An outrage in Kunduz
October 7, 2015 6:56 AM   Subscribe

The MSF (Médecins sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders) Trauma Center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was attacked by US forces on October 3rd. The rationale for the attack remains unclear, with differing accounts being given by US officials. MSF has condemned the attack, in which at least twenty-two people were killed, and called for an independent inquiry into the bombing.

Kunduz is a strategically important city in Northern Afghanistan, near its border with Tajikistan. It was captured by Taliban forces on September 28th, with Amnesty International reporting "mass murder, gang rapes and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads". Afghan forces fought to retake it over the next few days, with on-ground assistance from US and NATO forces.

Kunduz is reportedly again under Afghan government control, but the situation remains dire.

MSF's own reports and photos on the Kunduz hospital:
–    MSF Hospital Overwhelmed With Wounded After Heavy Fighting in Kunduz
–    "Our Hospital Was on the Frontline"
–    A Trauma Center in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept has covered the US's radically changing account of the bombing. He also accuses the New York Times and CNN of "deliberately obscuring who perpetrated the Afghan hospital attack".

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic alleges that "News organizations spread false information about a U.S. airstrike that hit an Afghan hospital, as a result of untruths that came from unnamed government sources."
posted by Joe in Australia (174 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by b1tr0t at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2015


Senator McCain gave an interview to NPR in which he claims that the attack was the Taliban's fault for invading Kunduz to begin with, and implied that a war crime is properly defined as "something the USA doesn't ever do." Shameful.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:10 AM on October 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


This was reprehensible. Doctors Without Borders is among the most upstanding and trustworthy (and heroic) large non-profits currently operating, and they have needed every ounce of that credibility this week as they battled the disgusting and cowardly obfuscations coming from the U.S. military and media. It seems unlikely in the extreme that the people in charge of ordering and carrying out this bombing did not know they were bombing a hospital.

This was a war crime, and it's not a close call.
posted by sallybrown at 7:16 AM on October 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


Paraphrased from Twitter: is this the first time a Nobel peace prize winner has bombed another Nobel peace prize winner!
posted by andoatnp at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2015 [56 favorites]


Only because Le Duc Tho refused his half.
posted by Etrigan at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Senator McCain gave an interview to NPR in which he claims that the attack was the Taliban's fault for invading Kunduz to begin with, and implied that a war crime is properly defined as "something the USA doesn't ever do."

lol that the Vietnam vet says this
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:23 AM on October 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


Application of Hanlon's Razor seems in order, until someone can explain what the US military has to gain by deliberately bombing an MSF hospital. In light of that, I'd speculate that the attack was a foul-up of major proportions, possible abetted by the military failing, in the panic over the Taliban attack, to follow up on its own safety procedures. (It's also difficult to imagine such a horrific event could occur if the procedures were followed.)

McCain's reflexive defense of the military, though, remains disgusting. So-called "supporters" of the military do it no good when they aid in cover-ups that are bound to fail. There are generals whose responsibility it is to make sure events like this never happen, because they're a profound strategic defeat even if the tactical objectives of repelling the Taliban attack were achieved. Those generals, and their underlings, need to have their careers ended in disgrace at a bare minimum, and if criminal negligence is involved, let justice be done.
posted by Gelatin at 7:27 AM on October 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


When you bomb a hospital, incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:31 AM on October 7, 2015 [28 favorites]


lol that the Vietnam vet says this

He had to destroy his credibility in order to save it.

Haha just kidding McCain hasn't had credibility on criminal military behavior in years.
posted by phearlez at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Application of Hanlon's Razor seems in order, until someone can explain what the US military has to gain by bombing an MSF hospital.

Yeah, there was probably not a covert meeting at the Pentagon where someone twirled his mustache while diagramming how best to bomb a hospital. The banality of evil, right? But it stopped being just banally evil when the American response was not "We're doing everything in our power to identify who is responsible for this vicious atrocity, and we will be relinquishing him/her/them to the oversight of an international tribunal."
posted by Mayor West at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2015 [20 favorites]


2nding what Gelatin says.

I'm totally willing to believe that this was deliberate if someone can show me a believable motive. US forces are demonstrably capable of horrifying war crimes. No argument. There's still a difference between an intentional war crime and a horrible fuck-up.

Of course, I still want to see careers ended and prison sentences handed down in either case, but the scope of that depends on motive.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


John McCain has done a swell job of losing the respect of millions of people he won over back in the "maverick" era. He is the dictionary definition of craven.
posted by aydeejones at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


In other words, it isn't the crime, it's the cover-up.
posted by Gelatin at 7:36 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


As an American I lack an objective perspective on how the rest of the world views us but not for the first time I'm left wondering why we keep getting away with atrocities like this. Is it just because we have the biggest bombs and the demonstrated willingness to use them?
posted by tehjoel at 7:36 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Gelatin: "Application of Hanlon's Razor seems in order, until someone can explain what the US military has to gain by bombing an MSF hospital."
The official explanation du jour is that the bombing was done deliberately at the request of the Afghan government. Thus, it seems to me there are only three explanations:
  1. The air strike was deliberate, but the US forces did not bother to check what they were bombing and thus negligently murdered 22 civilians.
  2. The air strike was deliberate, the US forces had checked what was there and decided to bomb it anyway, thus wilfully contraventing the Geneva convention and murdering 22 civilians.
  3. The hospital was bombed by mistake, and the Afghan and US governments decided it would make them look better to claim they deliberately bombed a medical facility.
I find number 3 to be the least compelling explanation.
posted by brokkr at 7:37 AM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'd speculate that the attack was a foul-up of major proportions

That is one of the stories being floated. They will try everything to see if something, anything can gain some traction in the public's opinions. It looks to me precisely the opposite of a mistake. I think it was strictly by the book, every procedure followed, the full chain of authorization checked off. American policy is counter insurgency. American policy is death squads. American policy is war crimes.
posted by bukvich at 7:37 AM on October 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


We been bombing Afghanistan for 14 years now. Are we any closer to whatever goal we had now than we were a decade and half ago?
posted by octothorpe at 7:39 AM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


.
posted by lownote at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2015


Gelatin: "Application of Hanlon's Razor seems in order, until someone can explain what the US military has to gain by deliberately bombing an MSF hospital."
Also: MSF has now left Kunduz, which means the Taliban has nowhere to go for medical assistance. That predictable outcome counts as motive in my book.

That the local population has nowhere else to go for medical assistance is probably not important to the Americans.
posted by brokkr at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


" but not for the first time I'm left wondering why we keep getting away with atrocities like this"

"We"? The government of a state and its military industrial complex is not its citizens.
posted by I-baLL at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


This just makes me think of M*A*S*H. The American military has always been great at bombing hospitals, right? They probably had a lot of "intelligence" showing that it was an important target.
posted by gueneverey at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


bukvich, given that the destruction of the hospital by the US is public knowledge everywhere, who possible motivation would the US military have had to deliberately do something that makes them look horribly bad even if it was an accident?

Again, what could the military have had to gain by destroying the hospital on purpose?
posted by Gelatin at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


tehjoel: " I'm left wondering why we keep getting away with atrocities like this. Is it just because we have the biggest bombs and the demonstrated willingness to use them?"

Yes, and economic clout.
posted by signal at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Application of Hanlon's Razor seems in order, until someone can explain what the US military has to gain by deliberately bombing an MSF hospital. In light of that, I'd speculate that the attack was a foul-up of major proportions, possible abetted by the military failing, in the panic over the Taliban attack, to follow up on its own safety procedures.

According to DWB/MSF, the U.S., Afghan, and NATO forces had both prior knowledge of the hospital's location and an hour's worth of desperate pleas from the hospital to cease the bombing. DWB/MSF had lines of communication to these forces at the highest levels, and nothing stopped the bombing. In addition, the main building of the hospital was specifically and repeatedly targeted, while the outbuildings were left alone.

To me, this says it was either (1) a coldly targeted attack on someone someone thought was a patient, whose death "justified" killing the other people inside and bombing a hospital (which perhaps turned out to be mistaken intelligence, considering we've heard nothing like this beyond the initial, disgusting label of "collateral damage"), or (2) the person at the controls of the bomber went off command and just bombed the hell out of the hospital for whatever reason.
posted by sallybrown at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'd speculate that the attack was a foul-up of major proportions

Hanlon's Razor isn't really useful here, or even very often in discussions of large government actions. You can zero in on the individual actions of one person and say no, they almost certainly didn't intend to leave behind a weapon that someone could use in an assassination - it was just a stupid action by one or several person(s).

But the sensible thing you do in high-stakes situations is not to shrug off something as stupidity and move on, but to look at how you got into the situation where this could happen, how the repercussions could be what they were (or maybe that the repercussions were no big deal, if they happened in the face of an onerous supposedly preventative program), and how they can or can't be prevented in the future.
posted by phearlez at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Are we any closer to whatever goal we had now than we were a decade and half ago?"

That's not anything to worry about since there was never a goal to begin with. One of the biggest criticism of these wars is a lack of an exit strategy. As far as I'm aware, there were no victory conditions set. Infinite war, almost.
posted by I-baLL at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it was an accident. Okay, so it's, I don't know, war-manslaughter then?
posted by Naberius at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2015


Anyone who thinks that the bombing was a mistake has to explain two facts: the fact that the US (as with all parties) had the GPS coordinates of the MSF hospital, and the fact that the bombing continued for an hour with notifications being given to the US that it was ongoing. One missile in a spot is a tragedy. Bombing raids every 15 minutes in an area that is known to be a hospital is a war crime.
posted by graymouser at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2015 [40 favorites]


the sensible thing you do in high-stakes situations is not to shrug off something as stupidity and move on

I for one am suggesting no such thing. Careers need to end, very publicly, over this, including those of generals' ranks. Prosecutions for criminal negligence -- presuming it was in fact an accident -- could very well be in order.

And if it was an accident, the military obviously needs better procedures to ensure their commanders don't order and carry out airstrikes on off-limits targets. Which would, again, need to be implemented posthaste, and again on the pain of having one's career ended for failing.

Not only Halon's, but Occam's Razor would seem to apply here. It seems much more likely -- until evidence to the contrary emerges -- that the bombing of the hospital was accidental than that it was done deliberately. Not that it being done accidentally is any mitigation at all. The aphorism "it is worse than a crime; it is a blunder" -- misattributed to Talleyrand -- would also seem to apply.

The fact that events like these happen in wars makes me deeply suspicious of those -- like Senator McCain -- for whom military action is the first, last and only response to any crisis.
posted by Gelatin at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm totally willing to believe that this was deliberate if someone can show me a believable motive.

I thought the motive was that there were (allegedly) Taliban in or near the hospital. This would hardly be the first time the US killed civilians because they were more focused on the (alleged) combatant target. At this point, I think we have to ask, why wouldn't they bomb a hospital? What is going to happen to the US as a result of bombing this hospital? How is this different from any of the other atrocities the US has committed in Afghanistan in the past 14 years? It may be more clearly a war crime, but seriously, what is the realistic chances that anything meaningful will come of this? Other than maybe a few low level people getting disciplined or fired?

bukvich, given that the destruction of the hospital by the US is public knowledge everywhere, who possible motivation would the US military have had to deliberately do something that makes them look horribly bad even if it was an accident?

I question whether the people making the decisions care about "looking horribly bad" (to whom?) given the history of this war. It's plenty clear that most Americans will swallow whatever justification the military eventually settles on for this.
posted by Mavri at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yet again, Greenwald doing actual fucking journalism.
posted by odinsdream at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that both the target selection and the fire command were given by an automated system with little or no human oversight...
posted by jim in austin at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2015


It seems like this is of a piece with so many of the other atrocities that have been committed in the name of the nebulous and often-fictional war on terror, where imperialism and racism are inextricable from our military's actions. This is horribly reminiscent of the many incidents that show how much they have decided they have the right to pick and choose which rules of engagement apply at any given moment.

The people who oversaw and perpetrated an attack wouldn't bomb what they view as a "real" hospital, i.e., a western hospital. But it seems like the decision was made that a hospital serving the "wrong" patients has forfeited its right to be considered off-limits in war. Just like the "wrong" prisoners of war somehow forfeited their right to not have electrodes attached to their genitals. Just like the "wrong" suspects can have habeas corpus suspended and then be sent straight to Gitmo. Just like the "wrong" local villagers can be raped and murdered with total impunity.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


"We"? The government of a state and its military industrial complex is not its citizens.
Do you pay US taxes, are you eligible to vote in US elections? If so, take some fucking responsibility.

We, the spineless citizens of the United States, have been engaged in what appears to be a race-religion war for fourteen years. Open your fucking eyes.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2015 [30 favorites]


Mavri: "It's plenty clear that most Americans will swallow whatever justification the military eventually settles on for this."

I think it's plenty clear most Americans could give a flying fuck about a bunch of dead brown people and international do-gooders. Hey look, a new video by Trump saying something outrageous!
posted by signal at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, I say "we" realizing that ordinary citizens are not directly responsible for military action but I can't shake the notion that as a voting tax-payer there is some line connecting me to the government, the State, the military--what have you. Is my willingness to live here some kind of tacit acceptance of the terrible things my country does? The older I get the more I struggle with stuff like this. Anyhow, back the thread.
posted by tehjoel at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's not anything to worry about since there was never a goal to begin with.

On the contrary, the (stated) goal of the war was the removal of the Taliban from power for their refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, and secondarily the capture of bin Laden himself. The first goal was achieved in relatively short order; the problem, like with Iraq, is how to deal with the chaos in the aftermath of achieving the immediate goal.

Anyone who thinks that the bombing was a mistake has to explain two facts

I can easily imagine this information not being where it needs to be within the cumbersome bureaucracy of the US military. (Note, again, that it raises the accident to the level of negligence, as all the parties involved in the airstrike should have known not to taget the hospital, which is why careers need to end if not criminal charges pursued).

And the question remains, if the bombing was deliberate, what objective could the military hoped to achieve that it would have perceived is worth accepting the public blame for bombing not just a hospital, but one run by MSF into the bargain?
posted by Gelatin at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


tehjoel: "Is my willingness to live here some kind of tacit acceptance of the terrible things my country does? "

Yes, it is.
posted by signal at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


I thought the motive was that there were (allegedly) Taliban in or near the hospital. This would hardly be the first time the US killed civilians because they were more focused on the (alleged) combatant target. At this point, I think we have to ask, why wouldn't they bomb a hospital?

Deliberately attacking a hospital or medical unit is a war crime. It's never a legitimate target. Even if you claim that there were combatants hiding in the hospital, that doesn't change the crime of war; otherwise there would be no civilians and no war crimes, since there can always be such a claim.

There ought to be consequences, even outrage, at the commission of war crimes. "Why not" is giving in. This is a particular action that appears that it could have been a specific war crime. If you don't believe that war should be a free-for-all, people should be tried for them.
posted by graymouser at 8:02 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


The United States has been bombing and killing civilians for 14 straight years.
posted by srboisvert at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


What makes me saddest is that even it is proven that this was deliberate--the best I'm willing to concede is malicious indifference--I feel that the American public will not care. The greatest victory the War on Terror has achieved is thoroughly "Other"-izing people in the Middle East to the point that we are more than willing to accept the cost because it means a Bad Guy Might Have Been Killed.
posted by Kitteh at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am unable to be impartial about this. I have colleagues in MSF. I hope an investigation is pursued to the utmost and the people responsible are criminally prosecuted. I didn't think the US was capable of dropping any further in my estimation after it flagrantly tortured people in our never-ending war on terror. I was horrifyingly wrong. The fact that this has been met with apathy by some people makes me feel literally like the top of my head will explode. The only way for the United States to gain back even a shred of humanitarian credibility is for the government and military to take responsibility and for there to be actual consequences for someone. Given the past track record of both I anticipate the perpetrators of this to walk away with a slap on the wrist if that.
posted by supercrayon at 8:05 AM on October 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


Deliberately attacking a hospital or medical unit is a war crime. It's never a legitimate target.

If the hospital is being used by military forces to attack from, it is a legitimate target. I am not saying that happened here.
posted by Etrigan at 8:08 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


If the hospital is being used by military forces to attack from, it is a legitimate target. I am not saying that happened here.

Whoever ordered the strike should have to prove that at their war crimes tribunal.
posted by graymouser at 8:12 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even then, the Geneva Convention requires a warning except in "extreme" circumstances.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:12 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


This super-expensive state of the art digital battlefield integrated C3 system linking the Pentagon to the battlefield... doesn't it keep a log? I bet it keeps a log. I bet that the whole chain of events from order through to destruction is on someone's desk right now.

About the least awful scenario I can think of is that the Afghan government gave the US governent false info, because it doesn't like MSF fixing up Terry, and the check against the GPS co-ordinates given by the hospital was never done.

It's only least awful by a little bit in a cluster of very awful alternatives, in that negligence and laziness are less repugnant than knowingly bombing the shit out of a hospital.

I think we should see that log, please. It would help.
posted by Devonian at 8:14 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is there even an entity capable of investigating this without any conflict of interest?
posted by sallybrown at 8:14 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"On the contrary, the (stated) goal of the war was the removal of the Taliban from power for their refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, and secondarily the capture of bin Laden himself. The first goal was achieved in relatively short order; the problem, like with Iraq, is how to deal with the chaos in the aftermath of achieving the immediate goal. "

That's my point. There is no victory point at which the military can say "Okay, we've won. Let's pull our forces out."
posted by I-baLL at 8:14 AM on October 7, 2015


There is no victory point at which the military can say "Okay, we've won. Let's pull our forces out."

Of course there was, but it was accomplished long ago, and we didn't.

I will admit my younger self was surprised when the first Gulf War ended without the US forces taking the open road into Baghdad and toppling Hussein, but even before George W. Bush made the mistake his father didn't, I had come to see the wisdom in that choice. (Which is why I don't admire Colin Powell as much as some -- he knew full well what a dog's breakfast of a policy he was supporting, but support it he did, lending his considerable credibility to generating support for W's epic blunder.)
posted by Gelatin at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Could people commenting please at least get a general summary of the situation before adding ridiculous conjecture that's already disproven by primary sources, such as the military's own statements?

Greenwald's timeline and links would be helpful for this.
posted by odinsdream at 8:21 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not that a definitive timeline wouldn't be very helpful, but the military's own statements are only primary sources for what the military is claiming to believe at any given instant.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't shake the feeling that this is the US military being used as a stick in a dispute between two Afghan factions. "You think you're untouchable? Ok, watch this." What I don't get is how or why the US military would agree to go along with this scheme. Are we (yeah "we") so dependent on our proxies that we have to say yes to whatever they ask for, even if that means deliberately and repeatedly hitting a hospital?
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I for one am suggesting no such thing. Careers need to end, very publicly, over this, including those of generals' ranks. Prosecutions for criminal negligence -- presuming it was in fact an accident -- could very well be in order.

That's well and good, but when I hear someone start talking about stupidity over malice I see a path that leads to finding people within the existing structure to take the blame because we're talking about a trait, "stupidity," that individuals have, not institutions. When Hanlon's Razor gets deployed it's easy to avoid pulling back to the larger picture and seeing the way a structure lends itself to a problem. "Welp, let's find the bad apples and toss em and move on" doesn't fix a systemic fuckup.

Sallybrown, above, lists an either-or scenario of how this happens that puts on one side knew what they were doing and thought it was worth it and on the other rogue actor. I think the problem is that Hanlon's Razor leads us to this sort of choice rather than including in our calculus a look at what the process is for how this happens and does it lend itself to this happening? Look at what this article says about the way we think about car crashes versus airplane crashes. I contend that when we apply Hanlon here we're thinking car crash.
posted by phearlez at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not that a definitive timeline wouldn't be very helpful, but the military's own statements are only primary sources for what the military is claiming to believe at any given instant.

Of course. I'm not saying their statements are any more true, but they're useful to at least avoid comments such as "well maybe the military XYZ" when there's statements already covering that.
posted by odinsdream at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2015


As General William Westmoreland of Vietnam war fame stated so ignominiously regarding his Asian enemies, ''The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

Indeed.
posted by WinstonJulia at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2015


This quote from General John Campbell (US Commander in Afghanistan) is just bizarre:
“Even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous US procedure to enable fires to go on the ground. We had a special operations unit that was in close vicinity that was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires,”
"enable fires to go on the ground"? Is English not this guy's first language? I've never heard "fires" used that way either.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2015


"enable fires to go on the ground"? Is English not this guy's first language? I've never heard "fires" used that way either.

That's common military parlance. "Fires" is anything larger than a personal weapon, e.g. artillery, close air support, aerial bombing.
posted by Etrigan at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]



Yet again, Greenwald doing actual fucking journalism.


I imagine he is about inline for an accident.
posted by notreally at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2015


sallybrown: To me, this says it was either (1) a coldly targeted attack on someone someone thought was a patient, whose death "justified" killing the other people inside and bombing a hospital (which perhaps turned out to be mistaken intelligence, considering we've heard nothing like this beyond the initial, disgusting label of "collateral damage"), or (2) the person at the controls of the bomber went off command and just bombed the hell out of the hospital for whatever reason.

It wasn't the latter, because it wasn't a single off-course bomber, it was a hour long low level attack on a single building, a building that was known by all to be a hospital. An attack that continued even as the MSF called for help. Given no one has been arrested, we can be confident it was not someone going offtrack.

For all the blathering by apologists here about 'Hanlon' and 'Occam', the explanation most consistent with the facts of the situation and the previous behavior of the US: the US believed there was someone being treated there that they wanted to kill, and they decided to do so by destroying the hospital. Which is yes, a war crime. The only real question to me is did we come up with it on our own or was it yet another case of Afghans using us to eliminate rivals. And that doesn't make any difference in the liability for war crimes.
posted by tavella at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


the explanation most consistent with the facts of the situation and the previous behavior of the US: the US believed there was someone being treated there that they wanted to kill, and they decided to do so by destroying the hospital.

Which is what they're actually saying now. No conjecture needed.
posted by odinsdream at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2015


Got a link? Because all I have seen is the claim that someone was attacking from the hospital (which the MSF firmly refutees). I haven't seen anything admitting that they were attempting to assassinate a patient.
posted by tavella at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2015


New York Times: General [John F. Campbell] Is Said to Think Afghan Hospital Airstrike Broke U.S. Rules
The American commander in Afghanistan now believes that United States troops probably did not follow their own rules in calling in the airstrike that decimated a Doctors Without Borders hospital when no American and Afghan troops were in extreme danger, according to officials with direct knowledge of the general’s thinking.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Someone is going to get thrown under the bus. Wonder who it will be?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


For all the blathering by apologists here about 'Hanlon' and 'Occam', the explanation most consistent with the facts of the situation and the previous behavior of the US: the US believed there was someone being treated there that they wanted to kill, and they decided to do so by destroying the hospital.

No one here is being an apologist for the US military. Point out that the destruction of the hospital was at best rank incompetence that likely rises to the level of criminal negligence, and demanding that general-level officers lose their careers if not facing criminal prosecution, is hardly the behavior of an "apologist."

On the other hand, egregious screw-ups, including those that cost many civilian lives, are also "consistent with the facts of the situation and the previous behavior of the US." And I have yet to see it established as anything other than speculation that there was someone in the hospital the US wanted to kill.

I'm all for heads rolling (figuratively) in the US military and political establishments over this outrage, but let's base it on facts.
posted by Gelatin at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


That first Greenwald article is out-fucking-standing. I don't have anything coherent to add other than my boiling rage, but if you read one article in this post, read that one.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2015


I have yet to see it established as anything other than speculation that there was someone in the hospital the US wanted to kill.

The Greenwald article quotes an Afghanistan official claiming there were Taliban leaders in the hospital.
posted by bukvich at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2015


Attributing this to incompetence or error implies that it is not a predictable and expected outcome of the military system we have put in place. It is akin to talking about mental illness when there is a mass shooting: It shifts the blame away from the system which enables these outcomes.

The comparison to the Iran Air flight is not really appropriate. Though that was a tragedy, it did not happen over the course of an hour while the target was repeatedly telling them they were a civilian aircraft.
posted by Nothing at 10:22 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Attributing this to incompetence or error implies that it is not a predictable and expected outcome of the military system we have put in place.

I disagree. Incompetence and error are intrinsic elements of the military system we have put in place (and indeed every system everywhere), which is why accidents of this nature -- irrespective of whether this incident was accidental or deliberate -- are of course a predictable and expected outcome.
posted by Gelatin at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


(And actually, the Iran Air flight's transponder was telling the US forces it was a civilian aircraft; the military claimed to believe it was a ruse.)
posted by Gelatin at 10:27 AM on October 7, 2015


Also in The Intercept: A short history of U.S. bombings of civilian facilities.
On October 3, a U.S. AC-130 gunship attacked a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Kunduz, Afghanistan, partially destroying it. Twelve staff members and ten patients, including three children, were killed, and 37 people were injured. According to MSF, the U.S. had previously been informed of the hospital’s precise location, and the attack continued for thirty minutes after staff members desperately called the U.S. military.

The U.S. first claimed the hospital had been “collateral damage” in an airstrike aimed at “individuals” elsewhere who were “threatening the force.” Since then, various vague and contradictory explanations have been offered by the U.S. and Afghan governments, both of which promise to investigate the bombing. MSF has called the attack a war crime and demanded an independent investigation by a commission set up under the Geneva Conventions.

While the international outcry has been significant, history suggests this is less because of what happened and more because of whom it happened to. The U.S. has repeatedly attacked civilian facilities in the past but the targets have generally not been affiliated with a European, Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization such as MSF.

Below is a sampling of such incidents since the 1991 Gulf War. If you believe some significant examples are missing, please send them our way.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:31 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]




Yesterday on NPR(?) I heard it was a C-130 gunship, which means a large 4-prop plane that is flying lazy circles overhead, loaded with sophisticated sensors and some really powerful guns.

I am very hopeful that this turns out to be human error, but the C-130 is particularly valuable because it can spend a lot of time on site, examining the area and directing precise, powerful cannon fire into its target -- and over 90 minutes, I am pretty sure they should have been able to spot that red cross.

(I believe that my cousin flew C-130s in Afghanistan a decade ago, and it pains me to think of someone like him being involved in an event as grotesque as this.)

(Edit to add: jinx, Rustic Etruscan; thank you for the confirmation.)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


We been bombing Afghanistan for 14 years now. Are we any closer to whatever goal we had now than we were a decade and half ago?

The "goal" was to support/enlarge the military-industrial complex, justify our country's obscene defense budget, and make a few people very rich (or "even richer than they already were") by giving them a piece of that defense budget. I don't have hard numbers to back it up, but yeah, I'd wager it's been damn successful.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:42 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


This makes me feel deeply ashamed. What can individual citizens do? Call our congresspeople and senators?
posted by prefpara at 10:43 AM on October 7, 2015


I don't know if we are talking past each other or not here, Gelatin. When you say that incompetence and error are intrinsic to all systems, and so accidents* of this nature are to be expected, do you mean we should just accept them? Pick a proximate cause, lay the blame there, and move on? Or do you mean that if we are going to fund a death machine, it will manufacture death in unintended ways sometimes, and the only way to stop that is to stop funding a death machine? I agree with the latter interpretation.

*Though I still refuse to concede that this should be talked about as an "accident."
posted by Nothing at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2015


From homunculus' link:

We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.

We looked for some staff that were supposed to be in the operating theater. It was awful. A patient there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction. We couldn't find our staff. Thankfully we later found that they had run out from the operating theater and had found a safe place
.

Jesus christ. I'm going to finish my shift and say bye to my patients, then go home and fucking cry.
posted by supercrayon at 10:57 AM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's this guy I know, let's call him Al. He's a bit of a hapless dude but for reasons too long to go into I have to stick up for him. Anyways, Al comes up to me one day and says "Hey. Do you see that man over there? He's a bad guy. He's about to hurt some people. You've got a bat, you should beat the shit out of him."

I say, "That guy? The guy in a doctor's coat with a stethoscope just standing there on the sidewalk minding his own business? I'm pretty sure he's a doctor. In fact, I've seen him around the neighborhood and I think he might have introduced himself to me five days ago."

Al says, "Yeah. That guy. He's about to hurt some people."

I say, "Ok." So, I walk over to the guy. Sneaking up behind him, I whack my bat into his knees and he falls over. He screams "What the hell, man? Why are you hitting me?"

I say nothing, because he's a bad guy. He continues screaming "I'm a doctor! Why are you doing this?!". I ignore him and proceed to beat him for another 30 minutes.

Later on, Al says "Oh, my bad. That wasn't the bad guy. That was just some doctor."

Would anyone describe what I did as an "accident"? Or "inadvertent"? I sure wouldn't.
posted by mhum at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


When you say that incompetence and error are intrinsic to all systems, and so accidents* of this nature are to be expected, do you mean we should just accept them? Pick a proximate cause, lay the blame there, and move on? Or do you mean that if we are going to fund a death machine, it will manufacture death in unintended ways sometimes, and the only way to stop that is to stop funding a death machine?

There are many positions between those extremes. One can hold the military to high standards and demand that those responsible for this outrage all the way up the chain of command be held accountable without it being "lay the blame and move on." One can also put in place procedures to try to prevent this kind of horror from taking place in the future -- which doesn't mean that it never will. And one can dissent from the idealization of the military that's been handed down from old Tom Clancy novels, and distrust the politicians who are too quick to put others in harm's way, without going so far as to "stop funding a death machine."

I don't subscribe to either of your interpretations. Nor do I agree with mhum's scenario, for the simple fact that I strongly doubt MSF put in a call to the pilot of the airplane.
posted by Gelatin at 11:05 AM on October 7, 2015


Gelatin: "Nor do I agree with mhum's scenario, for the simple fact that I strongly doubt MSF put in a call to the pilot of the airplane."

Alright, fine. So, instead of approaching me alone, Al approaches me and my buddies to go beat up the doctor. And, instead of the doctor himself yelling out (maybe because he's knocked unconscious or something), all of his doctor and nurse friends are frantically yelling to my buddies (who are hanging back, out of my earshot) that I shouldn't be beating this guy up. But, in the 30 minutes of me beating this doctor up, my buddies don't say anything to me. Or maybe they tell me after 30 minutes and that's why I stop beating on him.

Does this diffusion of responsibility satisfy your hypothetical view of what might have happened?
posted by mhum at 11:14 AM on October 7, 2015


HuffPo: "President Barack Obama has apologized to Doctors Without Borders for the U.S. air attack that hit the group's medical clinic in Afghanistan.

Obama spoke to the group's international president, Joanne Liu, on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama offered his condolences to the aid group's staff. He says Obama assured her that there would be a thorough and objective accounting of the facts.

Earnest says Obama told the group that the U.S, if necessary, would make changes so such incidents are less likely to happen.

The White House says Obama also spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and pledged to keep working closely with his government.

The weekend attack in the northern city of Kunduz killed at least 22 people."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:14 AM on October 7, 2015


I'm more curious as to who the "Al" is in your analogy, mhum. You're implying someone benefited from the US bombing the hospital. I don't think it's been established how the US military did, or at least in any way that I can see that outweighs the cost of what appears to the rest of the world as criminal negligence at best and a flagrant war crime at worst. (Maybe there's a John McCain in your scenario assuring you you'll get away with it.)

It would seem that by discrediting the US forces the Taliban would benefit, so are you suggesting the Taliban attack was a ruse designed to provoke the bombing?
posted by Gelatin at 11:21 AM on October 7, 2015


Huffington Post: Kunduz Hospital Was Raided By Afghan Special Forces Just Three Months Before U.S. Bombing.

"According to a statement posted online in July, "heavily armed men from Afghan Special Forces entered the [Médecins Sans Frontières] hospital compound, cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air."

"The armed men physically assaulted three MSF staff members and entered the hospital with weapons," the statement continued. "They then proceeded to arrest three patients. Hospital staff tried their best to ensure continued medical care for the three patients, and in the process, one MSF staff member was threatened at gunpoint by two armed men. After approximately one hour, the armed men released the three patients and left the hospital compound."

While the motive of the raid is unclear, Afghan forces have long protested the practice of providing medical treatment to insurgents. But international law says that as soon as a fighter is in need of treatment, he is no longer a combatant."
posted by vibrotronica at 11:25 AM on October 7, 2015


Gelatin: "I'm more curious as to who the "Al" is in your analogy, mhum. "

"Al" represents the Afghan allies who requested air support. Possibly related to the Afghan special forces who who had previously raided the hospital looking for Taliban.

[On preview, see vibrotronica's link]
posted by mhum at 11:28 AM on October 7, 2015


"Al" represents the Afghan allies who requested air support.

Are you suggesting the Afghan forces manipulated the US military into attacking the hospital by feeding them false information?
posted by Gelatin at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2015


You may not mean to be, Gelatin, but you're sounding a lot like an apologist.
posted by phearlez at 11:35 AM on October 7, 2015


Gelatin: "Are you suggesting the Afghan forces manipulated the US military into attacking the hospital by feeding them false information?"

I'm simply trying to represent the currently official story that the US military was responding to a request by the Afghans.

E.g.: "Campbell reiterated that Afghan forces had requested US air cover after being engaged in a “tenacious fight”"

"He took responsibility for the sustained bombardment of the medical facility, which he said took place in response to an Afghan call for help."
posted by mhum at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2015


You may not mean to be, Gelatin, but you're sounding a lot like an apologist.

If not jumping to the conclusion that the US military deliberately targeted a MSF hospital, thereby committing a fully premeditated war crime for no obvious benefit but simply for the evulz, makes me an apologist, than I'm happy to be one. If asserting that the US military is capable of the kind of incompetence that would lead it to screw the pooch this badly makes me an apologist, then so be it.
posted by Gelatin at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


And the question remains, if the bombing was deliberate, what objective could the military hoped to achieve that it would have perceived is worth accepting the public blame for bombing not just a hospital, but one run by MSF into the bargain?
They're trying to scare MSF away from the region so they can get away with whatever they like without "European" witnesses.
posted by fullerine at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2015


They're trying to scare MSF away from the region so they can get away with whatever they like without "European" witnesses.

So the logic there is, what, obtain the latitude to commit war crimes by ... committing a war crime?
posted by Gelatin at 11:54 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are you being intentionally obtuse? The U.S. has committed dozens of war crimes. What they care about is getting press for it, which happens when their target is able to be covered sympathetically in Western media.
posted by odinsdream at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Look, the choices here are stupid and evil or just plain stupid. No possible scenario remains where this was part of a logical plan on the US military's part. So “that would be stupid” isn't a very good criticism.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:00 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


What they care about is getting press for it, which happens when their target is able to be covered sympathetically in Western media.

Which makes deliberately bombing Doctors Without Frontiers, a more sympathetic group you aren't likely to find, so irrational on its face that it's hard to imagine doing so unless the perceived benefit greatly outweighed that cost. Which possibility I'm open to, but "the hospital was known to treat wounded Taliban" doesn't cut it because as that HuffPo article proves, they'd have known it for months.

the choices here are stupid and evil or just plain stupid. No possible scenario remains where this was part of a logical plan on the US military's part.

That's my point. No one has proposed a scenario consistent with the facts that suggests that this outrage was a deliberate rational action (though I'm intrigued by the possibility that the Afghanis manipulated US air power). You'll have to excuse me for not joining on the "The US military bombs civilian hospitals just for laughs" bandwagon, so it follows that it was a horrible error.
posted by Gelatin at 12:12 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


No one has proposed a scenario consistent with the facts that suggests that this outrage was a deliberate rational action

Afghan officials continued to suggest that the attack was justified. “I know that there were civilian casualties in the hospital, but a lot of senior Taliban were also killed,” said Abdul Wadud Paiman, a member of Parliament from Kunduz.

Abdul Wadud Paimum says it was justified. I suppose that is not exactly deliberate rational, but it looks pretty damn close to me.
posted by bukvich at 12:43 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: Look, the choices here are stupid and evil or just plain stupid. No possible scenario remains where this was part of a logical plan on the US military's part.

Um, yes there is. "We want to kill someone we've heard is a patient in the hospital. No one who matters will give a fuck about the MSF -- they aren't part of an allied state, and are just another bunch of foreigners to most American voters."

And so far, it looks like they are right; exactly how many American politicians do you see denouncing this?
posted by tavella at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


And I do mean "denouncing", not mumble-mouthing "such an regrettable accident".
posted by tavella at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it all seems like a deliberate "mistake".
And just to clarify MSF had consistantly informed all fighting parties of the GPS coordinates of the hospital but the Americans still bombed it.
Reminds me of the bombing of the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul.
posted by adamvasco at 12:50 PM on October 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Snowden on twitter:

AC-130 warplanes record the gunner's video and audio. It's time to release the tapes to an #IndependentInvestigation.

Who thinks that is ever going to happen?
posted by bukvich at 12:52 PM on October 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


You'll have to excuse me for not joining on the "The US military bombs civilian hospitals just for laughs" bandwagon,

Absolutely no one has said this.

No one has proposed a scenario consistent with the facts that suggests that this outrage was a deliberate rational action.

See the quote bukvich provided, the multiple people in this thread pointing out that the US has bombed civilian targets before, and also this from Greenwald, "The New York Times today – in a story ostensibly about the impact on area residents from the hospital’s destruction – printed paragraphs from anonymous officials justifying this strike: “there was heavy gunfire in the area around the hospital at the time of the airstrike, and that initial reports indicated that the Americans and Afghans on the ground near the hospital could not safely pull back without being dangerously exposed. American forces on the ground then called for air support, senior officials said.” It also claimed that “many residents of Kunduz, as well as people in Kabul, seemed willing to believe the accusations of some Afghan officials that there were Taliban fighters in the hospital shooting at American troops.” "

You keep talking about the lack of "obvious benefit" while hand-waving away the fact, pointed out numerous times, that the US military has considered killing Taliban a sufficient benefit to justify killing civilians in the past.
posted by Mavri at 12:56 PM on October 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Regardless of whether this was deliberate on the U.S. military's part or not, I think there is only one correct response the U.S. can take here.

Immediately ask for an independent investigation, and support it fully.

Either war crimes were committed by US military personnel, or they were committed by Afghani officials (or both). Even if the U.S. military was just grossly incompetent here, then whoever did ask for this strike has committed a war crime.

Of course, even if the result of this investigation says that the US was just incompetent, I still think there should be criminal prosecution in the US -- this time for negligence of duty as an internal US military crime. Because whoever let this happen had a duty to NOT let it happen.
posted by nat at 1:12 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


You keep talking about the lack of "obvious benefit" while hand-waving away the fact, pointed out numerous times, that the US military has considered killing Taliban a sufficient benefit to justify killing civilians in the past.

Oh, come on. This incident wasn't your garden-variety collateral damage; it was the destruction of a hospital, and a hospital run by one of the world's most respected humanitarian organizations into the bargain. Doing so deliberately is, as many here have pointed out, a war crime, even if Taliban were present in the hospital, and the US military knows it; they also could be sure that any such incident would garner worldwide attention, which in fact it has.

So you'll have to excuse me if your implication that the US military regarded the deliberate targeting an MSF hospital as a sufficient benefit just to kill a few Taliban as an indication that the suggestion of a "The US military bombs civilian hospitals just for laughs" bandwagon isn't so far-fetched.

You could convince me that the Afghanis wanted the Taliban dead, and they played up the military engagement in the hospital's vicinity in order to call in a US airstrike, because certain Afghani factions would arguably benefit from that action while also dodging the consequences. But there is as yet no persuasive case that the US military regards the aftermath of this attack as sufficient of a net plus that it thinks it was a good idea. There's far too much ass-covering going on (with Senator McCain a willing participant) to make that notion at all credible.

I agree with nat that a blue-ribbon independent investigation is the only way to move forward, and that the US must be seen to hold those responsible to the appropriate consequences, including criminal penalties if need be.
posted by Gelatin at 1:19 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


You'll have to excuse me for not joining on the "The US military bombs civilian hospitals just for laughs" bandwagon, so it follows that it was a horrible error.

My head needs to be somewhere other than striking this wall today so I'll attempt to be clear one last time and let it go: this sort of phrasing communicates a kind of resigned acceptance that many of us, myself included, find kind of objectionable and to be the weakest sort of acceptance of responsibility. "Horrible error" is a fine description when someone makes a mistake despite a reasonably considered and adhered-to set of protocols designed to avoid that mistake.

"A horrible error," in the context of a questionable situation and following a decade of air strikes that kill innocents, is insufficient to communicate any sense that the larger situation needs to be examined. It does not communicate a willingness to look into the entire arrangement that allowed it to happen. It sounds like a "we'll find someone who we can say didn't follow a rule but we're not going to look into the culture those rules are contextualized by."

I don't doubt for a second that the powers that be will be willing to look into this one incident and find people they can say didn't do something right. I don't think that's a good enough response.
posted by phearlez at 1:23 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just a pedantic note that "Afghani" is the word for the official currency of Afghanistan, not the word for individuals living in Afghanistan (which is Afghan). Sorry, sorry, but the misuse drives my Afghan friends bonkers.
posted by jesourie at 1:25 PM on October 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


So you'll have to excuse me if your implication that the US military regarded the deliberate targeting an MSF hospital as a sufficient benefit just to kill a few Taliban as an indication that the suggestion of a "The US military bombs civilian hospitals just for laughs" bandwagon isn't so far-fetched.

You'll have to excuse me if I think you're being awfully naive or ignorant about the US's history of unpunished war crimes in Afghanistan and what that means regarding the possible deliberateness of this one. This is hardly the first time there's been international outrage and ass-covering following an American atrocity. I hope the outcome is different this time. But a lot of Americans will believe anything before they'll believe we actually, deliberately committed war crimes. See, e.g. the fact that you can't even engage with the possibility that the bombing was deliberate without being dismissive and mischaracterizing what other people have said.
posted by Mavri at 1:41 PM on October 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


Oh, come on. This incident wasn't your garden-variety collateral damage; it was the destruction of a hospital, and a hospital run by one of the world's most respected humanitarian organizations into the bargain. Doing so deliberately is, as many here have pointed out, a war crime,

The most charitable reading of your comment I can gather is that of course the US would't do this intentionally, because it is just so terribly horrible. I find this to be an unconvincing argument. I know tons of pro-war relatives who would buy into the whole "they were using the civilians as shields" and "if they didn't want to be killed they shouldn't treat the taliban" narratives without any question. To consider this too high of a bar for those in the military isn't reasonable.
posted by odinsdream at 1:48 PM on October 7, 2015 [12 favorites]




“[P]rotection for civilian hospitals may cease only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has remained unheeded,” reads a section of the June 2015 Department of Defense law of war manual.
Doctors Without Borders: we received no advance warning of US airstrike.
posted by adamvasco at 2:55 PM on October 7, 2015


NYT: Obama Apologizes for Bombing of Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan.

Cue outrage about "apologizer in chief" in 3... 2... 1...
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:00 PM on October 7, 2015




[P]rotection for civilian hospitals may cease only after due warning has been given,

You'll note that that applies to international armed conflict. This is a non-international armed conflict.
posted by jpe at 4:19 PM on October 7, 2015


This is a non-international armed conflict.

? The bombing was carried out by US troops. Yes, they may have been invited in by the Afghan government, but that's a US-supported government that was installed by the US after a US invasion.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:01 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the Office of the Prosecutor for the ICC in 2014:

The situation in Afghanistan is usually considered as an armed conflict of a noninternational character between the Afghan Government, supported by the ISAF and US forces on the one hand (pro-government forces), and non-state armed groups, particularly the Taliban, on the other (anti-government groups). The participation of international forces does not change the non-international character of the conflict since these forces became involved in support of the Afghan Transitional Administration established on 19 June 2002.

PDF
posted by jpe at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Let me get this straight. You're arguing that due to a ridiculously tortured definition of "international" it's somehow... what... reasonable to bomb a hospital? What specifically the fuck is your point here?
posted by odinsdream at 5:56 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


If we're talking about law, it seems reasonable to talk about the relevant legal definitions.

The original claim was that this was illegal due to a failure to warn, which is simply false.
posted by jpe at 6:47 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


A charitable reading would be that jpe may simply pointing out that the US military did not feel it had a responsibility to give warning. That doesn't excuse bombing a civilian hospital, but may account for why MSF was not forewarned.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:49 PM on October 7, 2015


Arguing whether this is an international conflict by law seems so beside the point as to be completely irrelevant. There are dozens of other issues at hand much more relevant, so no, it doesn't seem reasonable to be bringing it up. And again, I ask what the point of such hair-splitting is.
posted by odinsdream at 6:51 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Take this as an exhibit of why legality may not be the same as morality, and why international law in particular is deeply crap. This also explains why MSF seeks to have the bombing investigated by the IHFFC (International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission), a UN body so obscure that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. The IHFFC can't commission an investigation unless it receives a request from a signatory state, though, so MSF is reportedly shopping around for a sponsor.

Note that the IHFFC is a fact-finding body, not a prosecutor. The fact that MSF chose this unlikely and never-tried route tells me that they do not believe the bombing could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:01 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It means that none of the motherfuckers who sanctioned this atrocity will ever see the inside of a court of law and America can carry on bombing the shit out of whoever it likes whenever it likes because : weasel lawyers.
posted by adamvasco at 7:03 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why the IHFFC? See MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu's speech in Geneva yesterday:
Today we announce that we are seeking an investigation into the Kunduz attack by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. This Commission was established in the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions and is the only permanent body set up specifically to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. We ask signatory States to activate the Commission to establish the truth and to reassert the protected status of hospitals in conflict.

Though this body has existed since 1991, the Commission has not yet been used. It requires one of the 76 signatory States to sponsor an inquiry. Governments up to now have been too polite or afraid to set a precedent. The tool exists and it is time it is activated.
posted by valetta at 8:17 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Between this and the growing clusterfuck in Syria I'm going to lose it on the next person who thinks that, sure, the last couple of military adventures haven't gone well but this one in Afghanistan Iraq Libya Yemen Syria Afghanistan again will be different.

It's never different. Why do people keep thinking it will be.
posted by Justinian at 8:32 PM on October 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hope an investigation is pursued to the utmost and the people responsible are criminally prosecuted.

I'd be interested to know if anyone can point to even one instance in the entire history of the U.S. where U.S. forces have committed a war crime and the above has happened, as opposed to some low-ranking fall-guy[s] getting a slap on the wrist.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:13 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested to know if anyone can point to even one instance in the entire history of the U.S. where U.S. forces have committed a war crime and the above has happened, as opposed to some low-ranking fall-guy[s] getting a slap on the wrist.

Well since you mentioned slaps on the wrist, U.S. Air Force Major Harry Schmidt killed Sgt. Marc D. Leger, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pte. Richard Green, Pte. Nathan Smith and injured Sgt. Lorne Ford, Cpl. René Paquette, Master Cpl. Curtis Hollister, Cpl. Brett Perry, Pte. Norman Link, Cpl. Brian Decaire, Master Cpl. Stanley P. Clark, and Master Cpl. Stanley P. Clark and his actions are detailed in this AWACS transcript here (pdf).

He got assigned forfeiture of $2,836.00 pay per month for two months, plus a reprimand for having:
[...] flagrantly disregarded a direct order from the controlling agency, exercised a total lack of basic flight discipline over your aircraft, and blatantly ignored the applicable rules of engagement and special instructions. Your willful misconduct directly caused the most egregious consequences imaginable, the deaths of four coalition soldiers and injury to eight others. The victims of your callous misbehavior were from one of our staunch allies in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and were your comrades-in-arms.

You acted shamefully on 17 April 2002 over Tarnak Farms, Afghanistan, exhibiting arrogance and a lack of flight discipline. When your flight lead warned you to "make sure it's not friendlies" and the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft controller directed you to "stand by" and later to "hold fire," you should have marked the location with your targeting pod. Thereafter, if you believed, as you stated, you and your leader were threatened, you should have taken a series of evasive actions and remained at a safe distance to await further instructions from AWACS. Instead, you closed on the target and blatantly disobeyed the direction to "hold fire." Your failure to follow that order is inexcusable. I do not believe you acted in defense of Major Umbach or yourself. Your actions indicate that you used your self-defense declaration as a pretext to strike a target, which you rashly decided was an enemy firing position, and about which you had exhausted your patience in waiting for clearance from the Combined Air Operations Center to engage. You used the inherent right of self-defense as an excuse to wage your own war.

In your personal presentation before me on 1 July 2004, I was astounded that you portrayed yourself as a victim of the disciplinary process without expressing heartfelt remorse over the deaths and injuries you caused to the members of the Canadian Forces. In fact, you were obviously angry that the United States Air Force had dared to question your actions during the 17 April 2002 tragedy. Far from providing any defense for your actions, the written materials you presented to me at the hearing only served to illustrate the degree to which you lacked flight discipline as a wingman of COFFEE Flight on 17 April 2002.

Through your arrogance, you undermined one of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world, consisting of the Combined Air Operations Center, the Airborne Warning and Control System, and highly disciplined pilots, all of whom must work together in an integrated fashion to achieve combat goals. The United States Air Force is a major contributor to military victories over our Nation's enemies because our pilots possess superior flight discipline. However, your actions on the night of 17 April 2002 demonstrate an astonishing lack of flight discipline. You were blessed with an aptitude for aviation, your nation provided you the best aviation training on the planet, and you acquired combat expertise in previous armed conflicts. However, by your gross poor judgment, you ignored your training and your duty to exercise flight discipline, and the result was tragic. I have no faith in your abilities to perform in a combat environment.

I am concerned about more than your poor airmanship; I am also greatly concerned about your officership and judgment. Our Air Force core values stress "integrity first." Following the engagement in question, you lied about the reasons why you engaged the target after you were directed to hold fire and then you sought to blame others. You had the right to remain silent, but not the right to lie. In short, the final casualty of the engagement over Kandahar on 17 April 2002 was your integrity.
But to be fair, Schmidt was flying over a country his propaganda masters told him should be bombed back into the stone age, so why not just blow everything and everyone up? He should have exercised better judgement, but other people put this hard-on cowboy there to begin with. Also, the Canadian soldiers shouldn't have been there, either, IMHO.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:50 PM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


But MSF should have been there, so fuck the war pigs on the AC-130 with the highly sophisticated optics and thermal imaging systems that can spot someone taking a dump, let alone military activity, and who sadistically pounded the fuck out of that hospital.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:58 PM on October 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


A blast from the past: Chinese Embassy Bombing: A Wide Net of Blame

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the same errors have persisted: that it's easy to get sites added to the "target" list, and there's a lot of institutional inertia to having them removed. Really, though, it should be the other way around. This isn't the 1960s; targets aren't selected from typewritten lists and verbally relayed to a firing officer. Computerised weaponry should make it impossible to attack a hospital or other humanitarian site without a review by an independent officer.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:36 PM on October 7, 2015


"President Barack Obama has apologized to Doctors Without Borders for the U.S. air attack that hit the group's medical clinic in Afghanistan.

Talk about phoning it in. Literally.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:44 PM on October 7, 2015


So-- what I want my country to do here is ask for an independent investigation.
Can the IHFFC be asked by a country to investigate that same country's actions?

If so, maybe it is time to bother our senators and congress people about it.

If not, it's a bit more complicated- I suppose we'd have to ask one of our allies to request the investigation. Can legislators have any effect there?
posted by nat at 11:20 PM on October 7, 2015


This isn't the 1960s; targets aren't selected from typewritten lists and verbally relayed to a firing officer.

Yeah, one of the parts of the evolving explanation is that the Afghans "requested" the bombing, but not really specifying how that request happens. Are they all in the same place? Is it when one guy picks his nose? Grunts? Flash mirror? I bet "what it takes to request a target" is a very interesting collection of sentences.
posted by rhizome at 11:41 PM on October 7, 2015


Can legislators have any effect there?

Can they? Almost certainly.

Will they? Absolutely not. This is a straight-up International Incident, ain't nobody in Congress going to stick their neck out. It's just White House and Pentagon right now and I can imagine everybody else being pretty much on lockdown. We'll see how much juice MSF has, and I can also imagine the PTB waiting for the same information before they react publicly.

When something would preferredly be swept under the rug, they aren't going to give an inch unless forced to.
posted by rhizome at 11:51 PM on October 7, 2015


In 2001, not long after September 11th, I was talking with a US expat acquaintance of mine about Dubya's announcement that the US was going to invade Afghanistan on the basis that the Taliban had refused to hand over OBL.

He was all huff and puff and but we have to get that guy so what else could we do? And I observed that going to war in Afghanistan was the stupidest move the US could possibly make, and that it was as if Dubya and his crackmonkey policy team had learned nothing from the experience of the Soviet Union or the British before them.

And yes, Dubya then proved me wrong by invading Iraq. But I still rate the war in Afghanistan as the US's second stupidest foreign policy move so far this century.

The sad fact is that the US and its allies have now fucked that country in a way that's going to take it generations to recover from, and that the least bad option at this point is to just fuck off out of there and let that begin to happen. You had no business going there in the first place. You have no business staying there now. Just fuck off.
posted by flabdablet at 12:09 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nov. 9, 2004 – In a series of actions over the weekend, the United States military and Iraqi government destroyed a civilian hospital in a massive air raid, captured the main hospital and prohibited the use of ambulances in the besieged city of Fallujah.
Ahh... those were the days! Nobody then was questioning America's rights to do whatever felt good. But still there's no reason even nowadays to fear the International Criminal Court: the only people ever indicted by the ICC are African.
posted by fredludd at 12:26 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rhizome, I think you misunderstood me. I am not asking for depressing reasons why nothing will happen.

It isn't just MSF's responsibility here. It's the responsibility of every individual American citizen to call on our government to respond appropriately.
Don't tell me "ain't gonna happen", tell me the best way to make it more likely. I refuse to believe there is nothing to be done.
posted by nat at 1:20 AM on October 8, 2015


(What I mean is, we shouldn't just let MSF push for investigation and hope they prevail. We, individual us citizens, should be speaking out.)
posted by nat at 1:22 AM on October 8, 2015


Doctors Without Borders: we received no advance warning of US airstrike
Such action would be a violation of the US Defense Department’s own manual governing the rules of war, as President Obama calls MSF president to apologize

The US military never gave Doctors Without Borders prior notification of a deadly airstrike on its field hospital in Kunduz, the aid group said on Wednesday, in an apparent violation of the Pentagon’s own instructions on the rules of war.
The Guardian's grammar mixed is all up. What they mean is: the US Defense Department has a Law of War Manual (linked in the article); that manual requires both proportionality and, unless acting in self-defense, an appropriate warning. Neither of these requirements seem to have been followed.

Also, Obama rang the MSF President to apologise.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:28 AM on October 8, 2015


Between this and the growing clusterfuck in Syria I'm going to lose it on the next person who thinks that, sure, the last couple of military adventures haven't gone well but this one in Afghanistan Iraq Libya Yemen Syria Afghanistan again will be different.

It's never different. Why do people keep thinking it will be.


Because hope and broken brown bodies spring eternal
posted by phearlez at 6:26 AM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]




nat: "So-- what I want my country to do here is ask for an independent investigation.
Can the IHFFC be asked by a country to investigate that same country's actions?
"
The USA is (of course) not a party to the IHFFC.
fredludd: "the only people ever indicted by the ICC are African."
That's partly because there's a separate tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia.
posted by brokkr at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


wikileaks on twitter: 50 000 dollar reward for attack audio or video.
posted by bukvich at 8:35 AM on October 8, 2015


That's not a lot of money in exchange for lifetime solitary confinement.
posted by phearlez at 10:07 AM on October 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yea, i first expected that to be for like, phonecam video from the ground or something... but the tapes from the plane? Can anyone operating the plane even access that, or is it a black box?
posted by emptythought at 2:19 PM on October 8, 2015


For all practical (not legal) purposes, there is no such thing as a war without war crimes. War is not some sanitary thing that you can do where you only kill the "right" people. Militaries are huge organizations, subject to all the same problems as organizations everywhere.

By all means, get an independent investigation going. Even if it were given free reign and able to unearth an objective truth, what do you think it's going to find? That somebody in the chain of command said let's maliciously shoot up a hospital for fun?

Or is it more likely that someone misplaced a piece of paper, that there was a miscommunication, that there was incompetence/negligence or that someone made a judgement call (good or bad) with the information they had on hand? All things that probably happen on a regular basis? It's called the fog of war for a reason.

Let's condemn the US military and its masters, but the whole discussion seems kind of empty if we're not going to take it to its logical conclusion. The only way to stop this sort of thing from happening is for the US and their allies not to be there at all.

Which is fine, but the consequence of that is letting the Taliban (and in other cases ISIS and Assad) do what they're going to do. Argue that point if that's what you want to do, it's not without its merits. But know that any level of involvement, whether it's funneling arms, providing combat expertise and training, air support or troops on the ground is going to involve some sort of moral culpability for the war crimes that inevitably occur. And so too, potentially, does standing idly by.
posted by Maugrim at 3:06 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Kunduz bombing is a symptom of the underlying disease of foreign occupation. The prescription requires that President Obama keep to the timeline of withdrawing US troops by the end of 2016. The US military presence will not create long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. On the contrary: as long as US troops are there, militants will fight to oust them.
posted by adamvasco at 3:22 PM on October 8, 2015


MSF seeks to have the bombing investigated by the IHFFC (International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission), a UN body so obscure that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

It does now.
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on October 8, 2015 [3 favorites]






"Your actions indicate that you used your self-defense declaration as a pretext to strike a target, which you rashly decided was an enemy firing position, and about which you had exhausted your patience in waiting for clearance from the Combined Air Operations Center to engage. You used the inherent right of self-defense as an excuse to wage your own war. "

That's a very succinct summation of US military policy in the Middle East, actually.
posted by bitmage at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2015 [2 favorites]




Radio France International's Spotlight on Africa (in English):
South Africa pulling out of the International Criminal Court
Saying that the court is no longer fulfilling its mandate and no longer pursuing its principle of being an instrument that is fair to everybody, and citing a bias towards pursuing African cases and "powerful nations that are also refusing to be members of the ICC" yet have “unfettered powers to refer matters to the ICC”, South Africa's ruling African National Congress party announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

Canada's Globe and Mail:
South Africa aims to abandon International Criminal Court

...

The United States, Russia and China are not members of the international court, but they belong to the United Nations Security Council, which can tell the ICC to investigate cases. African leaders have called this unfair and hypocritical.
posted by XMLicious at 3:56 AM on October 13, 2015


They are not wrong. Sadly, the fundamental basis of international law is that the strong do as they will and the weak bear it.
posted by Justinian at 4:28 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]




Inside the MSF Hospital in Kunduz
An exclusive first look at the horrific aftermath of the U.S. attack in northern Afghanistan.
Warning: Some readers may find the following images disturbing.

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:49 PM on October 14, 2015




> AC-130 warplanes record the gunner's video and audio. It's time to release the tapes to an #IndependentInvestigation.

The Kunduz Hospital Bombing: There is probable cause the U.S. committed a war crime.
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.
posted by homunculus at 8:44 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is probable cause the U.S. committed a war crime.

Just the one, then?
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


In other Afghanistan-U.S. news:

Obama Announces Halt of U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — The United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of his term in 2017, President Obama announced on Thursday, prolonging the American role in a war that has now stretched on for 14 years.

In a brief statement from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Mr. Obama said he did not support the idea of “endless war” but was convinced that a prolonged American presence in Afghanistan was vital to that country’s future and to the national security of the United States.

“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his top military leaders. “I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.”

The current American force in Afghanistan of 9,800 troops will remain in place through most of 2016 under the administration’s revised plans, before dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, Mr. Obama said. He called it a “modest but meaningful expansion of our presence” in that country.
posted by cjelli at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2015


US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital : (emph. mine)
American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

[...]

After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

No evidence has surfaced publicly to support those conclusions about the Pakistani's connections or his demise. The former intelligence official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
posted by mhum at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


In other Afghanistan-U.S. news: US Aid to Afghanistan Has Largely Been Wasted and Stolen, Report Says
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]






Mhum's link is very much worth reading.

If its report that "[US] intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons" is correct then the USA military has substantial problems with its intelligence and reconnaissance. The presence of heavy weapons and communications equipment should be visible to local or overhead surveillance; if it was an error of this sort then there's something very wrong and the US should probably retire from the theatre until it's sorted out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:48 PM on October 15, 2015




Right, "My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Taliban at the hospital."
posted by rhizome at 6:01 PM on October 16, 2015


That doesn't get you a bomb. If your cell phone is a node in the agency's social network diagram with direct connects to (classified integer numeral N) other nodes on their diagram, that gets you a bomb. Do you think any ground intelligence was required to order that attack? The Drone Papers suggest not.

(I think the government's latest story is it was all a terrible mistake but the details are top secret.)
posted by bukvich at 6:14 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]




US officials seem to be determined to keep the incident as shrouded in mystery as possible, leaking only bare minimum narratives while the White House openly rejects the idea of allowing an international investigation, and dismisses the suggestion that attacking a hospital full of civilians is even a potential war crime.

Blowing shit up to achieve a political end is only terrorism when they do it, never when we do it; stands to reason that the same rule should apply to war crimes.

I will be completely astonished to find that any eventual official explanation for the Kunduz hospital bombing does not assume that this important distinction goes without saying for any "reasonable" person.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on October 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


US officials seem to be determined to keep the incident as shrouded in mystery as possible

Yeah, war crimes have a funny effect on governments.
posted by rhizome at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2015






Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon’s preliminary report on the public's ability to pay attention to the deadly U.S. strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan is taking lasting longer than expected
posted by flabdablet at 10:41 AM on October 25, 2015 [6 favorites]








The Atlantic's coverage of the MSF report linked by Bukvitch, immediately above:

What Happened in Kunduz?
Doctors Without Borders says it’s “quite hard to understand and believe” that its hospital in the Afghan city was mistakenly hit by the U.S.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2015




That article in The Atlantic finishes
In Washington on Thursday, Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said MSF had shared its report with the military.

“We have worked closely with MSF to determine the facts” surrounding the attack, he said, adding the U.S. would continue to work closely with the group to identify both those killed and wounded “so that we can conclude our investigations and proceed with follow-on actions to include condolence payments.”
I think it's traditionally $1,000, a goat, and fuck you for getting in the way.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:02 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


“We have worked closely with MSF to determine the facts”

At this point, I think most reasonable observers would have to conclude that the facts are completely transparent, and that they are as follows: the US Government recently perpetrated a war crime in Kunduz and is now deep in PR damage-control mode.
posted by flabdablet at 8:11 PM on November 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


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