CPJ calls for UK to investigate Munadi death in rescue

March 1, 2010

The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
10 Downing St.
London, U.K.

Via facsimile +442079250918

Dear Prime Minister Brown:

We last wrote to you on November 5 to urge you to authorize the Ministry of Defence to carry out an investigation into the September 9, 2009, military operation that rescued British-Irish journalist and New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell and unfortunately led to the death of his Afghan colleague, Sultan Munadi. In our November 5 letter, we offered our condolences on the loss of British Parachute Regiment Cpl. John Harrison, but also pointed out that many questions about the operation remain unanswered. Among them is whether Munadi’s rescue was a central objective, what circumstances existed when he was killed, and why his remains were left behind after British forces withdrew.

On November 12, we received a letter from your office noting that our request had been referred to the Ministry of Defence. On January 21, we received by mail a reply from the Ministry of Defence dated December 30. The letter, which was unsigned, notes, “I can assure you that the decision to mount a military hostage rescue operation is never taken lightly. In this case the rescue operation was undertaken on the grounds that it represented the best chance of ensuring the safe release of the hostages, both Sultan Munadi and Stephen Farrell.”

The letter also notes that “Mr Farrell’s account of 10 September makes it clear that he confirmed that Mr Munadi had been killed.”

While we do not dispute the decision to carry out the rescue operation, and recognize the courage of the British forces who participated, we believe the December 30 letter is not responsive to our concerns, namely whether Munadi’s rescue was a central objective.

Furthermore, the suggestion that Farrell confirmed the death of Munadi is at odds with our understanding of events. In a follow-up exchange with CPJ, Farrell reiterated that he never confirmed to British forces that Munadi had been killed. To the contrary, he repeatedly asked British soldiers for information about his colleague.

In a note to CPJ, Farrell wrote:

“As they [British soldiers] took me away, from the second I came out of the ditch I was constantly, repeatedly, asking the soldiers if they had any news about Sultan, I was asking them if they knew what had happened to him, I was asking them was he dead or alive, and was he being brought out with me on the helicopters. I got no solid answers.”

We are writing to you again, because we are not satisfied by the response that we received from the Ministry of Defence. Our concerns have not been addressed, and to the contrary, the suggestion that Farrell confirmed that Munadi had been killed raises new questions because this version is at variance with Farrell’s own detailed account.

For this reason, we are asking once again that you personally authorize an inquiry and not refer our letter to the Ministry of Defence. The findings of the inquiry should be made public. It is our view that only an inquiry of this nature will end the lingering questions, offer solace to Munadi’s family and colleagues, and provide assurance to Afghan journalists that their lives are valued just as highly as those of their foreign colleagues.

In his note to us, Farrell concluded:

“I am all too aware that not only did Sultan die that night, but also one of my rescuers, Corporal John Harrison. He should not be forgotten in this. He died trying to save our lives, and succeeded in saving mine. I saw him being carried on a stretcher to the helicopters which flew me to safety. I will always be grateful to Corporal Harrison and his colleagues for rescuing me. Five months later, not a day goes by when I don’t think about him, and Sultan, and the other Afghans killed. Not least the scores who died in the NATO bombing raid which brought us to Kunduz in the first place.

“It is wrenching that those deaths led to more deaths. It is even more wrenching that the exact circumstances of Sultan’s death should continue to be shrouded in claim and counter claim, providing a chance for the Taliban and other propagandists to fill the vacuum with conspiracy theories, lies, and rumors.

“I have provided all the answers I can, and I hope that others who are in a better position to fill in the gaps will do so, to give Sultan’s family, other Afghan journalists and all his colleagues and friends the answers they are still looking for.”

For your reference, we are attaching our November 30 letter to you, the December 30 response from the Ministry of Defence, and the detailed account that we received from Stephen Farrell when we queried him about the Ministry of Defence’s assertion that he confirmed Munadi’s death.

We very much appreciate your attention to this matter, and look forward to your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

Paul E. Steiger