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Mass grave discovered in Afghanistan
rights groups are urging that mass gravesites in northern Afghanistan be
immediately secured and investigated for evidence of possible war crimes
involving United States military personnel. An Irish documentary maker has
secretly filmed mass graves near the northern city of Mazar-e-sharif and
interviewed witnesses who claim that container loads of prisoners were dumped
in the desert. It's alleged that most suffocated in the sealed containers,
but those left alive were shot on the spot. Key aspects of his claims are
backed up by a detailed report from the group Physicians for Human Rights.
Compere: Tony Jones
Reporter: Jonathan Harley
JONES: Human rights groups are urging that mass gravesites in northern Afghanistan
be immediately secured and investigated for evidence of possible war crimes
involving United States military personnel.
An Irish documentary maker
has secretly filmed mass graves near the northern city of Mazar-e-sharif
and interviewed witnesses who claim that container loads of prisoners were
dumped in the desert.
It's alleged that most suffocated in the sealed containers, but those left alive were shot on the spot.
Key aspects of his claims are backed up by a detailed report from the group Physicians for Human Rights.
In a moment we'll speak to the documentary maker, and to the author of the report by Physicians for Human Rights.
But first, this report from Jonathan Harley.
JONATHAN HARLEY: This fort near the northern city of Mazar-e-sharif.
Staged for perhaps the most notorious known incident since the American-led campaign in Afghanistan began in October.
An uprising by defiant Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners was crushed under British and American guidance.
With the might of air strikes as many as 400 prisoners were killed in what's been widely described as a massacre.
At the time, the bloody battle inside the mud walls of the 19th century fortress was shrouded in confusion and secrecy.
new material alleges that this horrific chapter was only part of a much larger
and deadly story around Mazar-e-sharif, in which prisoners of war were murdered
and buried en masse.
JOHN HEFFERNAN, PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:
We then went out to the site and really did kind of a preliminary assessment
and we were able to determine, yes, in fact there was a large area that had
been recently bulldozed because the tracks were still there.
There were quite a bit of skeletal remains as well as clothing.
we speculated that perhaps the people in this site, the bodies in this site,
were the people who were unaccounted for in what is referred to as the surrender
JONATHAN HARLEY: Surrounded and faced with only a fight
to the death, at least 6,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters surrendered in
the town of Kunduz in November.
Several were taken to the fort near Mazar-e-sharif, scene of the deadly uprising.
Around 3,000 were taken further west, to be held at a fort in Sheberghan.
But at least 2,000 prisoners who were supposed to be protected under the Geneva conventions appear to be unaccounted for.
Many of the prisoners lost their lives on the journey and at Sheberghan they
offloaded the prisoners who were still alive.
But some of the Taliban were injured and others were so weak they were unconscious.
We brought them to this place.
They took the injured who were still alive and shot them over there and also over there.
HARLEY: The Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights believe those men may
be in mass graves about 10 kilometres outside of Sheberghan.
eyewitnesses and having exhumed 15 bodies the human rights watchdog is urging
an international inquiry and fencing off the area immediately.
HEFFERNAN: With we need to protect that site and carry out a more no row
investigation so the entire site can be examined.
What I said is that
the numbers of people that are unaccounted for from the surrender of Kunduz,
between 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, the numbers vary, but clearly quite a few people.
JONATHAN HARLEY: How they die asked the subject of a yet to be released documentary by Irish film-maker Jamie Doran.
His crew went secretly into the desert outside of Sheberghan where they were shown what appears to be a mass grave site.
Clothing and bodies are seen in shallow graves.
The site was identified by two local truck drivers.
documentary alleges as many as 3,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners were
buried outside Sheberghan under the gaze of American troops.
JOURNALIST: When you brought them here were any American soldiers around?
EYEWITNESS: Yes, there were.
EYEWITNESS: Yes. Here. Maybe 30 to 40.
HARLEY: Citing testimony by commercial drivers and Northern Alliance soldiers
including at least one senior officer, the documentary alleges a range of
Among them that Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners were crammed
into cargo containers for their journey from Kunduz, that with up to 300
men per container, many suffocated, and that others were shot dead while
in the containers, albeit as a gruesome attempt to give them some air.
NORTHERN ALLIANCE SOLDIER: My commanders ordered me to shoot the containers to make holes for ventilation.
Because of that some of the prisoners were killed.
JONATHAN HARLEY: And those prisoners who made it to Sheberghan fort may have been little better off.
The documentary alleges atrocities by American personnel as they interrogated prisoners.
EYEWITNESS: They cut their legs, I was a witness.
They cut their tongues and cut their hair and beards.
I was watching.
JONATHAN HARLEY: His testimony is yet to be verified.
For their safety, none of the witnesses, civilian or Northern Alliance, can be identified.
Mazar-e-sharif is under the notoriously ruthless command of Uzbek warlord, General Rashid Dostum.
Any investigation alleged atrocities and unmarked graves would inevitably question the conduct of men under his command.
It would also raise serious questions about the role of American personnel in the area.
The Pentagon says there's no evidence of any knowledge, presence or participation of US service members.
The strength of eyewitness accounts is yet to be tested, as is the nature of unmarked graves.
rights advocates say the only way to do that is by a full international inquiry
and immediately before anyone gets rid of the evidence.
Jonathan Harley, Lateline.