The excuses for the Kunduz killings begin


Like clockwork, following an atrocity like the bombing by the US of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, we see the five stages of public relations manipulation by the US government, aided by its media allies. The first is: We didn’t do it, it must have been someone else. Next we have: Well, let’s not jump to conclusions but wait and see for a full and thorough investigation that may take months or even years. The third is: We may have done it but we’ll have to look into what might have gone wrong. The fourth is: It looks like we did it but if we did it was justified because those devious enemies tricked us into doing it. The fifth is: Yes we did it but we didn’t mean to, it was an accident due to the ‘fog-of-war’ etc. and we will pay compensation to the victims (ignoring the fact that there was absolutely no fog involved).

Glenn Greenwald looks at how two leading US news outlets CNN and the New York Times have begun the process of exonerating the US government for the bombing following the lines above.

First they tried to avoid directly identifying the US as the source of the aerial attack that caused the deaths and destruction, leaving it as some sort of inexplicable mystery how it could be that the US was bombing in that general area at the same time the hospital was hit.

Then, as avoidance of responsibility became unrealistic, it slowly shifted to justification of the bombing by having Afghan government officials suggest that the hospital was being used by fighters opposed to the government.

But this time, rather than the victims being faceless and voiceless foreigners whose voices can be ignored, MSF was the target and they are not letting the US government weasel its way out of this the way they usually do. MSF has repeatedly emphasized that “the hospital was repeatedly & precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched” and that “To be clear; not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside ‪#Kunduz hospital compound prior to US airstrikes Saturday morning” and that the bombing went on for 30 minutes even after they protested.

The real crime of MSF may be that it is their policy to treat any injured person irrespective of whether it is one of ‘ours’ or one of ‘theirs’. This is an idea that tribal warmongers simply cannot get their heads around.

But as Greenwald says:

Even cynical critics of the U.S. have a hard time believing that the U.S. military would deliberately target a hospital with an airstrike (despite how many times the U.S. has destroyed hospitals with airstrikes). But in this case, there is long-standing tension between the Afghan military and this specific MSF hospital, grounded in the fact that the MSF – true to its name – treats all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight. That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before.

But even if there were, only the most savage barbarians would decide that it’s justified to raze a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and patients to the ground. Yet mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what the U.S. military did – either because it chose to do so or because its Afghan allies fed them the coordinates of this hospital which they have long disliked. As a result, we now have U.S. and Afghan officials expressly justifying the consummate war crime: deliberately attacking a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients.

As the facts of this atrocity become ever-more apparent and hard to deny, expect the usual tap dancing by the triumvirate of the political-military-media allies to try and dump this into the memory hole.

Comments

  1. grumpyoldfart says

    Mention Kunduz in a month from now. Ninety percent of Americans will say, “What’s a Kunduz?”

  2. says

    I’m increasingly finding myself unable to enjoy dystopian fiction because it’s pretty damned clear that we already live in a dystopia. Between things like this and the grasp the oligarchy increasingly has on society, things are looking very dire.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    You forgot the current slant: “Yes, we did this, but the people who did this violated an explicit policy.” From what I’ve heard so far, they’re saying the local Afghans called in the airstrike (presumably giving us these coordinates), either maliciously to hit the hospital, or because they messed up somehow, or maybe even (just blue-skying here) because someone in the communications chain changed the correct coordinates to the hospital to make us look bad.

    But the policy was that we weren’t supposed to do airstrikes directly from Afghan call-ins, because they weren’t trained to do it properly; we were supposed to send in our own guys to confirm it before the bombs fell. Presumably that didn’t happen this time.

    Covering one’s ass via policy is tricky. On the one hand, that’s why you create policy. As you know, in academia we’ve got a forest of policies so that, if somebody screws up, the administration can say “This person should have known better because we had a policy.” Or if you’re the first person to screw up in that way, then “We need to create a policy on that.” And when you break an existing, enforced policy, then the blame rightly falls on you.

    But there are also policies that are there in name only, because everybody breaks them routinely. Particularly in the military, there can be a *wink wink, this is against a stupid policy that was created by pencil-pushers who don’t know the situation on the ground* attitude. And usually in those cases, the higher-ups know perfectly well that the policy isn’t being followed, because it’s only there to protect the higher-ups by allowing them to sacrifice their underlings when things go pear-shaped, as they did here.

    I hope time will tell which of those things happened here. If it’s the second case, it only works well if you can keep the underlings from objecting too vocally about being sacrificed.

  4. Chiroptera says

    That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before.

    I’m pretty sure the even if all the doctors, nurses, and staff were Taliban, and even if every single patient was a wounded or sick Taliban fighter, attacking a medical facility is a war crime.

  5. Holms says

    ^ Yes, and apologists will always try to make use of the justified-because-of-tribalism angle.

  6. StevoR says

    @4. Chiroptera : Yes, I am pretty sure it is indeed a war crime to deliberately target medical facilities. You are right there.

    Latest news via Aussie ABC online :

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-06/afghan-forces-asked-for-air-strike-at-kunduz-hospital-us-says/6829482

    Afghan forces under Taliban fire asked for the US air strike that killed 22 people at a hospital in Kunduz, the US commander in Afghanistan said. The US military had previously reported that its own troops were under fire and had called in the strike, which was carried out by an AC-130 gunship. “We have now learned that on October 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US air forces,” General John Campbell told reporters. “An air strike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck,” he said. He said the request was made to US special forces who were advising the Afghans, but it was unclear how close to the action they were.

    Apparently this is a different story from their initial one adding to the confusion over what really happened.

    BTW. I’m not saying MSF are liars or that the US military are liars either merely relaying the information. It isn’t clear yet and the the media aren’t necessarily reliable. I don’t think the US military would do this on purpose however and it seems most likely a terrible mistake going on what I understand so far which may change as new information comes in. I’m not sure immediately jumping to conclusions is ever the best course of action and on the face of it, it certainly sounds and looks awful.

    Most awful of course for those who lost their lives.

    Next we have: Well, let’s not jump to conclusions but wait and see for a full and thorough investigation that may take months or even years.

    How is that actually an “excuse” as such? Would you rather there wasn’t an investigation to find out what really happened and ideally to determine measures that can prevent a recurrence? Would you have that investigation rushed and overlook things? Yes, better its done as quickly as possible -but not quicker!

    Is immediately jumping to conclusions at a time when there is a lot of uncertainty and competing claims really such a good idea especially for people who claim to be scientifically minded skeptics? Aren’t we meant to look for evidence and assess things properly based on that evidence with our opinions open to change as new info comes in? Isn’t thinking automatically thinking the worst of a group whether that’s Muslims or African Americans or the US military prejudice that interferes with clear and rational thinking here?

    Yes we did it but we didn’t mean to, it was an accident due to the ‘fog-of-war’ etc. and we will pay compensation to the victims (ignoring the fact that there was absolutely no fog involved).

    This also strikes me as being the most likely reality here. I do not think the US military would have deliberately targeted an MSF hospital because it simply makes no sense to do so and is unethical and against all the rules of engagement and a war crime. Why do it? I don’t think the US military are evil nor do I think they are infallible.

    I’m not justifying this and this so-called “excuse” quoted above isn’t either, if anything it is taking responsibility and trying to make amends as much as possible and sadly it is and always has been something that happens in wars. I’m really not sure what your problem with this is. It just reflects what is probably a tragic reality in this specific case and certainly in many other incidents of “friendly fire” and “collateral damage” which have been part of warfare since pretty well forever really.

  7. Saad says

    StevoR, #6

    BTW. I’m not saying MSF are liars or that the US military are liars either

    Actually, the U.S. military got caught lying already. They’ve already changed their story.

    Link 1
    Link 2
    Link 3

    I don’t think the US military would do this on purpose however and it seems most likely a terrible mistake going on what I understand so far which may change as new information comes in.

    Mistakes don’t continue for 30 minutes after being told to stop.

    do not think the US military would have deliberately targeted an MSF hospital because it simply makes no sense to do so and is unethical and against all the rules of engagement and a war crime.

    You can’t say it doesn’t make sense, because MSF treats all patients (including Taliban and other U.S. enemies). Second, U.S. has done very, very unethical things. You seriously aren’t that ignorant, are you?

  8. Lesbian Catnip says

    I do not think the US military would have deliberately targeted an MSF hospital because it simply makes no sense to do so and is unethical and against all the rules of engagement and a war crime.

    Because everyone takes the Geneva Convention so seriously. /end sarcasm

  9. brucegee1962 says

    Actually, the U.S. military got caught lying already. They’ve already changed their story.

    Changing a story != lying. Many, if not most stories that come out these days have initial stories that get changed. It’s what happens pretty reliably when a bunch of reporters start asking questions of a spokesperson who is operating in the absence of facts.

    Second, U.S. has done very, very unethical things. You seriously aren’t that ignorant, are you?

    Oh, absolutely. I’m completely willing to assign any level of perfidy to members of the US military — when they have a reasonable expectation of not getting caught.

    Bombing a hospital is not a case where that’s a reasonable expectation. It is a very public action, where it’s obvious who is calling the shots. It’s going to be tough to sweep this under the rug.

    Now, gross incompetence — that clearly must have been involved here. But a number of our so-called “allies” in the region, with whom we are working very closely, have a huge vested interest in making us look bad. And alas, that’s very easy to do. That feels like the most likely explanation to me.

  10. AMM says

    Now, gross incompetence — that clearly must have been involved here. But a number of our so-called “allies” in the region, with whom we are working very closely, have a huge vested interest in making us look bad. And alas, that’s very easy to do. That feels like the most likely explanation to me.

    The US doesn’t need anyone else to make us look bad. The US manages to do an excellent job all by itself.

    My experience, from the Vietnam War to the present, is that governments (especially including our own) lie all the time, especially in times of war; that they lie in order to cover up the evil that they do; and that US news media are more than willing to cover up the truth and propagate the lies. My experience is that when things look bad, if you go with the worst possible interpretation of what happened, you’ll probably still underestimate how awful people were. No matter how bad you fear things might be, the reality is almost always worse.

    My experience is also that when the US is at war, the contempt the US feels for anyone who is not American turns into justifying whatever the US government (incl. the armed forces) does to anyone who isn’t slavishly supporting US government policy. Remember My Lai? Remember Tiger Cages? Remember the never-rescinded US policy of using torture in the so-called “war on terror”? I am certain that the US command knew, at some level, that they were targeting a hospital. And I am certain that they did not care. Just like in Yemen and Iraq — and Vietnam — the attitude is to target anyone and everyone who isn’t “our side,” on the assumption that if you kill enough people, you’re bound to kill a few enemies. (And even if it can be proved that none of them were enemies, it’s still okay to kill them because they might have become enemies.) And I’m sure that Medicins Sans Frontieres counted as “not our side.”

    FWIW, in US reckoning of people killed by an air strike, any male over the age of 14 is presumed to have been a terrorist/enemy combatant. That’s the mentality here.

  11. AMM says

    It’s going to be tough to sweep this under the rug.

    They’ve successfully swept worse under the rug. The US news media will do all they can to help them. (There’s a reason Snowden didn’t go to the US media.) They’ll trot out a few bare-faced lies and stonewall until people get bored. Nobody will get in trouble, except maybe a few low-ranking people that nobody cared about anyway.

    As for the stuff that the rug doesn’t cover: they’ll just refuse to talk about it, and it will quickly disappear from the public discourse. Anybody remember Valerie Plame? How many heads rolled? The torture memos? The obvious lies used to justify the Iraq war? (Yes, there was ample evidence before the war started that they were lies. Nobody cared.)

  12. jo1storm says

    StevoR, f you and digital horse you rode on. I’m survivor of one of NATO test runs. After this operation, it was decided that bombardment wasn’t enough, so next operations included ground troops.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_during_Operation_Allied_Force

    P.s. From that year on, I still cringe on the “collateral damage” expression. Why? Because 12 year old me and my friends and family could have ended as one. For the crime of living in the town by the river which had 2 bridges, with no military presence at all. So, f off.

  13. lorn says

    Oh please, anyone who has handled one of these situations, even a simple traffic accident, knows that the stories evolve. First reports are a wild guess. Then come the people closest seeking to avoid blame, in case they did something wrong. Known or unknown. Then comes the emergency institutional ass covering. By then actual facts are starting to emerge. So all the previous stories get modified. As more credible witnesses and facts come out all prior stories are then revisited. Generally, if you are close by the picture starts to clarify in a day or two. Given that this is in Afghanistan, being judged in the US second hand, it is going to take a week or more for the dust to settle.

    Usually truth, capital ‘T’ truth, never really shows up but over time a small set of highly probable story lines emerges as the weaker story lines get pruned back.

    Of course, all along the way armchair experts will assert, unequivocally, that this, that, or the other thing, are absolutely, incontrovertibly, capital ‘T’ , true. Just as this story will fade, their facts will be shown to be false, but also easily forgotten.

    Last credible bit I heard was that the someone high up within the Afghan army on the ground and in the area had specifically requested air strikes on the site and that they had claimed that it was a known enemy concentration point. That the registration of the site as a hospital by MSF was held by higher command but was unknown, or missed, by the JTAC team that called in the strike.

    Hard to say what happened. So far there are precious few facts.

    It has to be noted that Afghan operation have been frequently hindered, sometimes crippled, by local tribal conflicts as warlords seek to use US firepower to advance their parochial concerns. A long list of unnecessary casualties can be chalked up to internecine conflicts largely independent of the larger war.

    Efforts have been made to have US advisors with all of the tribes in the area so that any proposed strikes can be cleared to make sure they are made in support of the main mission and not some local vendetta. US advisors working in a foreign language and alien culture where tribes, families, and individuals feel beholding to multi-generational grudges and blood-feuds, have not made such detailed coordination simple or easy.

  14. StevoR says

    @ jo1storm :

    StevoR, f you and digital horse you rode on. I’m survivor of one of NATO test runs. After this operation, it was decided that bombardment wasn’t enough, so next operations included ground troops. (Link snipped) P.s. From that year on, I still cringe on the “collateral damage” expression. Why? Because 12 year old me and my friends and family could have ended as one. For the crime of living in the town by the river which had 2 bridges, with no military presence at all. So, f off.

    Um, wait, what, why?

    I think you have misunderstood my comment completely.

    I am, NOT, repeat not saying collateral damage is a good thing or defending the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz which was obviously a tragic mistake and not a deliberate target. The US military has now admitted that and an investigation into it is underway. What more do you want?

    I am sad to hear what happened to you and can understand that that would have traumatised you and been a horrible thing but you do realise there was a bigger context for the war in the old Yugoslavia where NATO was trying to stop the massacres of Bosnians and Kosovars and others surely right? IOW they were saving lives incl. Muslim ones and trying to end a vicious genocidal civil war that the Serbians started. Again, what would you have rather they did?

    (Okay obviously not made mistakes and accidentally bombed things that shouldn’t have been bombed but they are, sadly, human as we all are & thus not perfect and mistakes will tragically happen.)

  15. jo1storm says

    “I am, NOT, repeat not saying collateral damage is a good thing or defending the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz which was obviously a tragic mistake and not a deliberate target. The US military has now admitted that and an investigation into it is underway. What more do you want? ”

    There you go with that phrase collateral damage again. How about you use some other instead, some not so “softening” of language, collateral casualties, maybe? Collateral deaths? People have died. They are not damage, they are dead people. Putting buildings at the same rank as people shows you and the US army what they are, callous.

    “I am sad to hear what happened to you and can understand that that would have traumatised you and been a horrible thing but you do realise there was a bigger context for the war in the old Yugoslavia where NATO was trying to stop the massacres of Bosnians and Kosovars and others surely right? IOW they were saving lives incl. Muslim ones and trying to end a vicious genocidal civil war that the Serbians started. Again, what would you have rather they did? ”

    Nope, you mixed two wars together. One from 1991 to 1995, when there were Bosnian casualties and when grievous crimes were done by all sides in the conflict. Horrible crimes, including genocide by Croats against Serbs and Bosnians, genocide of Serbs against Croats and Bosnians and crimes committed by Bosnians against Croats and Serbs. It was an orgy of sectarian and religious violence. I am not talking about that war.

    I am talking to you about NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, what West media are calling Kosovo war, from 1998 – 1999. In fact, those were two different Yugoslavia’s in the war: from 1991 to 1995, it was SFRY, a civil war which included violent break up of bigger country which included current countries of Montenegro, FYR Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Second Yugoslavia, or SRJ, had only Montenegro and Serbia as its parts. It was this Yugoslavia that was bombed in 1999.

    So, no Bosnia or Bosnians included. Now, bombing of 1999. First of all, ethnic Albanians living in (then) Autonomous province of Kosovo formed paramilitary formations during the year of 1998. Those paramilitary formations started attacking villages and towns in Kosovo where Serbian people were ethnic minority. The reason there were such villages are complicated, but one of tactics was to offer to buy a house owned by ethnic Serbian for a price that you could buy a bigger apartment in the capital of Belgrade. So, people sold them houses. Over time, there were villages and cities with over 90% ethnic Albanian population. These places where Serbians were minority were targeted first by terrorist actions, along with police stations, customs offices and other government offices. We’re talking about bombs, Molotov cocktails, rifles, the whole shebang. We’re not talking about peaceful try at independence; we’re talking about violent rebellion.

    Now, what you might not understand is that Kosovo is very important place in Serbian epic tradition. It is the most expensive Serbian word; there are almost more Serbian churches and monasteries on Kosovo than in the whole rest of Serbia. It’s like Penyberth for Welsh, Alamo for Americans. Then current (now late) president Slobodan Milošević sent an army there, tanks and infantry, allegedly for protection of Serbian civilians. I don’t doubt that there were crimes committed by some parts of that army, with national fervor running high and as a revenge for terrorist attacks by Kosovo paramilitary formations. Military propaganda and dictator praise ran high. Think ‘The Troubles’, with UK sending troops into Northern Ireland.

    But, here’s the thing. After the break up of USSR, USA remained as the only surviving super-power. NATO alliance’s reason for existing evaporated. NATO needed a new goal, needed to rethink and reformulate priorities and… There was strong Albanian lobby in USA government then. And they pushed for military action against Yugoslavia. CIA was training Kosovo paramilitary formations and US army had sent some instructors too. US military conglomerate had sold them weapons as well. They were US ally and a perfect opportunity for NATO to show strength, to set some new goals for organization; as a world cop, protecting the weaker. Show of strength, for our Albanian lobbying friends and precious customers.

    So, the same way as there were no WMD’s in Iraq, some victims and mass graves were created out of whole cloth. Some of those claimed mass graves were found out later to be of Serbian victims but no matter… the events were set into motion. The bombing runs started. Half a million Kosovo Albanians became refugees a very short time after the bombing started; the whole operation was well organized and it made Yugoslavia look bad, like genocide was happening. It added more justifications for bombing; 16 years later, there are still places where destroyed infrastructure was not repaired. I was just a kid then and I didn’t care for any of those reasons. I didn’t care that “the alliance took all care to evade civilian casualties”. I still don’t. Very nice of you, but words are wind. I was 12 years old; there are kids that were only 7 and younger. Do you think those now grown people are American friends? I don’t think so. Most of them think that all US citizens are stupid, callous mother****ers who desired our deaths. I know different, but still; it is hard.

    After the bombing was over, Slobodan Milošević was sent to Hague to face the international court for any and all possible crimes committed, as commander in chief. He died there, without ever being convicted. I’m sure he was guilty of a lot of things he was accused of but the prosecution failed to prove them. I never loved the man, but the facts are undisputable: he was never convicted.

    Imagine the state of UK if the whole of NATO attacked their ally for “crimes” against Irish during ‘The Troubles’ and got Northern Ireland as independent state. That’s what happened, only more violent. A few years later, this happened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_unrest_in_Kosovo . And Kosovo is now a state, with nice NATO base Bondsteel base in it and a monument to Bill Clinton in the capital. Good job.

    “(Okay obviously not made mistakes and accidentally bombed things that shouldn’t have been bombed but they are, sadly, human as we all are & thus not perfect and mistakes will tragically happen.)”

    If you don’t send military somewhere, there will be no military mistakes to happen. They bombed hospital, twice. I’ll say that it is a huge mistake and that letting US handle the investigations alone is not good enough. And I’ll stick with it.

  16. StevoR says

    @ ^ jo1storm : Okay. Read your comment here. Thanks for your info and insights here. It is appreciated.

    Collateral damage is the term I used because,well, it is the term that’s used. I certainly not trying to sound or be callous.

    Milošević wasn’t convicted but was you admit probably guilty of “things” & I think from all I’ve read and heard of him evil.

    I agree bombing hospitals anytime at all is a huge mistake and not something I think good soldiers or people ever do. Holding independent investigations as well as or instead of US military ones, well, fair enough, yeah. I do think that’s worthwhile. But I also think these should be impartial not anti-US witchhunts and based on getting the facts and truth out.

  17. StevoR says

    BTW in case you don’t already know using the word blockquote inside of the > < greater than / lesser than style brackets and then using a / backslash afterwards gives you :

    These indented blockquote thingamajigs for citing / quoting material here

    In case that helps in future.

  18. jo1storm says

    19. Oh, I know how to use blockquotes. I was typing on my phone, so it was too much of a bother to use them, especially since I used regular quotes and replied straight after you. I guess I have made my post a bother to read by not using them, if so, I apologize.

    18. I am not fit to judge Slobodan Milošević. I actually lived as a kid under that man’s leadership. I didn’t know squat about him then and most of what I know now was after a couple years of research. Unfortunately, it’s what courts say that will count in history books. Anyway, here’s some heartwarming things after 1999 bombing: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20209770

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