NERMEEN SHAIKH: A congressional
investigation has revealed a top U.S. general in Afghanistan sought to
stall an investigation into abuse at a U.S.-funded hospital in Kabul
that kept patients in, quote, "Auschwitz-like" conditions.
Army whistleblowers revealed photographs
taken in 2010 which show severely neglected, starving patients at Dawood
Hospital, considered the crown jewel of the Afghan medical system, where
the country’s military personnel are treated. The photos show severely
emaciated patients, some suffering from gangrene and maggot-infested
For TV viewers of Democracy Now!, please be
warned: these images are extremely graphic and may be disturbing.
The general accused of the cover-up is
William Caldwell, one of the
nation’s highest-ranking commanders in Afghanistan, who served as the
commander of the $11.2-billion-a-year Afghan training program.
Testifying before a subcommittee of the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, one of the
whistleblowers, Colonel Mark Fassl, the former inspector general for the
NATO training mission in Afghanistan, explained General Caldwell’s
response to the initial call for an inquiry into what was happening at
the hospital in Kabul.
COL. MARK FASSL: His first response to
me was, "How could we do this or make this request, with elections
coming?" And then he made the really, again, shocking comment that
he calls me Bill.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: But what does that mean?
COL. MARK FASSL: Well, I took it as that he was referring to the
president of the United States.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ: And that he had a personal relationship?
COL. MARK FASSL: I don’t know, Chairman, if he had a personal
relationship, but the political pressure there was such that he made
NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to the Oversight
Committee, the United States has spent over $180 million on operating
medical sites in Afghanistan, most of which is believed to have gone to
Dawood Hospital, where NATO personnel oversee Afghan medical staff.
Colonel Mark Fassl also gave testimony
describing the conditions he witnessed at Dawood Hospital.
COL. MARK FASSL: As we further went into
the hospital, we found that not only was there no heat going into
the winter, but there was a lack of hygiene, soap - just, again,
basic things that you would expect a 250-bed hospital - of course,
it was a 500-bed hospital, but it was mainly being used as 250 beds
- but, again, the lack of hygiene and soap.
And then, Ranking Member Tierney read a
very good description of what I saw with the open vats of blood
draining out of soldiers’ wounds, the feces on the floor. The other
thing that caught my attention was there were many family members
taking care of their loved ones, not hospital staff.
AMY GOODMAN: The website BuzzFeed, which first
published several of the Dawood Hospital photos last week, revealed Tuesday the Pentagon has
withheld key documents relating to abuses at the hospital.
To talk more about the cover-up, we’re joined by Michael Hastings,
contributing editor at Rolling Stone, reporter for BuzzFeed, which has
been following the story closely. His book, The Operators: The Wild and
Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, was published
earlier this year.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Michael.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what’s happened at the hospital, how you found out
about it, and then about the cover-up.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Sure. This was a hospital that was started in 2005 in
Kabul and funded almost completely by the United States.
And about a
year ago, the Wall Street Journal did an original story about how a lot
of these patients who were at - these Afghan patients at the hospital
were dying, essentially, from starvation, from simple infections that
should be treated very easily but instead they were - actually became
There were allegations that, to get treatment, you had to
bribe the hospital officials.
And so, there were a number of Americans
who were advisers there who thought this was horrible, took a lot of
these pictures, brought them to the command, this General Caldwell, and
General Caldwell said,
"I don’t want any of this bad news getting out of
here. I don’t want an investigation. Let’s just, you know, try to sweep
this under the rug."
Thankfully, the whistleblowers continued - kind of
ignored that, essentially, and went ahead, and that’s how we know about
this, because of this congressional investigation into it.
AMY GOODMAN: But this has been going on now for years. And talk about
just who William Caldwell is and now what is being done about this. It
opened in 2005, as you said.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Right, right. So we know - we know for a fact, and he
have it very well documented now, that from period of 2010 to 2011 these
abuses were certainly going on. From anecdotal evidence, from people
we’ve spoken to, we think that this was happening before that, as well.
General Caldwell is - was the head of the $11.2-billion-a-year Afghan
training mission. At one time, he was the spokesperson for the U.S. in
Iraq. In fact, I spent many a day next to General Caldwell in the Green
Zone, while he would sit next to me and tell us how great things were
going in Baghdad. And this was in 2006, 2007, when things were really,
really going horribly.
Now, one of General Caldwell’s things is he’s obsessed with the idea of
messaging. He’s obsessed with public affairs.
One of the things he’s
wanted to do is tear down the traditional wall between public affairs
and information operations - which public affairs are for the Americans,
information operations are for the enemy - and combine it into one sort
of global strategic communication strategy.
So, when he was presented
with these allegations, these abuses, these photos, this testimony, his
"Well, how do we message this? You know, this is not the
kind of news we want to get out of here."
And now General Caldwell is the head of U.S. Army North, so he’s back in
the United States. And he’s in charge of - in case there’s a catastrophe
or martial law or whatever, he would be the guy who would be in charge
from the Army side of things.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Michael Hastings, the spokesman, in fact, for the
place where he is now, in Fort Sam Houston, in response to the inquiry,
"I am sure that Lt. Gen. Caldwell would welcome the
opportunity to respond to any inquiry, and I’m confident that once the
facts are presented and examined, all allegations will be proven to be
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Right. That’s Colonel Wayne Shanks, I believe -
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s right.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: - who we’re quoting.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s right.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: And Wayne Shanks is one of those particular kind of -
I’m trying to use a word that’s not "moron" - within the
sort of military establishment, who essentially is an attack dog.
a history of saying things that are just not true. And, you know, I
think it will be interesting to see what General Caldwell’s side of the
story is. What we know right now, we have three U.S. Army colonels,
three military colonels, who have testified that General Caldwell
decided not to - did not want to investigate because of political
pressure and because, as we were talking about, this idea of bad news.
Now, he will - what’s going to happen, I think, if and when General
Caldwell does testify, he will come out with a story that says,
actually wanted to investigate this. Here are some emails I sent a
couple days - here are some emails I sent saying this."
Now, but the
funny thing is it’s going to show that the investigation already started
and then, to sort of cover his flank, he sent these emails out.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Is he likely to be called to testify?
MICHAEL HASTINGS: We haven’t been able to confirm that, but I would
think that’s now a likely possibility.
AMY GOODMAN: Are there Americans at Dawood Hospital now?
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Yes, yes. And the Pentagon - just yesterday, the
Pentagon told us that things had much improved there.
I haven’t been
there myself, so I can’t actually confirm that. But throughout this
entire time, there were about 20 to 25 different American advisers who
would be at the hospital on a regular basis.
AMY GOODMAN: During last week’s hearing, Democratic Congressmember John
Tierney asked retired Air Force Colonel Schuyler Geller about who saw
the conditions in the hospital before those who decided to blow the
REP. JOHN TIERNEY: All the years we’ve
been in Afghanistan before you arrived, how many people went through
that hospital and saw those conditions and said nothing?
COL. SCHUYLER GELLER: Scores of mentors and scores of general
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Hastings, your
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Yeah, it’s sad. I mean, it’s tragic. We have, like we
said, $180 million going to this hospital system right in Kabul. It’s
the sort of jewel - it was one of the stops along the parade of when,
you know, congressmen or generals would come in and tour the country.
This is the hospital we’d show off to them. And it turns out that what
was going on here are the sort of abuses that - I have never seen this
kind of abuse, these sort of horrific pictures, in my time covering
these wars. There’s something particularly, I think, upsetting about
these, because they - it just didn’t have to happen.
You know, the fact
that you have Afghan patients, Afghan soldiers who have been wounded,
and they can’t even get food?
That we’re supplying gasoline, but the
gasoline is being sold, so the generators don’t work, so they’re living
in - through these, you know, sub - not sub-zero, but very, very cold
temperatures? You go down the list. Selling drugs? Patients having
surgery on them without anesthesia, though we had provided anesthesia?
And so, I think it is quite disturbing that all these people could go
through there and either not see it or have it hidden, be hidden from
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve said that the conditions there, from what you’ve
seen of the pictures - have you seen all 70 of the pictures?
MICHAEL HASTINGS: No, there are 70 - there are 70 pictures. We’ve seen -
we’ve published 11 new pictures last week that hadn’t been out there,
but there’s a lot more to come.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you’ve said that conditions there are so horrific,
on the basis of what you’ve seen, that in fact Dawood Hospital is
Afghanistan’s Abu Ghraib.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: I think one can make a convincing case to say that,
because, again, you have a situation where, you know, the native
population, under our supervision, has been treated particularly
Obviously, in Abu Ghraib, you had pictures where you had
Americans in the frame doing sort of ridiculous things. But there’s -
but when people really start to think about what the conditions were
like for these patients, right, that they - no real medical supervision.
Families were coming in, roaming the halls at all hours. If you wanted
surgery, you had to pay a certain price.
You know, you had medical
instruments sort of left within wounds. You had - I mean, this is
disgusting stuff - I know it’s early in the morning - but maggots
crawling out of bandages. Stuff that, you know, just totally
unacceptable. And we’re spending $11.2 billion, and we can’t manage the
one, you know, high-profile hospital in the city.
And it’s just - it’s
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Does the U.S. fund other hospitals in Afghanistan, as
MICHAEL HASTINGS: They do. They do. And who knows what’s going on there?
I mean, I don’t want to cast aspersions, but I think we know - and as,
you know, you mentioned the other report about all the - how much money
will be thrown away over there, that one would assume that these sorts
of things are also going on.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to other news regarding your reporting.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: According to documents obtained by Truthout under the
Freedom of Information Act, senior officials at the Department of
Homeland Security tried to
have you remove a report you published on the
Rolling Stone magazine website in February about the agency’s role in
monitoring Occupy Wall Street.
In an email message on the day your piece
was published, Caitlin Durkovich, chief of staff in DHS’s National
Protection and Programs Directorate, wrote, quote,
"I think we should
consider calling Hastings and help him understand our mission," she
The next day, after other news outlets had picked up your story,
Durkovich wrote again to say,
"I think we need to pick up the phone, and
call Hastings. National security is his beat, but he can be provocative
so we need to have a clear sey [sic] of tps," you know, talking points.
"Let’s explain our mission, to include what FPS’s" - the
federal protective service’s - "role has been in OWS. And
push back on the inaccuracies."
Explain what took place. Did they call you?
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Well, I just found out about this yesterday. I would
have answered -
AMY GOODMAN: I guess they didn’t call.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: They did not call.
I would have answered the call. I
would have been happy to actually talk to them about this report,
because it was quite a - what I published online was a internal
Department of Homeland Security document that revealed that they had
been paying very close attention to Occupy Wall Street, monitoring it,
monitoring social media, and kind of just explaining what Occupy Wall
So it was a fairly benign report in a lot of ways, though it
raised some questions about why is Department of Homeland Security, you
know, analyzing Occupy Wall Street?
Now, it turns out, also in these
emails, it says that DHS want to say,
"Look, we shouldn’t have even done
So they actually wanted to - they sort of agreed with me,
while at the same time there was about, I guess, a hundred pages of
emails deciding how they should respond to the Occupy - to our report in
Rolling Stone about it.
AMY GOODMAN: But explain further what this report is and where you got
the information that you got.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Well, so, this came from
the WikiLeaks Stratfor files
dump. I don’t know if you remember that the hacking group Anonymous
hacked into this private intelligence firm, Stratfor, and Assange and
the crew gave me access to this stuff. This was in February. And I went
through - and I went looking through this.
And one of the people in Stratfor had access to this Department of Homeland Security document. So
we know Stratfor was getting leaks from the Department of Homeland
Security. One of them was this Occupy Wall Street analysis or report on
Occupy Wall Street. I thought it was very odd to have a Department of
Homeland Security report about a peaceful protest movement.
just normal alarm bells. And so - so that’s why we did the report.
But it was all for - but it was actually a credit to the WikiLeaks guys
who put this stuff out there. I always find it - I guess, as a
journalist, one is supposed to be probably somewhat flattered by the -
how - you know, as my editor at Rolling Stone put it yesterday, when the
government is trying to pad your file. And I think that that was
certainly the case here. They also brought their concerns to the White
House when they were trying to come up with a statement.
allegations that the Department of Homeland Security, that was spying or
monitoring Occupy Wall Street really hit a nerve within - in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: They say the Stratfor document wasn’t true.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Well, I think that it was authentic. And as far as I
can tell, they’re not disputing the authenticity.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: What they’re disputing, as far as I can tell, is that
they shouldn’t have - they shouldn’t have done it, that DHS themselves
shouldn’t have done it. But they didn’t under - they couldn’t figure out
how Stratfor even got the document to begin with.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, before we conclude, Michael Hastings, I just
wanted to ask you quickly about the three military personnel, two of
whom are retired, of course, who have talked about what’s happened at
Dawood Hospital, whether they’re likely to face any punitive
consequences as whistleblowers?
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Well, I don’t think so, at this stage. You know,
they’re colonels. Their careers, they’ve had - most of them had pretty
long, storied careers already. One is a JAG lawyer anyway. So, in this
case, they seem very well protected from the sort of retaliation that
we’ve seen in the past.
But, you know, look, it’s not easy when you’re
in the Army or in the military to go in front of Congress and say,
"Look, a four-star - sorry, a three-star general is lying," you know,
because there’s a lot of pressure for them not to do that. So it’s quite
impressive that they have.
And there are current - I should point out,
there are currently two ongoing investigations into General Caldwell
about his retaliation against the whistleblowers and trying to get in
the way of the investigation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s the Military Whistleblower Protection Act that
you spoke of.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Yeah, exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Michael Hastings, for
joining us. We will link to the reports and the photos online at democracynow.org.
Michael Hastings, contributing editor at Rolling Stone
magazine, reporter for BuzzFeed, which published several of the
photographs of the Dawood Hospital never seen before. Michael’s book,
The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in
Afghanistan, was published last year.