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For Immediate Release

Statement by Physicians for Human Rights in Response to Comments by Obama Administration Officials

Cambridge, Mass - 07/10/2009

Cambridge, MA – Obama Administration officials stated Friday, as reported by Lara Jakes of the Associated Press, that they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who allegedly were killed by U.S.-backed forces. In their statement, these officials claim that they lack legal grounds to probe these alleged war crimes because "only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country."

The officials' comments came in response to a New York Times report by James Risen that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into an alleged massacre of as many as 2,000 prisoners in Afghanistan.

"For US Government officials to claim that there is no legal basis to investigate this well-documented mass atrocity is absurd," stated Physicians for Human Rights Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. "US military and intelligence personnel were operating jointly and accepted the surrender of the prisoners jointly with General Dostum's forces in northern Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has a legal obligation to determine what US officials knew, where US personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre. These questions, nearly eight years later, remain unanswered."

"Furthermore," added Nathaniel Raymond, PHR's lead researcher on the Dasht-e-Leili case, "The New York Times has shown that the Bush Administration engaged in a coordinated effort to prevent this alleged war crime from ever being investigated. Under the Geneva Conventions, the cover-up of a war crime can itself constitute a war crime."


PHR’s International Forensic Program (IFP) has conducted forensic assessments and investigations of human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and genocide in many countries. IFP is dedicated to providing independent forensic expertise to document and collect evidence of human rights violations and of violations of international humanitarian law. Since the 1980s, PHR has mobilized forensic scientists and other experts worldwide to respond to inquiries by governments, organizations, families and individuals.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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