Crimes Against Humanity: Afghanistan

America has engaged in the Afghanistan War for almost 18 years, making it one of its longest wars in its history. Recently, President Trump has ordered all 14,000 U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. While many Americans are questioning why this decision has been made, the answer can be found with the U.S.-Taliban peace deal and the ICC investigation. On February 29th, a landmark agreement was created in an effort to restore peace in Afghanistan. U.S. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar met in Doha, Qatar to sign the agreement. Shortly after this peace deal was signed, the ICC gained authorization to investigate the war crimes committed in Afghanistan. There are three categories of crimes that ICC will investigate: war crimes by the Taliban and Haqqani Network, war crimes by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and war crimes by members of U.S. forces. This article aims to reveal the crimes committed by the Taliban and U.S. military troops.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (left) and Taliban chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (right) sign the peace deal in Doha, Qatar

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized an investigation into the war crimes of Afghanistan on March 15th. The court decision serves as a paragon for justice, since this is the first time that U.S. troops are under investigation for their actions in the war. The prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, believes that there have been substantial accounts of crimes committed by the U.S. troops, along with the CIA in detention centers. Previously, in 2017, Bensouda requested judges to investigate these crimes. Unfortunately, the Pretrial Chamber rejected her request and it wasn’t until this year, that the Pretrial Chamber approved her request. Bensouda reports that the U.S. troops “…committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.” Her persistence and knowledge about the war crimes committed have allowed her to make a successful case to the Pretrial Chamber.

Fatou Bensouda
Judge Piotr Hofmanski

Judge Piotr Hofmanski confirmed that ICC can conduct the investigation into crimes beginning from May 1, 2003. ICC’s investigation will be led by ICC employees and human rights officials from different organizations, such as Human Rights Watch. These groups intend to uncover the crimes of U.S. troops and the Taliban. Param Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, has advocated that, “The ICC Appeals Chamber’s decision to green light an investigation of brutal crimes in Afghanistan despite extreme pressure on the court’s independence reaffirms the court’s essential role for victims when all other doors to justice are closed.” ICC’s monumental decision to investigate these crimes will allow victims to receive some form of closure. Richard Bennett, Director of Amnesty International in Asia Pacific, once stated that, “Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by U.S. forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The U.S. military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses.” Bennett discloses that the U.S. justice system has turned a blind eye to the crimes committed by the military forces. Fortunately, ICC will hold U.S. forces and the Taliban accountable for their crimes against Afghans. 

“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by U.S. forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The U.S. military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses.”

Richard Bennet, Director of Amnesty International in Asia Pacific
U.S. troops

Government officials in Washington are not at ease with this case. In fact, they have discredited ICC as a legal body performing such an investigation. U.S Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declares that this investigation will breach the peace deal between the U.S. and Afghanistan. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, remarked earlier in 2018 that ICC “…unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.” ICC has been able to investigate these crimes against humanity despite the threats from Washington D.C. Last April, ICC received threats to repeal or deny the U.S. visas of ICC staff. A recent report from Amnesty International details the numerous airstrikes and mass killings by NATO and U.S. troops. This report was almost 100 pages and recounted events from 125 victims from 2009-2013. In addition, several videos have been leaked regarding the cruel treatment of Afghan detainees by U.S. forces. American forces are allowed to interrogate detainees for up to two weeks and they use “tactical questioning” in which prisoners are severely tortured. In 2012, U.S. troops raped nearly all of the women in Chahar Bolak, an area in the Balkh province of Afghanistan. The U.S. troops separated the men and women and the soldiers raped the women, and the men were unable to stop them. The commander of the troops, who remains anonymous, warned the villagers that they would repeat this crime if they complained to their Afghan authorities. Unfortunately, the rape crimes in Afghanistan by U.S. troops have been rising ever since 2001. While the U.S. forces are responsible for a vast amount of civilian crimes, the Taliban had  also been perpetrators of  war crimes in Afghanistan. 

U.S. Airstrikes in Afghanistan

The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1998-2001. The goal of the Taliban rule is to establish an ultraconservative interpretation of Islamic law and they carry out punishments in public for various crimes. For example, if someone is caught stealing, the Taliban would punish that person by chopping their hand off. In 2010, the killings performed by the Taliban increased by 95%, with women and children being the main victims. In 2010, Sama Gul, a 35 yr old pregnant woman, was imprisoned in the Baghdis province of Afghanistan. She was imprisoned by the Taliban because she had an affair, resulting in her  becoming pregnant. Sanam was given 200 lashes,then shot to death. Her death sparked a lot of riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan regarding how Taliban punish civilians. The Taliban are also known to forcefully take young boys away from their parents so that they may serve in the Taliban regime. Boys aged from as young as 8 years are isolated from their families to live and practice Taliban law. If parents refuse to give up their sons, the Taliban kill them.

Taliban destroy high school
Public stoning in Afghanistan

ICC hasn’t released any cases or rulings regarding these war crimes, but they are in the process of obtaining the records and investigating these crimes. Bensouda and her team will be able to conduct an investigation for all of the crimes committed in Afghanistan since 2003. The Taliban and U.S. military troops will finally be held responsible for their atrocious crimes.

Interview w/ Afghan Woman (Anonymous):

  • Which city in Afghanistan are you from?
    • I was born in Kandahar, this city is close to Pakistan. My family moved to Kabul and we lived there for about 7 years.
  • When did you leave Afghanistan?
    • In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan. We left Afghanistan during the 1980s and came to the U.S.
  • Who are the Taliban?
    • At the time I was in Afghanistan, they weren’t called the Taliban. They were formerly known as the Mujahideen. They were a grass-roots movement that fought against the Russians. The Mujahideen were the people who engaged in jihad, a religious battle against non-Muslims to uphold the religion of Islam.
  • How did the Taliban come into power?
    • As I mentioned earlier, the Taliban were known as the Mujahideen, and they first gained prominence in Afghanistan when they received funding for their warfare by the U.S. The U.S. and Mujahideen were strong allies against the Russians as they both sought to eradicate communism. In 1989, Russia was defeated and they left Afghanistan. During this time, Osama Bin Laden began to recruit more men to join his movement. They became known as the Taliban and their mission was to spread Islam.
  • Do you remember any war crimes committed by the Taliban?
    • The Taliban committed some crimes as well as the Russians. The Taliban closed all movie theaters and record shops and punished those who worked there. They would punish people in public for the crimes they committed. Women weren’t allowed to go outside, unless it was necessary and so they had to wear the burqa to cover themselves completely. The Taliban would come to different houses to take young boys to join their cause. They also prevented girls from going to school because they believed it wasn’t necessary for girls to receive education.
  • Do you remember any war crimes that were committed by the Russians?
    • The Russians committed the most horrific acts. The Russians would implant bombs in toys and spread them across the streets in Afghanistan. Many children died due to the explosions from the bombs. I remember my parents would tell me and my siblings not to grab any toy because it was very dangerous. The Russians would also poison the water supplies in schools and many children became severely ill or died. Airstrikes were very common and many cities were destroyed.
Russian soldiers in Afghanistan