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For Immediate Release

New Evidence that Bush Administration Impeded 3 Investigations into Alleged Massacre of Up to 2,000 Prisoners in Afghanistan

Cambridge, Mass - 07/10/2009

Human rights group that discovered the mass grave and sued for release of government documents is available for comment.

Cambridge, MA-Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has issued a call for a criminal probe in the wake of a major New York Times story with new evidence that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan in 2002.

PHR is calling for the Department of Justice to investigate why the Bush Administration impeded an FBI criminal probe of the alleged Dasht-e-Leili massacre.

According to US government documents obtained by PHR, as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks by Afghan forces operating jointly with the US in November 2001. The bodies were reportedly buried in mass graves in the Dasht-e-Leili desert near Sheberghan, Afghanistan. Notorious Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was reportedly on the CIA payroll, is allegedly responsible for the massacre.

Physicians for Human Rights, which shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, first documented the existence of the alleged mass grave in January 2002 and since then:

  • Advocated for witnesses to be protected, the mass grave site to be secured, and for a full and impartial investigation;
  • Conducted preliminary forensic investigations — including exposing 15 remains and conducting three autopsies — under UN auspices at Dasht-e-Leili;
  • Successfully sued for compliance with a PHR Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of US government documents that reveal US intelligence knowledge of the magnitude of the alleged crime and awareness of the execution and torture of witnesses to the incidents;
  • Helped identify the US chain of command likely responsible for impeding federal investigations into the alleged massacre;
  • Discovered and reported on alleged tampering of the site; and
  • Requested satellite image analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that appears to demonstrate that tampering occurred soon after PHR filed its FOIA request in June 2006.

"Physicians for Human Rights went to investigate inhumane conditions at a prison in northern Afghanistan, but what we found was much worse," stated Susannah Sirkin, PHR Deputy Director. "Our researchers documented an apparent mass grave site with reportedly thousands of bodies of captured prisoners who were suffocated to death in trucks. That was 2002; seven years later, we still seek answers about what exactly happened and who was involved."

Senior Bush Administration officials impeded investigations by the FBI and the State Department, and the Defense Department apparently never conducted a full inquiry, the New York Times reports in the story for the July 11 print edition by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter James Risen.

"The Bush Administration's disregard for the rule of law and the Geneva Conventions led to torture of prisoners in Guantánamo and many other secret places," noted Nathaniel Raymond, PHR's lead researcher on Dasht-e-Leili. "Contrary to the legal opinions of the previous Department of Justice, the principles of the Geneva Conventions are non-negotiable, as is their enforcement. President Obama must open a full and transparent criminal probe and prosecute any US officials found to have broken the law."

"The State Department's statement to the New York Times that suspected war crimes should be thoroughly investigated indicates a move towards full accountability," added Raymond. "We stand ready to aid the US government in investigating this massacre. It is time for the cover-up to end."

Sirkin added, "President Obama must set a different course by signaling publicly that in all of its operations anywhere in the world, the US and its allies will respect the Geneva Conventions and safeguard the rights of prisoners of war, as well as all captured combatants and detainees to be treated humanely."

PHR reiterated its call on the Government of Afghanistan, which has jurisdiction over the alleged mass grave site, to:

  • Secure the area with the assistance of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan);
  • Protect witnesses to the initial incident and the ensuing tampering; and
  • Ensure a full investigation of remaining evidence at the site, including the tracing of the substantial amount of soil that appears to have been removed in 2006.

"Gravesites have been tampered with, evidence has been destroyed, and witnesses have been tortured and killed," stressed Sirkin. "The Dasht-e-Leili mass grave site must finally be secured, all surviving witnesses must be protected, and the Government of Afghanistan, in coordination with the UN and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), must at last allow a full investigation to go forward."


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.

Editors, please note:
To access and use a new, online video by PHR (“War Crimes and the White House: The Bush Administration's Cover-Up of the Dasht-e-Leili Massacre”), and to obtain high-resolution photos courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights, please visit http://afghanmassgrave.org.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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