The Pentagon issued a statement over the weekend that the U.S. will issue “condolence payments” to the families of victims killed in the Kunduz hospital bombing, which killed 22 and injured 37 others.
Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) Jason Cone has called the attack deliberate, denying claims that insurgents were using the facility as cover while firing on Afghan forces. MSF has demanded an independent investigation, specifically calling on the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, IHFFC, based in Switzerland. This commission was created after the Gulf War in 1991 and has never been deployed. MSF is awaiting the mobilization decision from the IHFFC, but needs the support of both the U.S. and Afghanistan, as well as at least one of 76 countries that signed the protocol addition to the Geneva Convention. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke to the media, saying the official Pentagon investigation will provide “the full accounting that everyone seeks.” By this statement, it looks as though the U.S. will not consent, which is needed for the IHFFC to deploy.
According to General John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the airstrike was requested by Afghan forces on the ground who were engaged with the enemy. Witnesses and survivors state that the bombing continued for about an hour, destroying the main building of the hospital. Mr. Earnest stated to the media that, “The Department of Defense, as a matter of course, takes as many precautions as anybody else does, as any other military organization in the world does, to prevent the innocent loss of life.” He went on to say that there has not been any evidence presented that proves this was anything more than “a terrible mistake.”
If this hospital was intentionally targeted, it does indeed meet the criteria for a war crime. That being said, war crimes are not charged against countries, but individuals, which, in this case, would include the official who commanded it and those who carried out the orders.
So, what really happened? Did the U.S. knowingly target the hospital, bombarding it for about an hour even while members from MSF reported to them that this was a protected facility? Was this a terrible accident committed under fog-of-war conditions? For this author, I am not confident that the investigation undertaken by DOD will provide all the facts illuminating what truly happened. Unfortunately, without the U.S. agreeing to the deployment of the IHFFC, the true events might never see the light of day. The victims’ families, though compensated by the U.S., will never truly get closure, and this will more than likely become additional fuel to conspiracy theorists around the globe.
My heart goes out to the families of those medical professionals who sacrificed their lives to care for the lives of others. Though they all knew the risks to their lives, being caught up in an event such as this is outside of what most would ever consider. These condolence payments are a poor bandage for what really needs to be done. I urge the U.S. to comply with the requests from MSF and others in the international community.
This issue, this event, will not go quietly, nor should it. If this had been committed by any other nation, say Russia, for instance, we would be on the offensive, lambasting them across every headline in the world. The damage to our already discredited reputation will be far worse if we don’t. Even the hint of intolerable behavior will be a guilty verdict in the world’s eyes. We must provide full disclosure and agree to outside investigations to fully deal with this event, accidental or otherwise, or we will be forever haunted by those killed that horrible night in Kunduz.
(Featured image courtesy of atimes.com)