President Obama: "There are responsibilities that all nations have, even in war"

In an interview today with Anderson Cooper, President Obama announced that he has ordered his national security team to collect all the facts in the Dasht-e-Leili massacre and apparent US cover-up — a move that Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin has praised in a statement earlier today.

President Obama's comments differ from statements made by Obama Administration officials on Friday, as reported by Lara Jakes of the Associated Press, that they had no grounds to investigate. 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."

Today, however, CNN reports:

President Obama has ordered national security officials to look into allegations that the Bush administration resisted efforts to investigate a CIA-backed Afghan warlord over the killings of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001."The indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention," Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview during the president's visit to Ghana. The full interview will air 10 p.m. Monday.

"So what I've asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known, and we'll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all of the facts gathered up," Obama said….

When asked by CNN about whether Obama would support an investigation, the president replied, "I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have, even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that."

Nathaniel Raymond, PHR's lead researcher in the case, has noted that

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.

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.

This and other developments in the news make us hopeful that the tide could be turning in the campaign to hold the Bush Administration accountable for the torture and mistreatment of detainees in US custody. Raymond, who also directs PHR's Campaign Against Torture, continued:

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.

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.

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.

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