That Afghanistan’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, cannot get a visa to the United States should come as no surprise. He has long been accused of war crimes, after all.
As a matter of government policy, the US bars entry to non-US citizens responsible for “war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of human rights,” according to a 2011 Presidential Proclamation. However, the policy does allow the Secretary of State to permit such an individual’s entry if it “would be in the interests of the United States.”
So maybe it was determined to be in US interests to allow some of Afghanistan’s most notorious war crimes suspects to visit the US.
Assadullah Khalid, for instance. The accused serial rapist, torturer, and former head of Afghanistan’s abusive intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), visited the US multiple times since at least 2012 for medical treatment following an assassination attempt by the Taliban. He reportedly resides in northern Virginia for weeks at a time. Khalid’s long relationship with the CIA may have garnered him special status, despite his record of abuses.
The US government has also opened the gate to Haji Gulalai, who settled in Los Angeles in 2013. Gulalai is the former head of the NDS in Kandahar and is known among Afghans as “the torturer-in-chief” for alleged acts of sadism including electric shocks on detainees, a number of whom subsequently “disappeared.” In 2007, a secret memo circulated among UN officials and foreign diplomats concluded that Gulalai was responsible for institutionalizing systematic torture in the NDS. His victims reportedly included both suspected Taliban and political rivals. His tactics swelled support for the insurgency.
Dostum is accused of responsibility for the November 2001 deaths of hundreds of Taliban prisoners at the hands of his militia forces. Those forces stuffed the Taliban detainees into shipping containers with little air and no water; most asphyxiated. Dostum’s current visa problems notwithstanding, the US dodged calls for an investigation into the mass killings – including any knowledge that US Special Forces working with Dostum’s troops may have had of the atrocities. The UN did likewise, citing the sensitivities of the issue. Dostum has also been accused of removing evidence from the mass grave site in 2007.
Time may be running out for Afghanistan’s most notorious human rights abusers. On January 23, 2016, the Afghan government announced it would welcome a visit by the International Criminal Court, a step that could help bring Afghanistan one step closer to ending the impunity that has plagued the country.
For its part, the US should implement the Presidential Proclamation to deny visas and bar entry to war crimes suspects and other human rights violators – or prosecute them for war crimes or other criminal offenses under US law.
The US should not be a safe haven for war criminals.