Photo by Jumping Cheese
Before the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing in Iraq, activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, schools and other places critical to maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad in order to string large banners outside the buildings reading: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.” We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.
Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because U.S. airstrikes repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, the fifth largest city in Afghanistan.
At around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, Oct. 3, 2015, U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike. Doctors Without Borders had already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital. Medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until 3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. Twelve of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured. One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.
“There are no words for how terrible it was,” said one eyewitness, a nurse at the hospital, who said that patients were burning in their beds. The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the MSF officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.
Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it is patently clear that the U.S. has committed a war crime.
The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation. Doctors Without Borders spokespeople have called for a transparent, independent investigation conducted by an international body which doesn’t include the U.S. or any other party to the conflict.
Certainly the U.S. should be investigating Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that many healthcare facilities funded by the U.S., through USAID in Afghanistan, cannot even be geographically located. A June 25th, 2015 letter from the SIGAR office to the head of USAID notes that of the 641 healthcare facilities listed in a May, 2014 report, 80% seemed to be erroneously identified. Six of the facilities were actually located in Pakistan, six in Tajikstan, and one in the Mediterranean Sea! Some 189 of the geospatial images based on the coordinates that were given showed no physical structure within 400 feet of the reported coordinates, and a subset of 81, or just under half of these locations, showed no physical structure within a half mile of the reported coordinates. The SIGAR report politely but firmly suggests that USAID has been spending upwards of $214 million dollars, since May of 2014 to support health care facilities in Afghanistan, many of which may be “ghost hospitals” or “ghost clinics.”
In the days leading up to the attack on the hospital, Doctors Without Borders staff there had treated 345 wounded people, 59 of whom were children.
Now, the region has no hospital at all.
In July of 2015, U.S. bomber jets attacked an Afghan army facility in the Logar Province, killing ten soldiers. The Pentagon said this incident would likewise be under investigation. But no public conclusion of the investigation has been issued.
One way to join the outcry demanding an end to U.S. commission of war crimes in Afghanistan is to assemble in front of a local health care facility, a hospital or a trauma unit, carrying signage which says, “To Bomb This Place Would Be a War Crime.” Invite hospital personnel to join the assembly, notify local media, and hold an additional sign which says: “The Same Is True in Afghanistan.”
We should affirm the Afghans' right to medical care and safety. The U.S. should pay to reconstruct the hospital and pay reparations for suffering caused throughout these fourteen years of war and destruction. Finally, and for the sake of future generations, we should envision and insist on abolition of all wars.
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September, 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)