The United States military finds itself not guilty of any wrongdoing in the Kunduz hospital attack

In November 2015, the US military and the Department of Defence (DOD) announced the results of an investigation into the attack on the large hospital centre operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) – Doctors Without Borders – in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The airstrike on the hospital was conducted by the US forces in that country, killing patients, civilians and medical staff. After investigating itself, the DOD and military declared that they are not guilty. While attributing blame for the attack on human error, faulty intelligence and technical failures, the top military command was cleared of any wrongdoing. The top commander for the US military in Afghanistan, in presenting the results of the internally-supervised investigation to the media, declared that the Kunduz attack was a tragic and avoidable accident. General Campbell’s remarks were explained in a Washington Post story:

The location of the Doctors Without Borders Hospital was widely known in Kunduz. But the aircrew, hampered by a technical communications breakdown, mistook it for the headquarters of the Afghan security service, which Taliban fighters had reportedly seized when they briefly took control of the city and which was the intended target, Campbell said.

Some of the aircrew involved in the airstrike have been suspended, and face disciplinary action. Other than that, the guilt for the attack will be apportioned no further.

The US military investigation’s findings contradict the eyewitness testimony of survivors from the attack, who recorded that the MSF hospital was attacked for one and a half hours, not the half-hour as claimed by General Campbell. The latter claimed that the hospital was mistaken for a Taliban target, giving aid to insurgents – another fabrication refuted by the MSF and independent corroborative witnesses. The medical personnel at the Kunduz trauma centre had repeatedly provided the GPS coordinates of their location to Afghan and US military authorities, the latter being fully aware of the location and nature of this facility. Interestingly, the US military did launch airstrikes on Taliban positions, which they had supposedly confused for the hospital.

MSF demanding independent investigation

The general director of the MSF, Christopher Stokes, stated that the US military’s version of events raises more questions than answers. Responding to the findings elaborated by the DOD, Stokes commented that:

It appears that 30 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people are denied life-saving care in Kunduz simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and ‘roughly matched’ a description of an intended target.

There are growing calls for a full independent investigation into the Kunduz attack, and the MSF has persisted in raising this issue with the international community. It is vital to not only challenge the constantly shifting evasions and excuses provided by the DOD for this attack, but to hold the political and military leaders of the US ruling class to account.

Attacking hospitals, while an egregious war crime, is nothing unusual for the rulers of US imperialism. In the American way of war, civilian casualties are a useful and terrifying reminder of the fate that awaits those who resist. In an article entitled ‘The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz’, published in the Counterpunch magazine, the authors demonstrate the essential continuity of tactics and purpose when US political and military rulers wage war. While the indigenous American nations were the targets of colonial expansion, and subjected to numerous atrocities, the US rulers adopted similar tactics when expanding their imperial project beyond the American continents. The authors of the article, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, quote the words of George Washington, who stated of the indigenous people that:

The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more. I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed. But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected.

Washington was referring to the treatment meted out to the Six Nations of the Indigenous people in the New York area.

Many decades later, in 2004, as the Bush-Cheney administration ordered an American assault on the Iraqi town of Fallujah, the medical centres and hospitals – developed extensively under the Iraqi Ba’athist state – were targeted in a military offensive. The Fallujah residents were subjected to intense assault, destroying the city with its arsenal of heavy weaponry, backed up by depleted uranium and white phosphorus. The hospitals were easy targets, and the US began its assault on Fallujah by taking out the Hai Nazal Hospital, a new facility that was just beginning its operations. Intended as an act of collective punishment for fighting the US occupation, Fallujah was made an example of, and hitting the hospitals was the first step in inflicting severe casualties in an act of willful state-sanctioned murder.

The bombing of the defenceless civilian population of Guernica by the Germans during the Spanish civil war, became emblematic of the barbaric nature of the perpetrator. The airstrikes and attacks on hospitals are no less terrifying in their intent to intimidate. This comparison is timely, because this month marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, a series of tribunals held at the end of the Second World War to prosecute the German political and military leadership for their crimes, including the bombing of civilian populations. The genocidal savagery of German imperialism was laid bare for all the world to see, and its leaders prosecuted. Surely it is high time to apply the lessons of Nuremberg to the modern-day American leaders, who are responsible for unleashing American militarism on the civilian populations around the world. The Obama administration, no less than its predecessor, has thrown aside international law and waged aggressive war throughout the world, including Afghanistan. The Kunduz attack is the predictable outcome of a predatory and criminal savagery. After fourteen years of the ‘war on terror’, it is time to stop the downward spiral of violence and counterattack, and to stop treating the people of the Middle East as subjects of colonial expansion.

Last but not least – lest we forget: July 3 1988.

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Netanyahu’s poisonous nonsense about World War Two

In October 2015, at the meeting of the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an extraordinary claim about the genocide of the Jews during World War Two; killing the Jewish population of Europe was not the idea of Hitler and the Nazi Party, but was originally espoused by the Palestinian cleric and national leader at the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. According to Netanyahu, the Palestinian cleric, in a meeting with Hitler in 1941, implanted the notion of physical liquidation of the Jews of Europe in the minds of Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy. Hitler’s original intention, so Netanyahu stated, was to expel the Jews to Madagascar. However, the Mufti complained that European Jews would only make their way to Palestine, then a British colony facing an influx of Jewish immigration. When Hitler then asked what he could so to resolve this problem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini allegedly responded with the words ‘burn them’.

This version of World War Two history provoked a storm of reactions, denunciations and condemnations by historians and political leaders around the world. The Germans basically responded by stating that they had no idea what Netanyahu was talking about. Israeli leaders and historians blasted Netanyahu’s remarks, stating that the primary and ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Nazi party and its associated military and police establishment. Historians of the Holocaust are overwhelmingly united in their analysis that the Nazi party did not need any outside encouragement to systematically murder the Jewish communities of Europe. Indeed, the Final Solution had been in full operation by 1941, when Hitler and the Mufti had their meeting. The India Today online newspaper stated that not only did Netanyahu stir up controversy with his remarks, but was basically absolving Hitler of responsibility for the murder of the Jewish people of Europe. The secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying, “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews”.

The Mufti and Germany

Erekat’s comment speaks to a wider issue regarding Netanyahu’s remarks. The Israeli prime minister was speaking from an approved speech – it was not an off-hand remark. He has made similar comments previously, portraying the Palestinians, and by extension Arab and Muslims, as crazed existential enemies hell-bent on exterminating every single Jewish person. Netanyahu’s speech in Jerusalem, coming in the context of increasing tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, serves as an inflammatory element, worsening tensions between the two communities. Anti-Arab racist lynch mobs, supported by the Israeli military and security services, are on the rampage against the Palestinians, the latter bearing the brunt of the suffering. It is customary to ignore blatant nonsense, such as when bigoted, irrelevant windbags and cretins make speeches inciting racial hatred. They can be ignored and everyone can get on with their lives. But Netanyahu’s fairy tales about the Mufti, the Holocaust and World War Two are poisonous nonsense, and attempts to rewrite the history of the Second World War deserve a strong rebuttal.

It is most certainly true that the Mufti, having met Hitler in 1941, raised three divisions of Bosnian Muslims as a unit to fight in the Waffen SS. They were recruited, and formed part of the elite German troop formations, to fight the Communist Partisans and anti-Nazi forces waging a guerrilla struggle in German-occupied Yugoslavia. The Mufti was motivated by the naive, simplistic notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He had hopes that the Germans would recognise the Arab states as independent entities after the defeat of Britain and France. As Tony Greenstein, British socialist and anti-Zionist activist notes in his article for Jacobin magazine:

In reality, Hitler had no intention of supporting Arab independence. If Germany had conquered the Arab countries, it would simply have supplanted Britain and France as the imperialist power. For many Nazis, Arabs were considered lower on the racial ladder than the Jews.

When the mufti met with Hitler, the Final Solution had already begun, with the invasion of Russia in June 1941. By this time, the mass shooting of some one million Jews by the Einsatzgruppen and Einsatzkommando killing squads, which operated in the rear of the Wehrmacht in White Russia and Ukraine, had taken place.

The Bosnian SS units, after being formed, showed minimal interest in fighting alongside the Germans, and promptly abandoned their former masters once they had been sent to France for retraining. A number of the Bosnian Muslim recruits for the Axis, having deserted the German side, ended up in France helping the French Resistance. What Netanyahu did not mention in his speech, and perhaps he should have done his homework, was that the Muslim clerics in Bosnia issued forceful denunciations of Nazi atrocities in their country, and heavily criticised the killings of Jews and Serbs. While the Jewish communities in Yugoslavia faced deportation and eventual mass murder, there was one country that offered asylum and took Jewish refugees from the German-occupied territories of the Balkans – Muslim Albania. As Greenstein notes in the article quoted from above;

Muslim Albania was the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where the number of Jews at the end of the war (two thousand) was greater than the number at the beginning (two hundred). Not one Jew was deported from Albania under Nazi occupation.

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The Arab-Nazi connection, exaggerated and over-inflated by Netanyahu and his co-thinkers, is meant to smear the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for an independent state as a continuation of an existential motivation by Arabs (and by extension Muslims) to exterminate the Jewish people. The Mufti’s sad and repulsive collaboration with Nazism demonstrates the importance of understanding politics, especially to understand the motivations of the imperialist states. Netanyahu’s repugnant remarks are intended to place the Palestinians on an equal footing with Nazi Germany, and thus slander the Arab and Muslim people as irredeemably anti-Semitic. The explosion of political and social contradictions between the capitalist states that resulted in World War Two cannot be reduced to simplistic ‘they hate us’ slogans, much like the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott did with his repetitive and oversimplified expressions that passed as policy decisions (stop the boats, death-cult, carbon tax). Netanyahu is attempting to extend the obnoxious legacy of European anti-Semitism onto the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The genocidal savagery of German imperialism, at first aided and abetted by the British and French, was primarily directed at crushing the German working class, and then unleashed against the Soviet Union. However, the ambitions of the German ruling class did not stop at Eastern Europe. They wanted to subjugate France and Britain as well, including their colonial possessions. Why is this aspect of the war important?

Remembering the Muslims who fought against the Axis powers

In the wake of the criminal, horrifying and repugnant Paris terrorist attacks, Muslim communities in Europe are facing a heavy backlash, with Islamophobic and racist outbursts targeting Muslim people as the enemy within, a hostile and alien presence that must be expunged. Cynical exploitation of the Paris terror atrocities by current Western political leaders is a sad fact in this day and age, as anti-Muslim prejudice and anti-refugee bigotry increases, and ultra-right political parties such as the National Front in France, seek to gain political capital from this tragedy. As French President Hollande, and other political leaders turn this Paris tragedy into a blank-cheque for more wars and increasing repression at home, it is worth remembering that at a time of great peril, when Britain and France faced the mortal danger of German imperialism and conquest, they asked their former colonies for help. Millions of Muslim subjects answered that call.

It is entirely incorrect to portray the Arab and Islamic contribution to World War Two as pro-German, or pro-Axis. Millions of Muslims fought alongside their English and French counterparts in the Allied effort to stop German and Italian fascism. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims of fighting age, putting aside their contempt for British and French colonialism in their home countries, enlisted to fight against Nazi Germany because they realised the mortal danger that German imperialism and racism posed. German military personnel, thoroughly indoctrinated in half-baked ‘theories’ of white racial superiority, treated the subject populations as sub-human species.

In an article for The National newspaper, Hussein Ibish notes that the Free French army, fighting heavily in North Africa, was composed mainly of Arabs:

In the French defeat of June 1940, about 5,400 Arab soldiers were killed fighting on the Allied side, and an estimated 60,000 Algerians, 18,000 Moroccans, 12,000 Tunisians and 90,000 other Muslims were captured by the Germans. It has been estimated that 233,000 North African Muslims were serving in the Free French Army in 1944, and that about 52 per cent of all its troops killed during the final year of the war were Muslims, mostly from North Africa. Some 40,000 North Africans are estimated to have given their lives in fighting for the liberation of Europe in 1944-45.

It was not just the French who recruited Muslims into their ranks to fight – the British appealed to their former possession of India, and millions signed up to the British military’s Indian Army. Tens of thousands of Indian Muslims, fighting while wearing the uniform of the British army, sacrificed their blood, sweat and lives in Italy, North Africa, the Middle East itself, and Southeast Asia. Tens of thousands were killed, taken prisoner, and suffered the horrors of war alongside their British companions. Indian Muslim soldiers distinguished themselves in battle, and having fought along with British all throughout Libya, Tunisia and North Africa, then went on to fight in Italy against the collapsing Mussolini regime.

Ibish notes in the article quoted above that:

Additional untold numbers were recruited from various Arab states, or among Muslims fighting in the Soviet, Chinese and other Allied armies. Exceptionally few took up arms on the Axis side. About 9,000 Palestinians, for example, joined the British Army during the war.

One last point to make on this issue; read the article by Michael Wolfe in the Washington Post, published in September 2014 entitled “Meet the Muslims who sacrificed themselves to save Jews and fight Nazis in World War II”, which recounts the details of the life of Noor Inayat Khan, a courageous and intelligent Muslim woman.

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We must resist this downward spiral of hysteria, hatred and more war that the terrible Paris attacks have accelerated. Calls by French, British, Australian and other politicians for national unity and resistance are meaningless, given that after fourteen years, the war on terror has demonstrably failed. More overseas wars, the further erosion of civil liberties and increasing surveillance at home, and a reliance on drone-strikes-policy of war from a distance, have made the world a more dangerous place.

The poisonous nonsense of Netanyahu, elaborated above, can only thrive in a media-and-political culture that promotes the nonsense of humanitarian war. Imperial powers, disguising their motivations as purely humane, can carry out wars of aggression overseas, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the destruction of those societies. Refugees from those war zones are met with hysteria, suspicion and hatred, even though they are fleeing from countries demolished as a result of Western policies. It is time to re-examine our own values and political system, and the policies that have resulted in turning the Middle East into a cauldron of suffering. Further tragedies, like the Paris atrocity, can be avoided, if we recognise our common humanity and stop repeating the destructive cycle of this ‘war on terror’. That will require a huge rethink from our side of the fence.

The US bombing of Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan – a crime against humanity

In early October 2015, the hospital operated by the medical organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was attacked by an American air force gunship, the AC-130. At least 30 people were killed in the immediate attack, and another 30 were injured. The air raid on the MSF hospital last for at least one-and-a-half hours, with patients, doctors, medical staff and support workers killed and maimed. The MSF had provided the American and Afghan authorities with the precise coordinates of their facility, in order to avoid being hit.

The MSF issued a report earlier this month entitled the Kunduz Hospital Strike. It provides details of the gruesome nature of the attack, and the severity of the fatalities and casualties. The fact sheet accompanying the report states that:

From around 2:00-2:08am until 3:00-3:15am on Saturday, 3 October, MSF’s trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan came under precise and repeated airstrikes. The main hospital building, which housed the intensive care unit, emergency rooms, laboratory, x-ray, outpatient department, mental health and physiotherapy ward, was hit with precision, repeatedly, during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.

Patients burned alive in their beds, and some bodies are yet to be identified because the remains are unrecognisable. There were no armed combatants, or insurgents, or any fighting personnel in or around the vicinity of the hospital.  The American aircraft circled the hospital, with full cognisance of the attack and its effects. Multiple and rapid cannon fire hit the hospital and its wounded. The survivors were also targeted. The AC-130 is not just a small, reconnaissance aircraft, but a murderous airborne gunship, used in the commission of a war crime. Why was this lethal killing machine used to attack a hospital? The ability of such a gunship to spread death and destruction over a large swathe of territory is unmistakable.

The MSF fact sheet elaborated the tragic consequences of this air strike:

In the aftermath of the attack, the MSF team desperately tried to move wounded and ill patients out of harm’s way, and tried to save the lives of wounded colleagues and patients after setting up a makeshift operating theatre in an undamaged room.

MSF’s hospital was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, providing free high level life- and limb-saving trauma care. Since opening the hospital in 2011, more than 15,000 surgeries were conducted and more than 68,000 emergency patients were treated.

The MSF hospital in Kunduz has been substantially destroyed and is no longer operational. This leaves thousands of people without access to emergency medical care when they need it most.

The response of the US military authorities, and the Afghan government in Kabul, has been largely predictable – first claiming it was an accident, then shifting the story to one of blaming the other; there were insurgents holed up in the hospital – actually, the Afghan government gave us permission to go ahead with the strike. The New York Times, the loyal lapdog of the US empire, did its best to find excuses for the atrocity – the Afghan units in and around the area of Kunduz were new and inexperienced, lacking any familiarity with the area and its people, so you can understand why such an accident took place.

Glenn Greenwald has documented the constantly shifting rationales offered by the US military and political authorities for the attack, couched as they are in the standard obfuscation of ‘collateral damage’. This turn-of-phrase reduces flesh-and-blood fatalities and casualties into pure statistics and euphemism – now we can move on. Usually this standard tactic of stonewalling works; the victims are in faraway countries, speaking non-English languages that we cannot understand, and so the public’s conscience is salved. However, this time, the victims are not just the ordinary Afghans that we can ignore – or lock up in Australian detention centres when they arrive on our shores. MSF has a strong international presence, provide factual, up-t0-date documentation about their activities, and give articulate interviews to the media.

A few weeks after the original Kunduz attack, an American tank carrying US and Afghan military personnel crashed through the locked gates of the remains of the MSF hospital compound. Their unannounced and forced entry raises deep concerns about the intentions of such an incident – damaging not just the property, but also destroying crucial evidence, were among the concerns raised by MSF spokespeople, who have demanded an independent, impartial investigation of the Kunduz hospital attack.

The Obama administration has apologised for the air strike, sticking to the story of it being a tragic accident. So far, the United States has refused to agree to an independent investigation of this crime. Indeed, the response of the international community to appeals by the MSF for an exhaustive and independent investigation into the Kunduz attack has been lethargic, to say the least. The Common Dreams magazine quotes the following observation regarding the lack of response by governments around the world:

“The silence is embarrassing,” MSF executive director Joanne Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Monday. “We have seen an erosion over the years of international humanitarian law. Enough is enough. We cannot keep going like this.”

When hospital attacks like this occur, they are not simply war crimes, serious as they are. They affect the patients, medical staff, paramedics, the people in the vicinity who depend on the hospital for quality medical care. They cause lasting, perhaps irreparable damage, to the civilian population that relies on the medical facilities. These kind of strikes are not just crimes against the immediate patients and medical staff of the hospital – they signal a degree of psychopathic disregard for human life by the perpetrator. This is not the first time that US military authorities have bombed hospitals and civilian infrastructure. The Kunduz hospital bombing is just the latest in a long line of war crimes by the United States. While the specific chain of command needs to be traced back to determine who was responsible for giving the orders to launch the attack, it is not wholly surprising that a war crime of this kind has occurred, given that the US imperial adventure in Afghanistan is a criminal enterprise.

Since the October 2001, the United States has been bogged down in a quagmire of its own making. The war was launched not as a humanitarian enterprise to liberate the Afghan people groaning under a strict Islamist regime – the US has been financing and arming fundamentalist Islamist militias in Afghanistan for decades. The high-point of this venture being the 1980s, when the US engaged in a clandestine ideological insurgency to fight the former socialist and Soviet-supported Afghan government, sponsoring the former landlords and reactionary mullahs to topple the leftist regime.

Professor Mahmood Mamdani wrote an excellent account of this episode in his book “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror.” He devotes an entire chapter to the Afghan anti-communist insurgency, and makes clear where the responsibility for that conflict lies. In the context of organising an ideological right-wing religious crusade against an “infidel’ enemy, right-wing Islamist groups were the front-line troops to be used, with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Arab Gulf monarchies providing solid military-political support bases for such a crusade. Out of this enterprise, the Islamist groups that spawned the Taliban arose. The American effort in Afghanistan is hardly humanitarian, but aimed at restoring the privileges and power of a narrow financial elite, an elite class amenable to the interests of the dominant imperial power in the West.

American imperial power has always maintained a friendly, working sponsorship of right-wing Islamism – fractious at times, yes, turbulent in places, but the solid support of American financial and military power for fundamentalist groups in the Arab and Islamic world has never been broken. Not only must the Kunduz attack be investigated and its perpetrators punished. The predatory criminality of American imperial arrogance must also be questioned. After fourteen years of continual warfare in Afghanistan, it is high time to stop this utter disregard for international law.

Let us remember Kunduz, and not forget July 3 1988.