Video evidence has emerged that CIA operatives were threatening Taliban prisoners they would be left to die if they did not co-operate under interrogation.
In an exchange captured on video by an Afghan cameraman, two officers threatened the American Taliban fighter John Walker, who was being held at a prison fortress near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif two weeks ago. One of the officers is Mike Spann, a member of the special activities division of the agency's directorate of operations – the paramilitary wing of the agency's secret espionage branch – who was killed in an uprising at the prison only hours later. Nearly 400 Taliban prisoners were also killed as the uprising was put down.
The precise nature of the threat – raised by Mr Spann and a CIA colleague called Dave – is unclear, but on the video Mr Spann, 32, wearing jeans and a black jumper and with an AK47 assault rifle strapped across his back, is seen nodding towards Mr Walker, 20, and then saying to Dave: "I explained to him what the deal is". The video shows Mr Walker kneeling on the ground, emaciated, filthy, wearing loose black trousers and a tunic, with his elbows tied behind his back, and cowering as Mr Spann remonstrates with him. Mr Walker stares at the ground throughout.
"Dave" then replies: "The problem is, he's got to decide if he wants to live or die. If he wants to die, he's going to die here. Or he's going to f****** spend the rest of his short f****** life in prison. It's his decision, man.
"We can only help the guys who want to talk to us. We can only get the Red Cross to help so many guys."
The mention of the Red Cross appears to be a reference to a representative of the international charity who was trying to register the thousands of Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters in the prison.
Later Mr Spann is heard to say to Mr Walker: "They [the 11 September hijackers] killed other Muslims. There were several hundred other Muslims killed in the bombing. Are you going to talk to us?" When there is no reply, "Dave" says to Mr Spann: "This guy got his chance. He got his chance."
Within hours of the encounter, hundreds of prisoners launched an uprising in which they seized guns and other weapons from their Northern Alliance guards. In the initial fighting Mr Spann was killed, while "Dave" fought his way out, shooting dead several prisoners.
The exchange on the video raises the prospect that the prisoners revolted because they feared they could be killed if they did not co-operate with the coalition forces. Mr Walker was one of the few who survived the uprising. He was taken into custody by US forces.
The uprising was put down by a combination of Northern Alliance fighters and American air strikes called in by US and British special forces soldiers who were at the prison acting as advisers and interrogating prisoners. Hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed by the air strikes, whose use has been questioned by human rights groups. They have called for a full inquiry into the massacre.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for Amnesty International said: "[The threats] are very disturbing. The CIA operatives should be fully aware of the international law and that they cannot execute prisoners. It just shows more than ever the need for a full inquiry into what took place and that the US, UK and United Front governments cannot push the matter under the carpet."
Kenneth Ross, the executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, said that under international law the threat could amount to torture.
"International law is absolutely clear that any prisoner is entitled to humane treatment and cannot be summarily executed. It's not clear what the CIA man was threatening but if he was threatening to leave him to rot to death it would be utterly inappropriate. Threat of execution is a form of severe treatment, if not torture."
Ari Fleischer, President George Bush's spokesman, said that America had not yet decided what should happen to Mr Walker, who some people accuse of treason. He said the Department of Defence was investigating the case.
The CIA said it was not ready to comment on the behaviour of its operatives on the video.Reuse content