In a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Human Rights Watch on Monday called for the United States to treat the investigation into the October 3 U.S. bombing of a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Kunduz, Afghanistan, as a criminal matter:
“The attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz involved possible war crimes,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director. “The ongoing US inquiry will not be credible unless it considers criminal liability and is protected from improper command influence.”
The clearly marked hospital was struck in an attack that lasted at least half an hour and included the firing of more than 200 shells from an AC-130 gunship. MSF officials reported December 12 that the originally reported death toll of 30 patients and medical personnel at the hospital had risen to 42—14 MSF staff, 24 patients and four people designated as “caretakers” who provided additional nursing care at the facility.
MSF has called for an independent U.N. investigation and earlier this month presented a petition to the White House repeating that request. Such an investigation has never been undertaken previously and requires approval of the nation being investigated. The petition now has nearly 551,000 signatures.
On November 25, the Pentagon completed a still-unreleased 3,000-page probe of the attack in which investigators said it was an accident attributable to mechanical, electronic, and human error complicated by a communications breakdown.
MSF general organizer Christopher Stokes said in response to the Pentagon report:
The frightening catalogue of errors outlined today illustrates gross negligence on the part of U.S. forces and violations of the rules of war,” Stokes said. “The destruction of a protected facility without verifying the target—in this case a functioning hospital full of medical staff and patients—cannot only be dismissed as individual human error or breaches of the U.S. rules of engagement.”
Expectations are low that an independent investigation will be launched. Thus, a few years hence the bloody attack may well be mischaracterized in the textbooks—if it is noted at all—the same way as other U.S. military actions. That is, for instance, how the Iraq invasion has come to be called a “blunder” instead of what it really was.