No justice yet for the victims of US air strike on hospital in Afghanistan

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Kathleen Thomas grimly recalls the day when a US warplane flew over in Afghanistan and bombed her intensive care unit.

A survivor of the attack – which killed 42 and wounded dozens of others in the northern city of Kunduz – Thomas recounted seeing patients trapped in their hospital beds and engulfed in flames.

“The strikes tore through the outpatients department, which had become a sleeping area for staff. Our colleagues didn’t die peacefully like in the movies,” Thomas said.

“They died painfully, slowly, some of them screaming out for help that never came, alone and terrified, knowing the extent of their own injuries and aware of their impending death. It was a scene of nightmarish horror that will be forever etched in my mind…”

The account is part of Thomas’ public testimony released recently by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The international medical charity operated the hospital in Kunduz that was flattened by a US air strike last October.

Seven months since the deadly attack, survivors and family members of victims have struggled for an elusive justice that may never come. Even though the US government has disciplined more than a dozen personnel, it has still skirted an independent investigation into the air strike, described by MSF as a “war crime”.

…US actions have sowed fears among human rights activists and advocacy groups that the entrenched pattern of bombing hospitals by “mistake” – in the words of the US government – would leave health facilities in conflict zones even more vulnerable.

“We run the risk of getting used to these [unacceptable attacks] when actually our tolerance ratio should be zero,” Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, the permanent representative of Spain to the United Nations, said at a recent policy forum on attacks on healthcare facilities in armed conflict.

“Wars may be inevitable, but there are rules to follow,” Marchesi said. “Respecting international humanitarian law is not only a matter of life and death; it is humanity itself that’s at stake here.”

RTFA if you’re not already familiar with the details of this atrocity. The Pentagon “investigation” is a farce – as you would expect. The history of official government studies of their own war crimes is absurd to begin with.

An independent commission is needed. The power to bring the guilty to justice is a necessity. For once, the United States government must end the perpetual systematic coverups of “accidental” murder of civilians.

More evidence of US military burn pits causing soldiers’ illness

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In 2007, shortly after vice-president Joe Biden learned that his eldest son would be deployed to Iraq, the then-presidential hopeful turned to a modest crowd at the Iowa state fair and admitted that he didn’t want Beau to go. “But I tell you what,” he said, his family lined up behind him. “I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.”

Beau arrived in Iraq the following year, and spent the next several months serving as a Jag officer at Camp Victory, just outside of the Baghdad airport, and Joint Base Balad, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though he returned home safely in September 2009, he woke up one day a few months later with an inexplicable headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body. Beau had suffered a mild stroke. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, he died at the age of 46.

Though the underlying cause of Beau’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in a new book out Tuesday suggests a possible link between his illness and service. Based on clusters of similar cases, scientific studies and expert opinions, author Joseph Hickman proposes in The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers that US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan confronted more than one unexpected enemy that followed them home. Many soldiers complain of respiratory issues relating to their burn pit exposure. But others likely developed more life-threatening conditions such as cancers, Hickman contends, because of what the burn pits were built on top of: the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program.

From the moment the US launched its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon ordered the use of open-air burn pits to dispose of the wars’ massive volume of waste. The military relied heavily upon these sprawling ditches, which burned around the clock to consume the tens or even hundreds of tons of junk generated daily. By May 2003, according to Hickman, there were more than 250 burn pits at US bases peppered across the two nations.

The Department of Defense has long recognized that burn pits pose a substantial danger, especially to the environment. Waste management guidance in 1978, for instance, said that solid waste should not be burned in an open pit if an alternative is available, like incinerators. But the department charged ahead anyway and hired contractors like Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to manage the pits. And up until 2009, the military didn’t have comprehensive standards in place governing what could or could not be burned…

❝“I’ll never forget the smell of burning shit,” said Marcus Hill, a retired US army sergeant who served in Balad between 2004 and 2007. But that was the least of his concerns. Among the other hazardous items service members recall being burned are: petroleum, oil, rubber, tires, plastic, styrofoam, batteries, appliances, electrical equipment, pesticides, aerosol cans, oil, explosives, casings, medical waste and animal and human carcasses. They also used jet fuel to stoke the fire.

These materials converged in a toxic plume that hovered over the base, and seeped into soldiers’ sleeping and working quarters, which were often a mile or less away. “Sometimes the smoke was so dense that you could breath it in and back out again, kind of like smoking a cigar,” said Hill. But for Hill and many others, the hazy cocktail didn’t initially register as a threat. “After being blown up a couple of times, you didn’t complain about stuff like that. It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It was part of our mission and we were told not to worry about it.”

As with Agent Orange in VietNam, the Pentagon, military branches and our government alike have maintained a policy of ignoring and disavowing responsibility for the death and destruction not caused by direct assault. That’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a deliberate policy choice. Not at all dissimilar from decisions made to carpet-bomb whole villages, incendiary air raids on cities full of civilians, demonstrate the genocidal potential of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

We’ve just added the maiming and death of our own forces to the sum of thoughtless murder.

Years of waste and fraud in Afghan – and ready to waste more

With Washington set to send billions of dollars in fresh aid to Afghanistan despite the military drawdown, the U.S. official in charge of auditing assistance programs says “it’s not too late” to address the fraud and mismanagement that has bedeviled the 14-year effort to rebuild the country.

The military intervention launched after the Sept. 11 attacks has cost the United States $1 trillion, including some $110 billion in aid aimed at rebuilding one of the poorest, most violent and most corrupt countries on earth. To this day Afghanistan relies on foreign aid as it battles an increasingly potent Taliban insurgency.

But John Sopko, who has spent more than three years probing U.S.-funded projects as the special investigator general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the U.S. government is partly to blame for the misused funds.

“What I’m identifying are not just Afghan or Afghan-related problems, they are problems with the way the United States government operates,” he said.

He said the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development suffer from corruption as well as poor planning, oversight and accountability. He said they often fail to coordinate with one another or measure programs’ effectiveness…

Since it was created in 2008, SIGAR has identified more than $1 billion in potential savings to U.S. taxpayers and published hundreds of reports, including 50 audits of reconstruction projects.

“The money that’s been wasted has been wasted,” Sopko said. “But we have still got $10 billion that has been authorized, appropriated but not yet spent. And we’re probably going to put in $6 billion to $10 billion a year, for years to come — because if we don’t, the Afghan government will collapse.”…

Sopko said it’s time to “hit the reset button and take a look at what worked and what didn’t work.”

The biggest failure of the reconstruction effort, he said, was the outlay of nearly $8 billion since 2001 to eradicate poppies, the main ingredient in heroin and Afghanistan’s chief export. The crop is worth some $3 billion a year and is a key source of income for the Taliban…

SIGAR found last year that the U.S. had spent $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2001. Opium production has dropped by 50 percent this year, not because of eradication efforts, but because of drought, pests and other environmental factors, Sopko said.

“Any metrics you give — price, purity, addiction rates, production — the only improvements we have seen have been caused by Mother Nature,” he said.

BTW, Lindsay Graham and John McCain, two of our most backwards Republican warhawks have just proposed that everything we did in Afghanistan and Iraq – should now be done in Syria. Starting with sending in 20,000 American soldiers.

These stupid little minds who bear a significant portion of responsibility for helping an ignoranus like George W. Bush get us into this mess – would perpetuate the same bureaucratic farce, the same incompetence that eight years of Obama hasn’t turned around – all in the name of protecting the United States.

The nation where self-proclaimed good Christians with guns have killed more people than any foreign terrorist cabal.

Uncle Sugar spent $43 million for a $500K gas station in Afghanistan

Our Afghan CNG filling station

The U.S. Department of Defense spent an estimated $43 million to build a single gas station in Afghanistan, the federal government’s oversight authority for reconstruction in the Central Asian country said Monday. The revelation marks the latest example of alleged overspending identified by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction…

SIGAR’s report called the plan to build a compressed natural gas (CNG) filling station in the small northern Afghan city of Sheberghan “ill-conceived,” and said it came at an “exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers.” The report noted that the gas station should have cost roughly $500,000…

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera…

“One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation or outcome,” Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko said in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that accompanied the report.

Read the whole report [.pdf] if you feel like getting pissed off over millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, stolen, and misused. In a war that accomplished nothing other than decades of enmity and agony to come. A present from conservatives and cowards in Congress and the White House.

Kunduz hospital patients ‘burned in beds” … Uncle Sugar says “Oops”

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Dr Joanne Liu’s words last Wednesday were every bit as blunt as one would expect from the head of an organisation known for its outspokenness on humanitarian issues, a realm where tongues – and noses – are often held in the service of the suffering.

“If we let this go, as if it was a non-event, we are basically giving a blank cheque to any countries who are at war,” she said of US airstrikes on the Médecins sans Frontières hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, which killed at least 22 people.

“Our patients burned in their beds; MSF doctors, nurses, and other staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other.”

If hospitals were not safeguarded, asked Liu in a speech delivered at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, how could the medical charity work in other conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen? After all, she added, “even wars have rules”.

MSF’s assertion that the US military committed a war crime in Kunduz and its call for an independent inquiry under the Geneva conventions have not only pitted it against the Pentagon, they have also served to confirm – once again – the medical charity’s reputation for monumental frankness…

The organisation was founded after a group of French doctors who had volunteered with the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Biafran crisis decided that they could not stay silent about the slaughter and hunger they had seen in the breakaway Nigerian province.

Feeling constrained by the ICRC’s way of operating and the abuses perpetrated by the Nigerian army, they joined forces with a pair of journalists to launch an organisation that would “ignore political or religious boundaries and prioritise the welfare of those suffering” – hence Médecins sans Frontières…

In order to guarantee its independence and safeguard its right to speak out, MSF ensures that the overwhelming majority of its funding – 89% – comes from individual donors.

The rest comes from governments and international organisations. In multi-party conflicts where humanitarian assistance is threatened, it uses only private donations to operate.

But, then, I live in the belly of a beast that long ago adopted a policy of walking away from responsibility for the crimes committed in the name of the American people.

Nowadays, our collateral damage may be limited to dozens of innocents killed by so-called smart bombs, easy peasy drone attacks – instead of carpet bombing whole regions, incinerating villages with napalm. I’m not convinced the difference is qualitative. Only one of opportunist political choice.

US military bombs Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan –


Seems like the old days doesn’t it? All we need is George W’s sad voice giving us the “oops” excuse. Oh well, President Obama learned how to do it pretty well. No doubt he remembers exactly the tone required.

A hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike. At least 19 people were killed, including 12 hospital staff members, and dozens wounded.

The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

The airstrike set off fires that were still burning hours later, and a nurse who managed to climb out of the debris described seeing colleagues so badly burned that they had died…

President Ashraf Ghani’s office released a statement Saturday evening saying that Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, had apologized for the strike. In a statement, however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said blah, blah, blah

Airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties have caused tensions verging on hostility between the Afghan government and the United States for years. The former president, Hamid Karzai, was often in the uncomfortable position of explaining to his countrymen why Afghanistan’s biggest ally was killing innocent Afghans…

Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital.

But a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position.

Doctors Without Borders, which released the casualty numbers, said 37 people were wounded of whom 19 were hospital staff and 18 were patients or their caregivers, which means mostly family members. The organization described the facility as “very badly damaged.”

In a statement, the aid group accused the American military of continuing the bombing for 30 minutes after receiving phone calls telling military contacts that the hospital was being bombed.

“All parties to the conflict including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location [GPS Coordinates] of the MSF facilities — hospital, guesthouse, office,” the statement said.

Who do I believe? I’ll take Doctors Without Borders over the Pentagon any day of the week.

RTFA for a long, detailed account of the deaths and destruction.

Agent Orange linked to cancer precursor

Veterans exposed to the powerful and toxic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War have a significantly increased risk of the precursor state for multiple myeloma, a prospective cohort study now shows.

Exposure to Agent Orange doubled the risk of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), as compared with veterans who were not exposed.

The herbicide was used from 1962 to 1972 to destroy vast stretches of jungle canopy, missions known collectively as Operation Ranch Hand…

Agent Orange contained several herbicides, including 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a known human carcinogen, as reported online in JAMA Oncology by Ola Landgren, MD, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center…

“To our knowledge, our findings provide the first direct scientific evidence for an association between the multiple myeloma precursor, MGUS, and exposure to Agent Orange/TCDD among (Operation) Ranch Hand veterans,” the authors wrote.

“Our observations are important in that they add support to a previous finding that certain pesticides play a role in the development of MGUS,” they added…

In an accompanying editorial, Nikhil C. Munshi, MD, of VA Boston Healthcare System and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, noted that the study "now provides further evidence of an association between Agent Orange exposure and development of plasma cell disorder."

"Although this study associated risk of MGUS with Agent Orange exposure, the fact that all multiple myeloma cases originate from MGUS provides the first scientific evidence for a direct link between multiple myeloma and Agent Orange exposure," Munshi wrote.

Munshi pointed out that the Institute of Medicine has identified a predisposition to seven types of malignant neoplasms in veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Four of these, including the one reported by Landgren et al, are B-cell lymphoid neoplasms…

Of course, this means nothing to the reactionary fools who stand around, nowadays, and blather that folks shouldn’t even bring up the name of George W Bush and responsibility for the ever-expanding disaster that now is the Middle East. If newspapers and TV talking heads are willing to forget our nation’s responsibility for death and destruction in the last decade or so – why even bring up our slimy behavior from fifty years ago?

American conservatives have become a breed apart from their own history. There was a time when man-made disasters were worth considering in the intellectual lexicon of politics. Not anymore, man. The murder of tens of thousands stretching from Southeast Asia through Iraq and beyond mean nothing to fools with no conscience. The additional social burden of the slow murder of our own veterans is ignored as collateral damage from the heroic task of American justice.


Psychologists end collaboration with “national security” interrogations

So, why is Gitmo an exception?

The American Psychological Association…overwhelmingly approved a new ban on any involvement by psychologists in national security interrogations conducted by the United States government, even noncoercive interrogations now conducted by the Obama administration…

The vote followed an emotional debate in which several members said the ban was needed to restore the organization’s reputation after a scathing independent investigation ordered by the association’s board.

That investigation, conducted by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer, found that some officers of the association and other prominent psychologists colluded with government officials during the Bush administration to make sure that association policies did not prevent psychologists from involvement in the harsh interrogation programs conducted by the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

The ban was approved by the association’s council by a vote of 156 to 1. Seven council members abstained, while one was recused…

The final vote was met by a standing ovation by many of the council members, as well as the large crowd of observers, which included anti-torture activists and psychology graduate students who had come to the meeting to support the ban. Some wore T-shirts proclaiming “First, Do No Harm,” a reference to the physicians’ Hippocratic oath.

RTFA for all the gory details. I think it stands as mute testimony for the sentiment solidly rooted in many Americans that war criminals like George W Bush and Dick Cheney should stand trial for their crimes.

Members of the APA have been expelled for their role in torture. I think that body would support their prosecution. I hope so, anyway.

Psychologists are also still assigned at the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they oversee “voluntary” interrogations of detainees.

Omar Khadr in his own words

Omar Khadr is standing in his bedroom looking out at the backyard.

It is his second morning of freedom after nearly 13 years behind bars, and he’s embarrassed because he doesn’t know how to open the window…

Open a window. Open a bank account. Get a driver’s license. Get a library card. There are so many small skills to be learned by a man who has loomed large since he was shot and captured in Afghanistan at the age of 15 – a man who has never been allowed to speak publicly.

For the first time since being granted bail earlier this month, Khadr spoke over two days in exclusive interviews for the Toronto Star and a documentary that will air…on the CBC.

Until now, Khadr has existed in caricature drawn and defined by others: victim, killer, child, detainee, political pawn, terrorist, pacifist; he has been compared both to South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and serial murderer Paul Bernardo.

Michelle Shephard and the Toronto STAR knocked it out of the park. Real journalism, a challenging interview and story. Not because of the difficulty in the subject learning again how to communicate in a free society. Difficulty in accessing print, video, the means of communication in modern society that still hasn’t agreed to free speech.

And maybe more.

There is a great body of growing discussion here in the United States – and around the world – about what must be a revised Western policy in the cradle of the Fertile Crescent, the seat of civilization. Do we continue choosing sides in wars between Sunni and Shia? How do we compensate families for the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed by a war founded on base political lies? How can we rebuild what we have crushed – and prevent the ongoing descent into civil war from resuming?

Educated journalists and politicians take the questions back to World War 1 when the Brits and French decided to remake history and national borders, creating new nations, relegating others to poverty, turning a region into a political desert to be mined for minerals and oil.

Still, the crushing blow that smashed all hope for millions was delivered by a red-white-and-blue blitzkrieg worthy of any army of Panzer Divisions. The “reasonable” among us say we have acquired full responsibility for the United States to care for the region like another territorial property. Bring a halt to civil wars. Rebuild.

Perhaps that is best for the people there. But, send the tab to those politicians who voted for Bush’s War in the first place. Pass a special tax on Americans who re-elected George the Little – and, so far, haven’t charged him and Dick Cheney for their war crimes.