors. General Dostum warned reporters not to wander the scene of the battle, because he claimed, two of the foreign Taliban were still alive and could be hiding in the fortress posing as dead.

At least one Pakistani Taliban was captured alive in Mazar-i-Sharif apparently after he escaped during the fighting. He has since disappeared and nobody expects him to be seen alive again. Olivier Martin of the International Red Cross who was inside Qalai Janghi when the fighting began yesterday described how he had to flee the battle. He had gone to the fortress to ensure they were being looked after in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

"We heard some shooting start, and then they started firing rockets,'' Mr Martin said. "We climbed onto the roof where we had to take shelter beside some of General Dostum's troops who were firing back at the Taliban.''

By that time he said it was clear that the Taliban prisoners were heavily armed. Mr Martin said he was not able to see how the violence started, but General Dostum claimed the revolt had begun after a grenade attack by Taliban prisoners killed two of his best generals

Yesterday there was no explanation on how the prisoners managed to get their hands on the arsenal to enable them to hold out for three days. The secrets of what and whom really started the killing, may have died with them.