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US Rights Group Urges Forensic Probe Into Alleged Taliban Massacre

14 June 2002

A medical human rights group called for a full forensic investigation into the reported killings - allegedly amid US complicity - of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan.

The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also urged that immediate steps be taken to safeguard the gravesite of the alleged victims near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

A documentary shown Thursday to the European Parliament in Strasbourg cited witness accounts that several dozen Taliban prisoners died at the hands of Northern Alliance soldiers, suffocated in a container after they surrendered in late 2001.

The film claims US soldiers asked the Afghans to get rid of the bodies to avoid the appearance of satellite photos showing them, and that between 1,500 and 4,000 prisoners may have been buried.

PHR personnel had visited the site in January and March and performed autopsies on three bodies that suggested suffocation was the cause of death.

While acknowledging it had not been able to determine the credibility of the allegations made by Irish filmmaker Jamie Doran's documentary, PHR said the site should be protected by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan pending a comprehensive forensic inquiry.

"If these sites and others are not protected and thoroughly investigated, an accurate accounting will not be possible," said PHR executive director Leonard Rubenstein.

Founded in 1986, the PHR has documented mass graves and political killings, and collected DNA evidence for identifying the missing in dozens of nations. The group has worked for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

In an initial reaction to the documentary, the Pentagon on Thursday denied any complicity in the charges and said that similar accusations had emerged months ago.

"I think it surfaced in March and we looked at them, they were unfounded," said Major Brad Lowell, a spokesman for the US Central Command in Florida, which leads US forces in Afghanistan.

Note: the Physicians for Human Rights report is available at

Published by Agence France Presse © 2002 AFP

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