|The Kunduz Hospital Bombing. The US has Committed War Crimes. “Prosecutions of the U.S. Chain of Command should Ensue”
|By Marjorie Cohn
Global Research, October 14, 2015
teleSur 13 October 2015
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There is probable cause the U.S. committed a war crime.
In one of the most despicable incidents of the United States’ 14-year war in Afghanistan, U.S. troops bombed a hospital in Kunduz, killing 22 people, including patients, three children, and medical personnel from Doctors Without Borders, or MSF. Thirty-seven people were injured, including 19 staff members in the Oct. 3, 2015, attack.
U.S. forces knew they were targeting a hospital because MSF, as it does in all conflict contexts, had provided its exact GPS coordinates on multiple occasions over the past months, including most recently on Sept. 29. There was a nine-foot flag on the roof that identified the building as a hospital. After the first strike, MSF contacted U.S. officials and reported the hospital was being bombed and begged them to halt the attack. Nevertheless, the U.S. AC-130 gunship continued to pummel the hospital repeatedly for more than one hour.
Wounded Afghan boys, who survived a U.S. air strike on a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, receive treatment. | Photo: Reuters
“Our patients burned in their beds,” said MSF International President Joanne Liu. “Doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked.”
She added, “Our colleagues had to work on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table – an office desk – while his colleagues tried to save his life.”
In attempting to explain why they had bombed a hospital, U.S. military leaders changed their story four times. On Saturday, the day of the bombing, U.S. spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said the strike occurred “against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” On Sunday, Gen. John Campbell, U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, claimed the strike occurred “against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members … in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility.” On Monday, Campbell announced, “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support” and “several civilians were accidentally struck.” By Tuesday, Campbell said, “the decision to provide aerial fire was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a medical facility.”
Since the Pentagon has access to video and audio recordings taken from the gunship, they must know what actually occurred. Daily Beast reported that the recordings contain conversations among the crew as they were firing on the hospital, including communications between the crew and U.S. soldiers on the ground. Moreover, AC-130 gunships fly low to the ground so the crew can assess what they are hitting.
But members of Congress who oversee the Pentagon have been denied access to the classified recordings.
Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict.”
International law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said, “The critical question for determining if US forces committed a war crime was whether they had notified the hospital ahead of the strike if they understood the Taliban to be firing from the hospital.”
MSF has said they were never notified that the hospital would be bombed. “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning,” according to MSF General Director Christopher Stokes.
Parties to a military conflict have a duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and civilians and their facilities cannot be targeted. If the hospital were being used for military purposes, the strike must be proportionate to the military advantage sought, and the U.S. forces had a duty to warn the people inside the hospital that it would be struck. No one in the hospital said it was being used for military purposes, and even if it was, the U.S. forces never warned those in the hospital before striking it.
The U.S. strike was a precise attack on the hospital, because no other buildings in the MSF compound were hit. MSF executive director Jason Cone said, “I want to reiterate that the main hospital building where medical personnel were caring for patients was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. So we see this as a targeted event.”
MSF is demanding an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), established under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. But the United States must consent to the investigation. The U.S. government says there are enough investigations – one by the Pentagon, one by a joint US-Afghan group, and one by NATO. But none of these is independent and impartial.
Historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter has written three articles about three different internal investigations the U.S. military used to cover-up operations that should have led to criminal prosecutions against U.S. officers. Why should we believe that this will be any different?
The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court provides several bases for war crimes prosecution. They include willful killing; willfully causing great suffering or serious bodily injury; intentional attacks against civilian or civilian objects; intentional attacks with knowledge they will cause death or injury to civilians when clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage; and intentionally attacking medical facilities which are not military objectives. Although the United States is not a party to the Statute, there could be jurisdiction over U.S. leaders if the Security Council referred the matter to the Court. That will not happen because the United States would veto such a referral. If US leaders are found on the territory of a country that is a party to the Statute, that country could send them to The Hague, Netherlands for prosecution. But the Bush administration blackmailed 100 countries into signing “bilateral immunity agreements,” promising they would not send US nationals to The Hague on penalty of losing U.S. foreign aid.
Other countries can prosecute foreign nationals under the well-established doctrine of “universal jurisdiction.” But since Bush initiated his war on Iraq, no nation has been willing to incur the wrath of the United States by maintaining such an action against a U.S. leader.
Nick Turse and Bob Dreyfuss documented the killing of as many as 6,481 Afghan civilians by U.S. forces from October 2001 through 2012. The U.S. government has killed large numbers of civilians in its drone attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. But Obama rarely apologizes to or compensates the victims. It is only because a Western-based organization was hit and the attendant media coverage has been so overwhelming that led Obama to apologize to MSF.
MSF’s advance provision of the hospital’s coordinates to U.S. forces, its notifications during the bombing, its denial that any fire was coming from the hospital, and the Pentagon’s shifting rationales for the bombing constitute probable cause that a war crime was committed.
Obama should consent to a full, independent, impartial investigation of the hospital bombing by IHFFC. If that investigation shows that war crimes probably occurred, appropriate prosecutions of the U.S. chain of command should ensue.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” See www.marjoriecohn.com.
|Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The Centre for Research on Globalization will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.
Russia Bombs Terrorists, USA Bombs Hospitals
It goes against every fiber of human decency to use a tragedy involving the murder of civilians by a terrorist in an aircraft to score political points. This is about murder, not politics. One day after warning Russia for its airstrikes in Syria, what happens? The USA precision-bombs a MSF hospital in Kunduz. Whoosh-BANG! God Bless America!
The bombing went on for half an hour yesterday after the alert was given that there was a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the area where the US air force was operating, in bombing raids to remove the Taliban from Kunduz. Nine of the medical staff were murdered outright and scores of patients were injured.
It is difficult to imagine how this atrocity happened, but then again after the callous disregard for civilian human life demonstrated by the United States of America since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, after the strafing of civilians with napalm in Vietnam, after the fifty-plus overthrows of democratically elected governments around the globe, after the myriad of invasions of countries, after Afghanistan, after Iraq, after Libya, after Syria, maybe it is time for the USA to rethink policy. It could be argued that those pursuing the current approach which gets Americans hated around the world are not patriots, but traitors.
Let us take a look at the world around us and what do we see? In the year 2015 of the third millennium, we see poverty, ignorance, violence and the new phenomenon, international terrorism, which walks hand in hand with the West. It started in Afghanistan, where the Mujaheddin was used as a tool to attack the southern flank of the Soviet Union, it continued in Chechnya where external forces backed Wahhibist terrorist elements, it continued in Libya, where NATO, ably led by the FUKUS Axis (France-UK-US), sided with terrorists on their own lists of proscribed groups.
Whoosh-BANG! God Bless America
As the United States of America and its Poodles in Europe go globe-trotting, self-proclaiming themselves the global policemen, imposing their wonderful version of democracy (Parliamentary oligarchies which pander to the whims of the Lobbies, their puppet-masters) from thirty thousand feet, imposing their “whoosh-BANG! God Bless America” diplomacy, is the world a better place?
No, it is not. The Middle East continues to be a mess because the USA and its Poodles refuse to engage all the players involved, namely HAMAS and Hezbollah. Obviously, a global solution has to take into account all the positions, including Iran, including Syria, including Egypt. And including HAMAS and Hezbollah. Only when the British government engaged the IRA was peace achieved in Ulster/UK. The same approach has brought stability to numerous regions of Africa.
Today, Humankind spends thousands of billions of dollars on weapons systems to kill one another, with the excuse that arms sales is good for economies, Humankind spends more on weapons than on books. Hatred is spread with the aim of creating two warring sides, proxy-puppets doing the dirty work while those watching rub their hands in glee, and could not care less if a child gets in the way of a bullet.
And no wonder the world is in the mess it is in, with “no go” labels stuck to a growing number of countries as Washington interferes, like in Ukraine where a Putsch ousted the democratically elected President because he saw more advantage in a deal with Russia and Whoosh-BANG! God Bless America, Hunter Biden is appointed special advisor to the Ukrainian energy lobby. Well, surprise, surprise. And Ukrainian Fascists perpetrated massacres while the West looked the other way. Look at Libya – close to being a failed State, where Western intervention brought chaos and misery to a once prosperous and peaceful society. Look at Iraq, where Western intervention caused the collapse of the Ba’athist State and Islamic State sprang up under their noses.
And the West dares to express concern that Russia has bombed the Free Syrian Army? What is the Free Syrian Army, if not a bunch of terrorists and murderers? If you take up arms against the authorities, and murder soldiers and policemen, you are a terrorist, it is as simple as that. What the West means is “Please don’t bomb our terrorists”.
Perhaps Messrs. Obama and his friends would like to take their families to Syria and stand back watching as they allow the Free Syrian Army to do to them what they have done to Syrian Government troops and security officers. And then compare the way they were treated by the authorities and by their darlings, the Free Syrian Army.
A tissue of lies from the West
Anyway, after the serial lies told by the West, if Russia states that it was bombing terrorists, I believe Moscow’s word. Moscow has not lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Moscow did not perform a mission creep and breach UN Resolutions in Libya and in Syria, Russia did not strafe fields of cereals in Iraq to starve people to death, Russia did not drop Depleted Uranium on huge swathes of territory (war crime), Russia is supporting a democratically elected Government (last year) against terrorists.
Perhaps the West might stand back and allow Moscow to be the global policeman. After all, Russia’s track record is far better, far less intrusive, far more inclusive. Failing that, suppose the West butted out for a change, stopped interfering and tried an approach which puts development before deployment? And let us remember, Islamic State has chemical warfare weapons and is pursuing biological weapons, right now, as I write and you read. Think about it.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist and editor in online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru. (firstname.lastname@example.org)