ResourcesPress Release

PHR Responds to White House Comment on Reported Afghan Massacre

For Immediate Release

PHR today responded to a White House official’s remarks indicating the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 incident at Dasht-e-Leili that may have claimed as many as 2,000 lives.

“The White House’s brief comment indicating that U.S. troops were not involved in the horrifying events that culminated in the Dasht-e-Leili grave does not come even close to fulfilling President Obama’s promise to conduct an investigation,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s director of international policy and strategic partnerships, and special advisor. “We still do not know what U.S. forces and officials knew throughout this incident, what they did or didn’t do to prevent it, or how the mass grave our experts discovered in 2002 was apparently destroyed four years later. The appalling circumstances around these deaths of surrendered prisoners – which could constitute a war crime – the reported cover-up, and the lack of clarity about a proper U.S. investigation demand a lot more than dismissive commentary from the administration.”

According to CNN, a National Security Council official told a reporter: “At the president’s direction, the U.S. government has looked into the facts of the 2001 Dasht-e-Leili massacre and we have concluded that no American troops were involved in this incident.”

PHR has been pressing the White House for years to provide information around the event and its reported investigation, including:

  • The full extent of the U.S. role in the reported massacre, including the joint surrender of the combatants to U.S. forces and its allies in the Northern Alliance, their transport across the desert in truck containers, the alleged firing of shots into the trucks, and the failure to ventilate the trucks or provide food and water, which resulted in the suffocation of hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners 
  • What the U.S. government did prior to, during, and following the apparent destruction of the grave site in 2006 
  • What steps U.S. officials and forces have taken to protect the grave site
  • The reported shutting down of three independent federal investigations, as well as disclosure about whether a separate CIA investigation ever took place
  • Details about the White House investigation, including who was interviewed and when, and what questions about U.S. involvement were posed beyond whether or not U.S. forces actively participated in the killings

PHR researchers discovered the mass grave in the northern Afghanistan desert of Dasht-e-Leili in January 2002. Soon after, under the auspices of the United Nations, PHR conducted an initial forensic examination of a part of the site, and exhumed and conducted autopsies on several remains. The scientists concluded the deaths were consistent with suffocation.

Find more information here.

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

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