Warned of massacres, Geneva convention violations Rumsfeld did... nothing -- law
The Hon. Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
VIA FACSIMILE: 703-695-1219
Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
We applaud yesterday's statement of support by General Tommy Franks for an investigation into the Dasht-e-Leili mass gravesite in Northern Afghanistan, where many hundreds of Taliban prisoners are allegedly buried. In light of his announcement, we urge you to take two critical steps. First, we ask you to reconsider the position of the Defense Department and assure security at the gravesite at Dasht-e Leili. Security for this site and witnesses is urgently required for the investigation General Franks supports to move forward. Secondly, we urge you to review the Department's own responsibilities regarding compliance with the Geneva Conventions by an ally in the field.
The position of the Department to date raises serious concerns about the role of internationally accepted humanitarian law standards in cases of joint operations. Our concerns extend beyond questions about whether the Northern Alliance deliberately killed prisoners. Other concerns arise regarding the accounting for and treatment of prisoners still in Afghan custody, including the need to conduct a census of the missing and captured and inform their families of their fate. In addition, the United States has failed to assure that prisons, such as the appalling facility at Shebarghan, conform to international standards.
In the short term, the Defense Department, either through its own personnel on the ground or in cooperation with the multinational force and the Afghan government, should take immediate steps to secure the mass grave site near Shebarghan, protecting the premises so that a complete, impartial investigation can be made.
On the issue of prisoner treatment, in our letter dated February 26 we state that there are strong legal grounds to believe that the United States has some responsibility for the deplorable conditions under which Taliban and other combatants are held in the Shebarghan prison. Beyond that, we believe that the United States should assure that all allied forces adhere to the principles of humanitarian law, including bedrock requirements of the Geneva Conventions.
Toward that end, two steps are essential. First, the Pentagon should, in consultation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, develop appropriate strategies for assuring that the future capture, release, transfer, and/or imprisonment of enemy combatants by either US forces or our allies is done in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. This step, when followed by policies to implement it, can prevent a recurrence of incidents like the killings after the fall of Konduz or the abuse of those in the prison that survived the alleged massacre.
Second, it should engage in its own internal review of American actions within Afghanistan regarding the deaths of Taliban prisoners, including identifying what was known and by whom of the events that led to the death of captured combatants. Those findings should be made publicly available. Thereafter, whenever possible, the Defense Department should give full support to the process whereby the remains of bodies disposed there and elsewhere can be identified and given to family members for proper burial.
Physicians for Human Rights is an independent international human rights organization with extensive experience in collecting information, particularly forensic evidence, of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Accountability for gross violations of human rights, as the US learned firsthand in Bosnia and Rwanda, is essential to attaining stability during post-war reconstruction. We stand ready to assist in any independent fact-finding process that is established for Afghanistan.
Leonard S. Rubenstein
Neither did Powell...
Alleged Mass Gravesites: Press Release
August 20, 2002
Hon. Colin Powell
Secretary of State
US Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
We write respectfully to request your immediate action to initiate a Security Council resolution for a UN-sponsored investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war in Afghanistan in connection with the surrender of Taliban fighters in Northern Afghanistan last November.
As you are aware, Newsweek Magazine issued a lengthy report on the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands of Taliban combatants captured after the fall of Konduz. The report, based on witness accounts, follows preliminary forensic investigations by Physicians for Human Rights, first in February and then in April-May (the latter in connection with the UN), in which we discovered a mass grave site in January. In early March we concluded that protection of the site and an investigation of the grave was essential and met with and shared our forensic findings with the Defense Department and State Department confidentially and sought support for actions to initiate an independent investigation and discourage tampering with the site. Since then no action has been taken by the U.S.
We appreciate that yesterday a State Department spokesman stated that 'we are looking into' the facts through the Embassy in Kabul. That step alone, however, is insufficient, since a full-fledged scientific investigation of the site is essential, and an investigation will only be seen as credible if conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. We therefore urge the United States to put forward a resolution at the United Nations Security Council that directs the United Nations to form a Commission of Inquiry to fully investigate the grave site, gather all available information about the incident, and if possible, determine those responsible for the recent murder of captured combatants. If they establish evidence of war crimes, the U.S. should stand ready to take the lead in establishing an international tribunal to try those responsible.
The resolution should instruct and empower the multinational force within Afghanistan to immediately secure and protect the mass grave site as well as all known witnesses, and commission the exhumation of remains in keeping with scientific best practices.
Simultaneously, the United States should take immediate steps to secure the mass grave site and protect the premises from tampering in the period before international investigators arrive to conduct a complete, impartial investigation. An unknown number of the survivors of the convoy are detained in Shebarghan Prison, which is under the control of General Dostum's forces. It is vital that appropriate international monitors be stationed within the prison to deter abuses against them. Witness protection during this dangerous period is also crucial. We urge you to make it a priority.
Physicians for Human Rights is an independent international human rights organization with extensive experience in collecting information, particularly forensic evidence, of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. We stand ready to assist in any independent fact-finding process that is established for Afghanistan.
Leonard S. Rubenstein