I listened, with utter disgust, to the Pentagon’s press conference as it exonerated itself of war crimes after, despite their denial, intentionally bombing the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last October.
The Pentagon said on Friday that its attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, last October was not a war crime because the attack was not intentional. The military released a redacted 3,000-page internal investigation into the deadly bombing, which destroyed the only free trauma center of its kind in the country’s northern region and killed 42 patients, staffers and caretakers.
“The label ‘war crimes’ is typically reserved for intentional acts,” Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, said on Friday. “The investigation found that the tragic incident resulted from a combination of unintentional human errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew that they were striking a medical facility.” [..]
Throughout the press briefing on Friday, Votel repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. did not intentionally bomb the Doctors Without Borders facility — possibly an effort to quash rumors circling in Afghanistan that the military knowingly targeted the hospital because some of the patients there were Taliban soldiers.
But intent is not the only consideration in determining whether a military attack is within the laws of war. International law also prohibits “recklessly” launching attacks.
“Under laws of war, you have to take feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians,” Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International’s Security With Human Rights program, told The WorldPost. “They have acknowledged all of these mistakes — that there were so many things they could have done to prevent this from happening,” she continued. “Twenty-nine minutes of bombing a hospital and no one notices that the wrong building is being bombed — if that’s not recklessness, I don’t know what is.”
The US cannot keep its story straight and they ignored the facts of what was happening in Kunduz at the facility prior to and during the night of the bombing.
The US military shifted its story substantially in the days after the October hospital attack: first eliding the targeting of the hospital, something Votel said some in the military knew occurred within minutes; then saying the AC-130 gunship strike hit insurgents attacking US and Afghan forces; then claiming the Afghans requested the strike; before stating that US special operations forces called in the strike themselves.
Although the US expressed regret for the attack on the hospital, the Afghans have claimed that the Taliban, which had overrun the city, used the hospital as a staging ground for combat. MSF has ardently denied the claim, and is now vindicated by the US report, saying no fighting took place at the hospital – a location whose coordinates, critically, MSF had provided to the US command long before the 3 October strike.
According to the report, the US AC-130 observed the hospital and its personal for 68 minutes before opening fire. How did they miss the lighted roof with clear markings, which included the MSF flag, flat on the roof, that the building was a hospital? This attack was intentional, as have been the other attacks on MSF hospitals and facilities in Yemen by US ally Saudi Arabia and this week in Aleppo, Syria possibly by the Russians.
42 people died in Kunduz and the people have been deprived of the use the only trauma hospital in Afghanistan but no one will face criminal charges. American justice is a joke.
The Joke of U.S. Justice and “Accountability” When They Bomb a Hospital
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept
Ever since the U.S. last October bombed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the U.S. vehemently denied guilt while acting exactly like a guilty party would. First, it changed its story repeatedly. Then, it blocked every effort – including repeated demands from MSF – to have an independent investigation determine what really happened. As May Jeong documented in a richly reported story for The Intercept yesterday, the Afghan government – rather than denying that the hospital was targeted – instead repeatedly claimed that doing so was justified; moreover, they were sympathetic to calls for an independent investigation, which the U.S. blocked. What is beyond dispute, as Jeong wrote, is that the “211 shells that were fired . . . were felt by the 42 men, women, and children who were killed.” MSF insisted the bombing was “deliberate,” and ample evidence supports that charge.
Despite all this, the U.S. military is about to release a report that, so predictably, exonerates itself from all guilt; it was, of course, all just a terribly tragic mistake. Worse, reports The Los Angeles Times‘ W.J. Hennigan, “no one will face criminal charges.” Instead, this is the “justice” being meted out to those responsible:
One officer was suspended from command and ordered out of Afghanistan. The others were given lesser punishments: Six were sent to counseling, seven were issued letters of reprimand, and two were ordered to retraining courses.
MSF continues to insist that the attack was a “war crime” and must be investigated by an independent tribunal under the Geneva Conventions. In a statement this week, Amnesty International said that it has “serious concerns about the Department of Defense’s questionable track record of policing itself.” The LA Times story notes that Physicians for Human Rights said in a letter to the White House that “the gravity of harm caused by the reported failures to follow protocol in Kunduz appears to constitute gross negligence that warrants active pursuit of criminal liability.”
But none of that matters. The only law to which the U.S. government is subject is its own interests. U.S. officials scoffed at global demands for a real investigation into what took place here, and then doled out “punishments” of counseling, training classes, and letters of reprimand for those responsible for this carnage. That’s almost a worse insult, a more extreme expression of self-exoneration and indifference, than no sanctions at all. But that’s par for the course in a country that has granted full-scale legal immunity for those who perpetrated the most egregious crimes: from the systemic fraud that caused the 2008 financial crisis to the worldwide regime of torture the U.S. government officially implemented.
Yesterday in Syria, an MSF-run hospital was targeted with an airstrike, almost certainly deliberately, by what was very likely the Syrian government or the Russians, killing at least 50 patients and doctors, including one of the last pediatricians in Aleppo. On behalf of the U.S. government, Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced: “We are outraged by yesterday’s airstrikes in Aleppo on the al Quds hospital supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which killed dozens of people, including children, patients and medical personnel.” On the list of those with even minimal credibility to denounce that horrific airstrike, Kerry and his fellow American officials do not appear.