Yesterday the LA Times ran a front page story suggesting the released Gitmo prisoners were old and no longer dangerous. Maybe, maybe not.
But one is known as a war criminal, not by Americans, but by Afghans who suffered from his brutality. Who cares how old he is? If we had captured Pol Pot, would we have been inclined to say he’s too old to be dangerous?
Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.
Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban. The group released a video on Wednesday showing the hurried handover a few days earlier of the American captive, looking gaunt and dazed.
The villages of Shomali were once the orchard of central Afghanistan, and the plain’s carefully tended vineyards were famous for their grapes.
When the Taliban seized control of this area from their Northern Alliance rivals in 1999, they systematically demolished entire villages, blowing up houses, burning fields and seeding the land with mines, according to two comprehensive studies of war crimes and atrocities during wars in Afghanistan and human rights reports. Mr. Fazl played a major role in the destruction.
“There was not a single undamaged house or garden,” said Masjidi Fatehzada, a shopkeeper in Mir Bacha Kot, the district center. “My entire shop was burned to the ground. There was nothing left.”
Khwaja Mohammad, a farmer in the village of Sheykhan, remembered how Mr. Fazl’s men took away his son, a civilian, and sent him to Kabul’s Pul-e Charkhi prison.
…Among the five, however, Mr. Fazl stands out as one with the strongest ties to involvement in wartime atrocities, Afghans familiar with the Taliban and human-rights groups say.
“Fazl is the case among the five where there is clear evidence that he had command responsibility for forces that committed atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, a researcher with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch who has studied crimes committed during the Afghan civil war. “Shomali is the place where he was on the ground.”
Ms. Gossman added that evidence also places Mr. Fazl on the scene of a massacre of civilians in the Yakawlang district of central Bamyan province in January 2001. All of the parties in Afghanistan’s civil war that began in the 1990s were involved in atrocities and rights abuses, according to researchers.
“Relatively speaking, his crimes were no greater than those of many of the people the U.S. and other NATO countries have been happy to work with since 2001, including men who were involved in massacres,” said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research group.