Seven Polish soldiers accused of a massacre in the Afghan village of Nangar Khel have been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention for another three months. They were first arrested on Nov. 17, 2007. Their lawyers will appeal the decision by a Warsaw district court to continue their detention to the Military Chamber of the Supreme Court.
Nangar Khel was shelled with mortars and machine-gun fire on Aug. 16, 2007. Some of the shells struck a building where a wedding party reportedly was under way. Six people were killed instantly, and two more died later from injuries. Women and children were among the victims, and three women were seriously injured.
The public prosecutor’s office says the soldiers shelled the village under orders from an officer, although there was no reason to do so.
The soldiers at first said the shelling occurred during an exchange of fire by both sides. Later, they admitted falsifying their testimony. They said they were returning fire after a Taliban ambush, but the prosecutor’s office said the ambush occurred several hours earlier.
Those accused of the killings are Capt. Olgierd C., 2nd Lt. Lukasz B., Warrant Officer Andrzej O., platoon commander Tomasz B. and private soldiers Damian L., Robert B. and Jacek J. (Polish law forbids the publishing of full names of the accused.) The six soldiers are from the landing-assault battalion of Bielsko-BiaBa and if convicted face sentences ranging up to life imprisonment. A seventh soldier faces a lesser charge of opening fire on a civilian target. The soldiers and their commander at Wazi Khwa base are trying to hold each other responsible for the attack. In the soldiers’ opinion it is Capt. Olgierd C. who issued the order to fire on the village.
According to one of the soldiers cited by “Superwizjer” TVN, Olgierd C. was heard to say: “Let the gods’ anger fall on this village.”
Olgierd C., the only one among the seven accused who was not present at the shelling, denies saying those words and issuing the order to fire.
In a letter written shortly after the incident, one of the accused soldiers told his wife that the shootings were an accident.
The soldier wrote in the letter, published on the web site rzeczpospolita.pl, that his platoon was ordered to “raze to the ground” three villages as a response to an attack on a Polish-American convoy. However three or four of the 24 mortar shells went astray. The soldier said the the ammunition had not been tested at higher altitudes and some of the shells’ fell either too far or too close.
“I am not going to get imprisoned” said the author of the letter and added: “You will probably have to leave this wonderful country.”
The latter sentence was the basis for the public prosecutor seeking additional detention. In the prosecutor’s opinion the sentence meant that the soldier intended to flee the country.
“It is an absurdity, ” says the soldier’s wife, who said that her husband was talking about a vacation. “If he wanted to flee, he would have done it in Tajikistan.”
The families of the accused soldiers are in despair about the court decision lengthening their detention.
“It is a shame for a court of justice,” said the father of Wladyslaw B.
“It destroys young soldiers both physically and psychically. The military public prosecutor’s office had enough time to carry out the issues connected with explaining that case.”
The prosecutors say they need more time to collect evidence and question witnesses.
The wife of one of the soldiers says that especially prejudicial to their cases was the statement of Minister of National Defense Aleksander Szczyglo that he is not responsible for a “group of idiots who shoot civilians.”
The daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita says that documents in the prosecutor’s office show that the chief commander of the Polish contingent in Afghanistan has been accused of trying to hush up the incident in Nangar Khel. According to the newspaper, one of the arrested soldiers testified that Gen. Marek Tomaszycki persuaded them to hush up the case.
“He said that we should not say anything about the accident, help each other and keep watching that no one commits suicide before everything comes to light,” says one of the accused soldiers.
The soldier says the general also promised the soldiers that he would transfer them to the base in Bagram until the end of their mission. Gen. Tomaszycki admitted that he was present at the base but denied that he asked soldiers to hush up the case.