November 20, 2001: General Abdul Rashid Dostum and US-allied Northern Alliance surround Kunduz, Afghanistan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters hide amongst civilians.
November 24, 2001: The New York Times reports the beginning of the surrender of Taliban troops to the US and Northern Alliance near Kunduz, Afghanistan.
November 25, 2001: As the surrendering fighters exit Kunduz, a revolt erupts at the Qala Jangi fortress in Mazar-e Sharif.
November 28, 2001: Many of the prisoners who surrendered to Dostum and allies are transferred to cargo container trucks at the Qala-e-Zeni fortress for transport to Sheberghan prison.
November 30, 2001: According to reports, when the container trucks are opened at Sheberghan Prison, hundreds of prisoners are found dead of heat, thirst, asphyxiation and shooting.
January 11, 2002: The first detainees from Afghanistan arrive at Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay Prison, Cuba.
January 16-21, 2002: PHR researchers Jennifer Leaning, MD, and John Heffernan visit Sheberghan Prison, document appalling conditions there, and report the presence of an alleged mass gravesite at nearby Dasht-e-Leili.
January 28, 2002: PHR informs the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security Operations, Dr. Joseph Collins, of the existence of alleged mass graves at Dasht-e-Leili.
February 7, 2002: President Bush signs an order stripping detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere of Prisoner of War status and certain protections provided by the Geneva Conventions.
February 7-14, 2002: Under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, PHR sends forensic experts William Haglund, PhD (Forensic Anthropologist and then-Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program) and Stefan Schmitt, MS (Forensic Consultant) to conduct a preliminary forensic assessment of various mass graves in northern Afghanistan, including Dasht-e-Leili. PHR completes an internal report on the mass graves (PDF).
March 1, 2002: PHR sends a letter addressed to then-Chairman of the Interim Government of Afghan Hamid Karzai (PDF) calling for the protection of mass graves and a plan for further investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili site.
March 15, 2002: A copy of the letter to Chairman Karzai (PDF) and the internal PHR report on the site (PDF) are delivered to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Pierre Richard Prosper, US Ambassador for War Crimes; Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State; and Dr. Joseph Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense.
Dr. Collins forwards the PHR report to senior Department of Defense officials for further review. Mr. Craner informs Department of State officials about PHR report. PHR receives no response.
Early 2002: FBI Special Agent in Charge Dell Spry, head of the FBI component of the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantnamo Bay, interviews ten survivors of the alleged “Death Convoy” and files witness reports with FBI headquarters. Spry is told to stop any further investigation of the incident.
April 26 – May 7, 2002: PHR forensic experts William Haglund, PhD (Forensic Anthropologist and then-Director of PHR’s International Forensic Program) and Nizam Peerwani, MD (Forensic Pathologist) conduct a preliminary investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili site, which includes digging a test trench that exposes fifteen bodies, and conducting autopsies on three exhumed bodies. The manner of death is determined to be homicide and cause of death in each of the autopsied bodies is determined to be consistent with suffocation.
May 1, 2002: The New York Times publishes a story titled, “Study Hints at Mass Killing of the Taliban,” by Carlotta Gall.
May 2, 2002: Following the first public media report of the mass gravesite in the May 1 article, PHR makes public its report on findings at Dasht-e-Leili (PDF) in January and February 2002, together with a press release calling for the protection of, and further investigation of, the site (PDF).
June 13, 2002: In response to video testimonies released by filmmaker Jamie Doran, PHR reissues its public call for protection of gravesites and a full investigation in a press release (PDF). PHR’s John Heffernan appears on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, also calling for protection of Afghan gravesites and a full investigation.
August 2002: Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and National Security Council Senior Director for Southwest Asia Zalmay Khalilzad meets with Pierre Prosper, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues at the Department of State, and discourages Prosper from investigating the Dasht-e-Leili site.
August 5, 2002: PHR again meets with Deputy Assistant Secretary Collins. He tells PHR that the Department of Defense will take no action to secure the Afghan mass gravesite or to investigate it.
August 7, 2002: PHR sends a letter to high-level UN officials asking the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to support the protection and further investigation of the Dasht-e-Leili gravesite.
August 20, 2002: Newsweek provides the first comprehensive reporting on Dasht-e-Leili. The magazine’s cover story, “The Death Convoy of Afghanistan,” which describes suffocation of prisoners, reportedly in container trucks following their surrender at Kunduz, raises questions regarding US involvement.
August 22, 2002: PHR issues a press release entitled “Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Afghan Government’s Pledge to Investigate Mass Grave but Says Afghans Lack Expertise and Resources To Do it Alone; U.S. Response Insufficient; Urges UN to Authorize Commission of Inquiry” (PDF).
August 26, 2002: PHR sends a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (PDF), asking for the assurance of security at the gravesite and for the US Department of Defense to review its own responsibilities regarding its ally’s compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
September 19, 2002: The UN authorizes an official investigation of mass graves in Afghanistan, including the site at Dasht-e-Leili. However, early 2003 plans for an exhumation of the site by PHR experts are postponed indefinitely due to failures to provide protection for the investigation and apparent lack of political will to support the effort.
September 30, 2002: In a Newsweek article, “War Crimes: Digging up the Truth,” Roy Gutman and John Barry report that the UN and the Afghan government agree to allow a forensic team to investigate the mass grave at Dasht-e-Leili.
December 21, 2002: US Human Rights organization leaders meet with Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. At that meeting, PHR requests protection for its forensic team, security for site and a full investigation of the grave.
June 11-12, 2003: PHR’s Deputy Director, Susannah Sirkin, discusses the Dasht-e-Leili case with Special Forces officers, military/humanitarian law experts, and human rights organizations at Fort Bragg during an “Ethical Dilemmas for Special Forces” workshop. The discussion focuses on US responsibility under the Geneva Conventions for fully investigating the incident and protecting evidence as well as its responsibilities for violations by allies who are known human right violators.
2003-2006: PHR continues to advocate for protection of the site and investigation of the grave, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNAMA, realizing, however, that the politics of the situation and conditions on the ground in Afghanistan are not conducive to meeting this goal at this time.
June 21, 2006: Having received no response to its advocacy, and concerned that investigation of the gravesite had still not occurred, PHR submits a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the US Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the Navy, the US Central Command, and the Central Intelligence Agency for all information relating to occurrences on and around November 2001 in the region of Dasht-e-Leili. (PDF)
August 5, 2006: Apparent Earth moving equipment and one pit present at Dasht-e-Leili site (see for entry for June 2009).
February 19, 2008: PHR files a legal complaint in US District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of Defense (PDF) for its failure to respond to the June 2006 FOIA request.
July 6, 2008: As part of a larger UN forensic assessment mission, IFP Forensic Director Stefan Schmitt visits Dasht-e-Leili and documents large pits in the area where mass graves were documented in 2002, indicative of large-scale destruction of evidence. Schmitt raises concerns in meetings with UN and Afghan officials in Kabul.
November 17, 2008: Believing that the FOIA documents (part 1 [PDF 7.3MB], part 2 [PDF 5.5MB]) received to date do not represent a thorough search of the relevant records, PHR files a Motion for Summary Judgment against the Department of Defense for its failure to respond appropriately to PHR’s June 2006 FOIA request.
December 9, 2008: IFP Director Stefan Schmitt submits his confidential written report to UNAMA and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) with findings and recommendations from his June 24 – July 17, 2008, assessment trip to Afghanistan.
December 11, 2008: McClatchy Newspapers’ Tom Lasseter reports evidence of grave site tampering at Dasht-e-Leili, which had been observed by the PHR forensic expert.
December 12, 2008: PHR issues a press release entitled: “PHR Calls for Probe into Removal of Mass Graves in Afghanistan”
December 19, 2008: PHR writes to President Karzai asking him to request assistance from ISAF (International Security Forces-Afghansitan) to protect the mass gravesite.
December 22, 2008: PHR sends a letter to General David McKiernan, Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, requesting that he offer ISAF (International Security Forces-Afghanistan) assistance to the Government of Afghanistan to secure the mass grace site and protect witnesses.
December 27, 2008: General McKiernan responds to PHR’s letter requesting investigation of the grave site and protection of the witnesses, saying it is the Afghan government’s responsibility to request this assistance.
June 2009: PHR learns through satellite imagery analysis provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), that apparent earth-moving equipment was present at the site on August 5, 2006. The image shows the presence of one large pit, and apparent earth-moving equipment in a second area. A subsequent photo reveals a second pit where the apparent earth-moving equipment had been.
July 10, 2009: New York Times article by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter James Risen reveals new evidence that the Bush Administration impeded at least three federal investigations into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan beginning in 2002. The Times reports PHR’s call for the Department of Justice to investigate alleged obstruction of justice by the Bush Administration for shutting down an FBI criminal probe, and at least two other federal investigations, of the alleged Dasht-e-Leili massacre.
PHR reiterates its call on the Government of Afghanistan, which has jurisdiction over the alleged mass grave site, to:
- secure the area with the assistance of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan);
- protect witnesses to the initial incident and the ensuing tampering; and
- ensure a full investigation of remaining evidence at the site, including the tracing of the substantial amount of soil that appears to have been removed in 2006.