Obama’s apology is not nearly enough for a possible war crime


The media are reporting that president Obama personally called the leaders of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to apologize for the bombing of their hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. But MSF is saying that his apology is not enough and they are calling for an independent investigation into what they strongly feel is a war crime. The article looks into all the factors that make plausible the case that this was a war crime, because no warning was given of an impending attack and a hospital is considered a protected facility that warrants such an action.

“Protected” is a critical word for any war-crimes investigation. But the Afghans have said that Taliban fighters fired on their forces from within hospital, which would potentially compromise its protected status. MSF has unequivocally denied that there was any firing from inside its hospital. Campbell, in his Senate testimony, said US personnel were not under fire and stopped short of saying that Afghan forces had received fire from the medical facility.

But should the US special operators or AC-130 crew have believed the hospital was a legitimate target, international law still requires them to provide notification to personnel within that a strike was to take place, according to experts.

“Any serious violation of the law of armed conflict, such as attacking a hospital that is immune from intentional attack, is a war crime. Hospitals are immune from attack during an armed conflict unless being used by one party to harm the other and then only after a warning that it will be attacked,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell of the University of Notre Dame.

“Hospitals and medical personnel have specific protections that are laid out in the laws of war,” agreed Sarah Knuckey, an international lawyer and professor at Columbia Law School.

“If the Taliban were attacking from the hospital, the building site would lose its protected status. But that doesn’t mean the US or Afghanistan have carte blanche to attack the facility.”

The US government is resisting MSF’s calls for an independent inquiry and claiming that they can be trusted to conduct a full, fair, and transparent investigation, a claim that is laughable on its face given the past history of US investigations into its own actions. As Glenn Greenwald says, if the US is so convinced that they did nothing wrong, why would they object to one? Surely they are the ones who should be most eager to be exonerated by an impartial body, if they are so sure of their innocence? Greenwald also says that the US media has presumptively agreed with the US government that this was merely an accident and thus presumably excused from any culpability.

Meanwhile, Jon Schwarz provides us with a list of other civilian facilities that the US has bombed in the past, the things that the US government, aided by its media allies, would rather you forgot.

Watch the president of MSF International Dr. Joanne Liu deliver an extremely powerful statement about the horror that the people in the hospital went through and why there has to be an independent and impartial international investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-finding Commission and not an internal one by US or NATO forces who were the ones responsible for this atrocity.

Comments

  1. says

    PS – why do you refer to it as a “possible” war crime? It was air strikes on a civilian target; specifically a hospital. That is indiscriminate bombing.

    I see John McCain weighed in about it being “fog of war” … I guess he likes that argument: how many bombs did bomber pilot McCain drop on Hanoi during Operation Rolling Thunder? (AKA: “the biggest shooting gallery on earth”)

  2. doublereed says

    I mean I’m confused. Is the US Government claiming it isn’t a war crime? Because it sounds like they’re saying it is a war crime and therefore demands investigation. I’m not seeing where the military has claimed it lost protected status or sent notification.

    To reiterate:

    Campbell, in his Senate testimony, said US personnel were not under fire and stopped short of saying that Afghan forces had received fire from the medical facility.

    But should the US special operators or AC-130 crew have believed the hospital was a legitimate target, international law still requires them to provide notification to personnel within that a strike was to take place, according to experts.

    I don’t see the ambiguity here. We don’t seem to be contesting the fact that it’s a war crime.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Marcus,

    Saying it is a war crime seems like a legal judgment that I am not in a position to make. When I say it is likely or possible or probable, I am saying that it looks like one to me based on what we know so far.

  4. lorn says

    As understand it the incident is being investigated to find out what happened with an eye within the military toward keeping it from happening again.

    Nothing final but some bits seem to be becoming clearer to the point of general agreement: The majority of the fire was delivered by some form of AC-130 gunship after a call for support by an Afghan unit claiming to be under fire.

    From this several likelihoods seem more sure than not:
    1) it was night – gunships do not usually operate in daylight. It would be the rare exception to see them used in daylight hours.
    2) The targets were likely confirmed using low-light and IR cameras to make sure they were well away from allied troops and hitting the right target. – This is SOP for gunships.
    3) The call for fire, target observation, and fire was recorded – gunships as a matter of course, but not without exception, record almost everything.

    Questions that need asking include:
    How was the hospital site marked?
    Were there obvious and clear visual identifiers or was this a mater of administratively registering the site by GPS coordinates.
    How were the flight and targeting crews informed that there was a hospital in the area?
    Was this included in the pre-flight briefing?
    Some of the more modern targeting computers can use an overlay of areas of concern. If present was this system turned off/non-functional? Was the overlay map available and uploaded?
    Were the Afghan troops said to have called for assistance really under fire? From where?
    Was there fire coming from the area of the hospital, or, as a few claim, from the hospital building itself?

    As pointed out in the first section, due to the nature of the aircraft, it seems likely some of those question should be getting answered shortly.

  5. says

    As pointed out in the first section, due to the nature of the aircraft, it seems likely some of those question should be getting answered shortly.

    If the investigation was independently run, yes. However, an internal investigation is likely to just find that several crucial recordings have been mysteriously misplaced.

  6. Saad says

    Any reasonable person will be disregarding an internal investigation.

    I mean seriously, are people that stupid when it comes to judging the U.S.? An internal investigation into the killing of patients? We wouldn’t let that fly for any other person, organization, or country.

  7. Mano Singham says

    lorn @#5,

    Do you think that an independent investigation is needed to answer your questions or are you satisfied with one done by the US government/military?

  8. StevoR says

    FWIW. I would also support an independent investigation of the Kunduz MSF hospital bombing as long a as it was truly indepednet and based on the actual evidence and getting at the truth of what happened and not a political metaphorical “witch hunt” exercise in anti-Americanism.

    It does look like a tragic mistake and I don’t believe it was deliberate. But, lets see what the evidence all says when we have sufficient and sufficiently clear evidence from all sources here.

    Whatever the case, the lives lost are irreplaceable and their loss is horrendous and should have been avoided.

  9. says

    But, lets see what the evidence all says when we have sufficient and sufficiently clear evidence from all sources here.

    How will you know what the evidence actually says when the people under suspicion of wrong-doing are the ones gathering, handling and analysing the evidence, and also have the last say in what gets made public?

    It’s conceivable that this was an accident or a fuck-up of some kind (bureaucracies being what they are). However, how could we possibly tell if the US is investigating itself? We already know what conclusion they’ll come up with, whether the facts support it or not.

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