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Dasht-e-Leili Massacre of 2000 prisoners ordered to be investigated

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President Obama has directed his national security team to investigate the deaths of as many as 2000 Taliban prisoners who allegedly were massacred by US-backed forces in Afghanistan. The President stated that the government needs to find out whether actions by the US contributed to possible war crimes.

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In this photo released by Physicians for Human Rights, this April 2002 photo shows a test trench dug by Physicians for Human Rights forensic experts as part of a preliminary investigation for the UN at the Dasht-e-Leili mass grave site near Sherberghan, Afghanistan, and exposed 15 bodies. Obama administration officials said Friday, July 10, 2009, they had no grounds to investigate the 2001 deaths of Taliban prisoners of war who human rights groups allege were killed by U.S.-backed forces. (AP Photo/Physicians for Human Rights)

According to US government documents obtained by Physicians for Human Rights (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.

The Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into an alleged massacre of as many as 2,000 prisoners in Afghanistan, so states new evidence from a New York Times report by James Risen.

President Obama's recent decision to order an investigation into the alleged massacre reflect a policy reversal. Lara Jakes of the Associated Press, reported that on Friday that Administration officials stated that they had no grounds to investigate. In their statement, these officials claim that they were without legal grounds to probe these alleged war crimes because "only foreigners were involved and the alleged killings occurred in a foreign country." Physicians for Human Rights on Friday called these claims "absurd" and said the US "has a legal obligation to find out what US officials knew, where US personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre."

"Since Physicians for Human Rights discovered the mass grave in January 2002, we have been gathering the facts on the initial incident and the alleged cover-up of it through forensic investigation, legal action against the Bush Administration, and documentation of the chain of command," said Nathaniel Raymond, PHR's lead researcher in the case. "We stand ready to provide these facts to the president's national security team and to Congress. President Obama is right to say that US and Afghan violations of the laws of war must be investigated. If the Obama Administration finds that criminal wrongdoing occurred in this case, those responsible whether American or Afghan officials must be prosecuted. Additionally, reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a prosecutor to pursue violations related to detainee abuse is a welcome and long-awaited first step to restoring our nation's commitment to the rule of law," said Raymond, who also directs PHR's Campaign Against Torture.

"The White House should support the appointment of a criminal prosecutor to investigate the US use of torture as well as the creation of a commission of inquiry to gather all the facts of this dark chapter," concluded Raymond.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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