Attacking doctors in conflict zones is a War Crime. Why is no one prosecuted for it?

While a United States AC-130 gunship blasted a Médecins Sans Frontières
 hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, with howitzer and incendiary rounds early on the morning of October 3, 2015, MSF staff phoned and texted American and Afghan authorities more than a dozen times trying desperately to stop the attack. Medical staff and patients were shot as they fled the building. Others burned to death as they lay in their beds. By the time the half-hour airstrike was over, 42 people — including doctors, nurses, and patients — were dead.

The Pentagon later carried out an investigation and determined that while errors were made, no one will face criminal charges.

Though it was horrific, the Kunduz hospital attack was not unusual. It was one of hundreds of assaults on health care workers and hospitals in conflict zones around the globe since 2015, as cataloged in a detailed new report from Johns Hopkins University. The consequences of these attacks have been devastating…

Attacks on health care workers and medical infrastructure were recorded in 19 countries in just over a year of warfare. The attacks were as varied as they were widespread…

There have been virtually no consequences for the perpetrators of these attacks. Regardless of who is committing these atrocities, says Leonard Rubenstein, who coordinated and edited the report…For more than 150 years, international law has deemed these attacks on medical personnel and infrastructure illegal. The Geneva Conventions provide strict rules for warring parties: Attacks must differentiate between military targets and civilian objects, hospitals can’t be taken over for military purposes, and health professionals cannot be punished for providing health care. “A deliberate attack on a health facility is a war crime—it’s true under the Geneva Conventions and the International Criminal Court,” says Rubenstein. When it comes to crimes against health professionals, he says, “There haven’t been prosecutions, and there should be.”

I’ll second that emotion. It’s not a new accusation against any of the human rights “champions” in the West. France, England, any former colonial power – the United States took over the role of Imperial Copper after the Brits trudged back from Empire. All have been guilty. Perhaps not as often as any of the newsprint evildoers; but, the hometown press ain’t too picky about telling the truth about how we defend the American way of life in someone else’s country halfway around the world, eh?

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.

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 –


MSF/AFP

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.