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.