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Body found near base ID’d as Afghan torture victim

Disappearance of slaying suspect spurs rift with US

KABUL — The footless body of an Afghan man missing since November was found Tuesday near the former US Special Forces base to which he was last seen being taken, according to Afghan officials and victims’ representatives.

Afghan investigators said that after his disappearance, the man, Sayid Mohammad, was seen in a video being tortured by an Afghan-American named Zakaria Kandahari, whom the officials identified as the chief interpreter for a US Army Special Forces A Team stationed at the base. The US military denies that Kandahari is a US citizen and said he was no longer working for the A Team when the video was made.

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Mohammad’s body was found about 200 yards outside the perimeter of the base, in Nerkh District in Wardak Province. Mohammad Hanif Hanafi, the district governor, said it was found by laborers digging a water ditch when they unearthed what appeared to be a military-style black body bag.

Relatives of Mohammad said his body was largely complete, except both feet had been cut off. Afghan officials say the partial remains and clothing of another missing person had been found earlier near the base, which is now occupied by Afghan Special Forces after the US unit left in March.

Afghan officials are seeking Kandahari’s arrest on murder, torture, and abuse of prisoner charges, and accuse the US military of shielding him from capture.

US military officials have insisted they do not have Kandahari and do not know where he is; they also say that repeated military investigations into the disappearances and murders of at least 15 people from Wardak Province have shown no wrongdoing by US soldiers. The results of those investigations have not been made public.

The senior Afghan investigator for Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that investigators had now raised the toll of missing and dead to 17 people, all of whom were said to have been seized by the A Team in Nerkh. He provided names for all 17, and none has since been seen alive: adding in the latest body to be discovered, eight are still missing and nine have been found dead.

Although there has been no testimony directly tying US soldiers to the abuse or killing of those detainees, the investigator questioned whom Kandahari answered to.

“There is no question that Zakaria directly tortured and murdered,” he said. “But who is Zakaria? Who recruited him, gave him his salary, his weapons? Who kept him under their protection? He worked for Special Forces. That a member of their team was committing such crimes and they didn’t know it is just not credible.”

The Afghan investigator, however, disputed earlier Afghan official accounts that suggested an American voice could be heard in the videotaped session of Mohammad’s torture, and he said the torture session took place in Afghan government offices in Nerkh district, not on the base itself.

On that video, officials who have seen it said, a furious Kandahari in military uniform can be seen kicking a seated and handcuffed Mohammad, sometimes knocking him over.

The US military has described Kandahari as a freelance interpreter who had volunteered to help the US Special Forces, who allowed him to live at their base in exchange.

Afghan officials, however, described Kandahari as having a leadership role and conducting operations on his own initiative, including detaining suspects and taking them into the Special Forces base last November and December, when the disappearances occurred.

After a series of Afghan government investigations, officials demanded that US authorities turn over Kandahari. But US officials told the Afghans that he had escaped, which infuriated Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, and he then demanded that all US Special Operations forces leave Wardak. A compromise was struck in which only the team in Nerkh was removed.

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