About that war crime ... Who's taking orders from who in the Afghan war?
by Gaius Publius
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There's new reporting on the U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. As you may know, Doctors Without Borders wants the incident, in which 22 people were killed, including patients who burned to death in their beds, investigated as a war crime. (You'll see their reasons lower in this piece.)
Now, thanks to excellent reporting by Ryan Grim at Huffington Post, we have more information. The bombing was apparently done at the request of the Afghan military, who had also attacked the hospital with Special Forces less than three months before the U.S. bombing.
The implications of the bombing are horrific. The implications of this new story are worse. Let's say it is a war crime. Did we do it because the Afghans said to? Who's taking orders from whom in that war? And do U.S. commanders even care whom they're bombing, if they're blindly bombing targets chosen by others?
If so, in the game of Genius and Bully, we're just the bully. From Ryan Grim's report:
Kunduz Hospital Was Raided By Afghan Special Forces Just Three Months Before U.S. Bombing
Note this: "U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday's bombing..." Do Afghan forces direct American bombing? Again, the implications of just that sentence are pretty bad.
The raid hints at a motive for the strike.
Afghan special forces raided the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz less than three months before a U.S. bombing killed 22 staff members and patients.
The raid took place on the afternoon of July 1, according to a statement from the hospital at the time. U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday's bombing, which lasted for more than an hour, and that the U.S. was unaware it was striking a hospital.
The previous raid suggests that Afghan authorities were aware the facility was a hospital and had a hostile relationship with its staff prior to calling in the U.S. bombing.
According to a statement posted online in July, "heavily armed men from Afghan Special Forces entered the [Médecins Sans Frontières] hospital compound, cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air."
"The armed men physically assaulted three MSF staff members and entered the hospital with weapons," the statement continued. "They then proceeded to arrest three patients. Hospital staff tried their best to ensure continued medical care for the three patients, and in the process, one MSF staff member was threatened at gunpoint by two armed men. After approximately one hour, the armed men released the three patients and left the hospital compound."
While the motive of the raid is unclear, Afghan forces have long protested the practice of providing medical treatment to insurgents. But international law says that as soon as a fighter is in need of treatment, he is no longer a combatant. [...]
Is This a War Crime?
We've come a long way since World War II, when Nazi atrocities were prosecuted as war crimes, while incidents like the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, not to mention the destruction of Hiroshima, were not even brought up. Now we have ways to sometimes bring even the powerful to justice. The request of Doctors Without Borders? An independent international investigation.
Here's a DWB statement (one of several) on the incident that plainly says there's prima facie evidence of a war crime (my emphasis):
MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.
And now from a CREDO petition also calling for an investigation (emphasis and footnotes in the original):
This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as 'collateral damage.'
There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation."
Sign the petition: Justice for Doctors Without Borders
You can sign the petition here. If our military is innocent, what do they have to fear, right?
In the middle of the night on Saturday, a U.S. military plane "repeatedly and very precisely" bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients in Kunduz, Afghanistan.1
The airstrike killed twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members and ten patients, including three children, and injured scores more. Some patients literally burned alive in their hospital beds.2
So far, the Pentagon has only released incomplete and contradictory accounts of what happened and why.
On Sunday, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that: "Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient."3
The world needs to know how and why this grave violation of International Humanitarian Law was committed.4 Those responsible for what we presume to be an atrocious war crime must then face justice. Please join Doctors Without Borders in calling for an immediate and independent international investigation.
Tell President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: We join Doctors Without Borders and demand an investigation by an independent international body into the U.S. airstrike on the Kunduz
The Pentagon initially claimed that the hospital was hit by accident after U.S. troops nearby came under fire and called in the airstrike, then later changed its story and said that no U.S. troops were in the area and that Afghan troops called in the strike.5
But the Pentagon's story simply doesn't add up. According to Doctors Without Borders: "Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning... We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched."6
Further, "The bombing took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials as recently as Tuesday, September 29, [five days before the airstrike] to avoid that the hospital be hit."7
Shockingly, the bombing continued for more than half an hour after Doctors Without Borders staff began making frantic calls to U.S. and Afghan military officials.
The Pentagon's claim that the hospital was bombed by accident is also contradicted by statements by Afghan officials, who have tried to justify the attack by claiming that the hospital was used by the Taliban for military purposes. [...]
And if you consider that, after 15 years of war in Afghanistan, it's time to get out, you might give these folks a little of your time and attention as well.
(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)