decry governor’s executive budget for sticking it to state
war: a message from UAlbany students.
Photo by Jaclyn Acker
George E. Pataki’s executive budget includes proposed tuition
increases for the state university system and cuts to the
Tuition Assistance Program—and critics say New York’s commitment
to higher education couldn’t get much lower.
To shore up a portion of the state’s two-year, $11.5 billion
budget deficit, Gov. Pataki announced a number of controversial
higher-education spending cuts. Besides asking for cuts of
$184 million and $82 million from the state and city university
systems’ operating budgets, respectively, Pataki proposed
raising tuition $1,200 at all SUNY and CUNY schools. Add to
that his plan to cut the state’s tuition assistance program
by a third, and Conor Bambrick, higher education associate
for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the
effects of these proposals would be nothing short of devastating.
seems to be a direct attack, a tax, on students,” Bambrick
said. “The cuts to the general fund are especially troublesome,
because they could cause separate institutions to raise fees
on top of mandatory tuition increases. Fees are particularly
dangerous, because the TAP program doesn’t even cover them.”
Currently, tuition costs at SUNY and CUNY are $3,400 and $3,200
respectively. Critics of Pataki’s tuition hike said the increase
would keep fewer students from attending these colleges and
universities, and history agrees. According to figures provided
by the state Department of Education, between 1995 and 1996,
tuition at SUNY schools increased by $750, and enrollment
decreased by roughly 7,500 students statewide.
Pataki is also looking to adjust the way TAP money is disbursed,
which NYPIRG said would make it difficult for students from
lower- and middle-income families to attend the state schools.
Pataki proposed giving students two-thirds of their TAP award
up front and providing the remaining third if the student
graduates within four years.
The governor included the same proposal in his executive budget
address last year, but it was not accepted by the state Legislature.
Considering that Pataki’s TAP amendment would require families
and students to borrow more money to attend universities,
state Assemblyman John McEneny (D-Albany) said he doesn’t
expect the proposal to pass the state Legislature this year
what happens is young kids get out and they have a mortgaged
future,” McEneny said. “Debt is a cruel master, and what it
does is eliminates choice. [Students] don’t have the freedom
they’d have from graduating without the burden of debt.”
But Matt Maguire, director of communications at the Business
Council of New York State, endorses a SUNY tuition increase.
tuition has been stable for seven years, which is a rarity
in higher education,” Maguire said. “We think that tuition
at SUNY should be adjusted more regularly and linked to an
indicator of costs on society, such as the consumer price
index. This should not be a once- or twice-a-decade political
food fight. It should be adjusted sensibly, predictably, regularly.”
McEneny said ultimately, tuition increases and funding decreases
will lead to fewer college-educated workers and a troubled
future for the state of New York. The assemblyman said on
average, a college-educated workforce is better paid and therefore
pays more taxes than their less-prepared counterparts. U.S.
Census information provided in the February issue of Hudson
Valley Magazine helps prove McEneny’s point.
According to the census information, Hudson Valley counties
whose populations have higher concentrations of college graduates
have higher per capita incomes. In Westchester and Greene
counties, 40.9 and 16.4 percent of their populations graduated
with college degrees. Correspondingly, those counties’ per
capita incomes are $36,726 and $18,931 respectively.
Further, McEneny said the governor’s higher education cuts
don’t support the state’s charge to a financial future dependent
upon high-tech jobs.
putting hundreds of millions into our public universities
to try to lure high-tech companies, and this is appropriate,”
said McEneny. “Tech Valley and high-tech jobs statewide are
the wave of the future, but they’re looking at it with tunnel
vision. [Cutting tuition] undermines the programs the state
is touting. You’re not going to have that workforce of tomorrow.”
Before any of the governor’s proposals become reality, they
must be endorsed by the state Legislature, which McEneny said
would be an uphill battle.
governor knows perfectly well this won’t happen,” McEneny
said. “I think in his heart of hearts, Pataki knows this will
be a lesser number. I can’t see a 41 percent tuition raise
going through, but he is also playing brinksmanship where
the stakes are really high.”
new documentary suggests that U.S. Special Forces stood idly
by as Taliban POWs were murdered
American soldiers commit war crimes during the invasion of
According to eyewitnesses, U.S. Special Forces supervised—some
say orchestrated—the systematic murder of more than 3,000
captured Taliban soldiers in November 2001. That charge is
the centerpiece of a documentary film, Afghan Massacre:
The Convoy of Death, expected to be released in the United
States within the next few weeks.
has been a cover-up by the Pentagon,” said Scottish director
Jamie Doran, a former producer for the BBC. “They were hiding
behind a wall of secrecy, hoping this story will go away—but
Indeed, Massacre has already been shown on German television
and to several European parliaments. The United Nations has
promised an investigation. But thanks to a virtual media blackout,
few Americans are aware that, on the eve of another war, their
nation’s reputation as a bastion of human rights is rapidly
The allegations stem from the uprising at Qala-i-Jhangi fortress,
a dramatic event that marked the last major confrontation
between U.S.-backed forces of the Northern Alliance and the
Taliban government. Several hundred prisoners, including “American
Taliban” John Walker Lindh, revolted against their guards
and seized a weapons cache. Responding to Special Forces soldiers
working with the Northern Alliance, U.S. jets used bombs to
kill most of the rebels, but not before CIA interrogator Johnny
“Mike” Spann and an unknown number of Northern Alliance soldiers
were shot to death.
Eighty-six Talibs, including Lindh, survived the Qala-i-Jhangi
revolt. Meanwhile, 8,000 more soldiers surrendered at Kunduz,
the last Taliban redoubt in northern Afghanistan. Commanders
loyal to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who later
became Hamid Karzai’s deputy defense minister, had painstakingly
negotiated the surrender of the Taliban from Kunduz and Qala-i-Jhangi.
As I observed while covering the Kunduz front last fall, Northern
Alliance commanders promised to quickly release ethnic Afghans
among the Taliban once they laid down their arms. Many immediately
joined the Northern Alliance. The status of foreign nationals,
the so-called Arab Taliban, was somewhat nebulous since they
didn’t have hometowns in Afghanistan to which they might return
after being released. In the end, Dostum guaranteed the lives
of all 8,000-plus POWs. “Both British and American military
officers were present” at the surrender deal, said Doran.
After five years holed up in the mountainous northeastern
region bordering China and Kashmir, watching the Taliban capture
95 percent of Afghanistan, Dostum and other Northern Alliance
warlords found themselves, after Sept. 11, 2001, with a new
best friend: the American taxpayer. Newsweek magazine
reported that Special Forces commandos from the U.S. Fifth
Group hooked up with Dostum in October 2001, offering hundreds
of thousands of dollars in bribes, advanced weaponry and the
use of the Air Force to strike the targets he indicated. Special
Forces soldiers turned Dostum and his top commanders into
America’s proxy army; the Afghans didn’t dare to disobey the
source of that largess.
Although the Americans have been portrayed as tagging along
with the Northern Alliance, Afghan forces followed their orders.
U.S. troops were in de facto command of joint U.S.-Afghan
operations, including Dostum’s actions in the north.
Five thousand of the 8,000 prisoners made the trip to Sheberghan
prison in the backs of open-air Soviet-era pick-up trucks.
But Dostum’s soldiers, furious about the Qala-i-Jhangi uprising
and a Taliban ambush during the siege of Kunduz, were out
for vengeance. They stopped and commandeered private container
trucks to transport the other 3,000 prisoners. “It was awful,”
Irfan Azgar Ali, a survivor of the trip, told England’s Guardian
newspaper. “They crammed us into sealed shipping containers.
We had no water for 20 hours. We banged on the side of the
container. There was no air and it was very hot. There were
300 of us in my container. By the time we arrived in Sheberghan,
only ten of us were alive.”
Afghan trucker, forced to drive one such container, said that
the prisoners began to beg for air. Northern Alliance commanders
“told us to stop the trucks, and we came down. After that,
they shot into the containers [to make air holes]. Blood came
pouring out. They were screaming inside.” Another driver in
the convoy estimated that an average of 150 to 160 people
died in each container.
When the containers were unlocked at Sheberghan, the bodies
of the dead tumbled out. A 12-man U.S. Fifth Special Forces
Group unit, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595, guarded
the prison’s front gates and, according to witnesses, controlled
the facility in the hopes of picking key prisoners for interrogation
and possible transportation to Guantánamo Bay. (This is how
Lindh was singled out.) “Everything was under the control
of the American commanders,” a Northern Alliance soldier tells
Doran in the film. American troops searched the bodies for
Al Qaeda identification cards. But, said another driver, “Some
of [the prisoners] were alive. They were shot” while “maybe
30 or 40” American soldiers watched.
Members of OPA 595, interviewed for the PBS program Frontline
on Aug. 2, 2002, confirmed their presence at Sheberghan but
cagily denied participating in war crimes. “The prisoners
were being treated the exact same way as Dostum’s forces were,”
said Master Sgt. “Paul.” “I didn’t see any atrocities, but
I easily could have. Some prisoners may have died because
they were sick or ill, and Dostum’s forces just couldn’t give
them any care because they didn’t have it.”
But even Dostum admits 200 such deaths. And the Northern Alliance
soldier quoted above said U.S. troops masterminded the cover-up:
“The Americans told the Sheberghan people to get rid of them
[the bodies] before satellite pictures could be taken.”
Ten minutes down the road from Sheberghan is the windswept
scrub of Dasht-i-Leili. According to the Boston-based group
Physicians for Human Rights, the 3,000 murdered Taliban POWs
were brought to Dasht-i-Leili for mass burial. One witness
told the Guardian that a Special Forces vehicle was
parked at the scene as bulldozers buried the dead. Despite
a sloppy attempt to remove evidence after the fact, Doran’s
camera sweeps over clothing, bits of skull, matted hair, jaws,
femurs, ribs jutting out of the sand. Bullet casings littering
the site offer grim testimony that some Talibs were still
alive before being dumped in the desert.
Since 1999, both sides in the Afghan civil war had killed
their prisoners in similar gruesome fashion, particularly
in and around the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. And no
one is defending the Taliban as a regime. “I have three daughters,
and the Taliban disgusted me,” said Doran. “But if we’re a
civilized society, then when men surrender then they have
to be given basic protection. . . . These men were murdered
in a grotesque fashion, summarily executed and kicked into
large holes in the ground with American soldiers standing
In recent months, Doran said, two witnesses who appear in
his film have been brought to Sherberghan prison and executed
by men loyal to Deputy Defense Minister Dostum. The Pentagon
refuses to investigate these charges.
Rall is the author of Gas
War: The Truth Behind the American Occupation of Afghanistan,
an analysis of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline and the motivations
behind the war on terrorism.