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For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights Calls on Obama To Launch Formal Investigation of Afghan Massacre

Cambridge, Mass - 07/13/2009

(Cambridge, MA) — In a letter to President Obama dated July 13, 2009, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) CEO Frank Donaghue called on the President to order a formal inquiry into allegations that previous attempts to investigate a major war crime at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, were impeded by the Bush Administration. PHR also urged the current administration to address the broader issue of impunity for human rights abuses in Afghanistan and to establish a process for justice and accountability as part of US strategy to legitimize the national government there.

According to US government documents obtained by PHR, and as reported byt The New York Times on July 11, as many as 2,000 surrendered Taliban fighters were reportedly suffocated in container trucks by Afghan forces commanded by notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, 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. This egregious war crime has never been fully investigated and no individuals have been held accountable.

PHR has welcomed President Obama's recent comments to CNN's Anderson Cooper that he, Obama, has ordered his national security team to get all the facts surrounding the massacre and any US involvement, but believes that is just a first step in a broader process of accountability.

In the letter to President Obama, PHR's Donaghue said the Dasht-e-Leili case presents "an important opportunity to demonstrate that the US and Afghanistan are serious about pursuing truth-telling and accountability for past crimes."

PHR has called for the US and other donor nations to put pressure on the Afghan government to hold perpetrators to account. Afghans must be given the funding and technical support to begin establishing a national process of transitional justice. PHR called for a joint Afghan and UN investigation of the case with the US and other donor countries providing technical expertise, logistics and funding to make the investigation feasible in the current security environment.

"The long-term US goal of creating security for the Afghan people cannot be achieved without some form of justice, " Donaghue wrote. "The people of Afghanistan will only accept and fully support a government that satisfies their thirst for justice and ends the culture of impunity for war crimes."

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical commitments, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity and justice and promotes the right to health for all. PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase and elsewhere.
On the Web:

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 see PHR's Get the Facts page.

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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