Physicians for Human Rights sent forensic experts to conduct a preliminary forensic assessment of various mass graves in northern Afghanistan, including the one at Dasht-e-Leili. (Physicians for Human Rights)
By Cora Currier, ProPublica
Soon after taking office, President Obama pledged to open a new inquiry into the deaths of perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan fighters in late 2001.
Last month, the White House told ProPublica it was still “looking into” the apparent massacre.
Now it says it has concluded its investigation – but won’t make it public.
The investigation found that no U.S. personnel were involved, said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. Other than that, she said, there is “no plan to release anything.”
The silence leaves many unanswered questions about what may have been one of the worst war crimes since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, including why previous American investigations were shut down, and how evidence was destroyed in the case.
“This is not a sufficient answer given the magnitude of what happened here,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy for Physicians for Human Rights, the organization that originally uncovered mass graves where the prisoners were buried.
The long saga began in November 2001, when Taliban prisoners who had surrendered to Northern Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum were transported in shipping containers without food or water. According to eyewitness accounts and forensic work by human rights investigators, hundreds of men died of suffocation while others were shot, and their bodies buried at the desert site of Dasht-i-Leili.
Dostum was working closely with U.S. troops at the time. Surviving prisoners alleged that Americans were present at the loading of the containers – but the Pentagon has said repeatedly that it had no evidence that U.S. forces participated or were even aware of the deaths. (Dostum has denied any personal involvement, and claims that roughly 200 men died in transit, from battlefield wounds.)