Did the U.S. military commit a war crime when it bombed a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz and killed at least 22 people? It’s too early for experts to say for certain, but there’s good reason to believe the attack may have violated international humanitarian law.
Hospitals enjoy special status protecting them from deliberate attack, and they are generally filled with protected persons — medical personnel, civilians, and sick or wounded soldiers, enemy as well as friendly — none of whom may be willfully wounded or killed.
“While hospitals can lose that protection if they’re being used for military purposes, the standard is very high,” says James Ross, the legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. What if the unsubstantiated Afghan claims about Taliban fighters being deployed at the hospital are true? “Even if this were the case it would have not have allowed for the kind of attacks that struck the hospital,” Ross told me.
On October 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship fired on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, for more than 30 minutes, killing 12 staff members and at least 10 patients while wounding 37 others. “There are no words for how terrible it was,” said MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs, who was in the trauma center during the airstrike. “In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds. The first moments were just chaos. Enough staff had survived, so we could help all the wounded with treatable wounds. But there were too many that we couldn’t help.”
One of the last providers of medical care in Kunduz — the first major enclave to fall to the Taliban since the Afghanistan War began in 2001 — MSF has since withdrawn its personnel from the city.
Initial reports from the U.S. military alleged that U.S. forces were under attack in the vicinity of the hospital, prompting the airstrike. Gen. John Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, later said this was actually not the case and that it was Afghan forces that requested air support, though he also said, speaking in broad terms about sites like medical facilities and schools, that “we do not strike those kind of targets, obviously.” Afghan officials later claimed the “hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban,” a charge that MSF strenuously denies.
Even if there was any truth to those allegations — and to date, no evidence has emerged of the Taliban fighting from the hospital grounds — the bombing would likely still be a violation of international law.
“These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present,” Christopher Stokes, MSF’s general director, said in a statement. “This amounts to an admission of a war crime.”
Read the rest of this article at The Intercept...