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America’s Latest War Crime

Really? The best that Nobel Peace Laureate President Obama can do after the US bombs and destroys a hospital in Afghanistan, killing 22 people, including 12 volunteer doctors from Doctors Without Borders, is to say, “We’re sorry”?

No wonder people around the globe hate the US.

A decent human being in the White House would be calling for an independent international investigation into the incident and would be insisting that heads would roll! After all, the initial reports out of the Pentagon were that the strike had been called in to protect threatened American troops — an action that would be a clear war crime since hospitals have special protected status under the internationally accepted laws of war. Only later did the Pentagon backpedal and claim that the strike was a “mistake” that had been called-in by Afghan government forces. But that alibi founders on reports from Doctors Without Borders that days before the assault on their facility in the Taliban-held city of Kunduz, their organization had provided the US with clear coordinates of the hospital, so as to avoid any such “accident.”

But hey, this is America. We don’t do justice. We don’t have to because, as “the exceptional nation,” we are always just in our actions. We kill and maim and then we say we’re sorry (but only if Westerners get killed and maimed as in this instance). And then we move on.

Hospitals? The US always claims it’s an accident, or “collateral damage,” when they get hit. It’s never a matter of deliberate targeting.

But people on the ground where the bombs and rockets fall know better: That the American military has been targeting hospitals and ambulances deliberately for decades. The US bombed hospitals in North Korea in the 1950s. And it bombed them in North Vietnam with a regularity that made a joke of claims to the contrary.

In fact, painting a red cross or a red crescent on the roof of a hospital in an area where the US is conducting one of its many illegal wars is simply an invitation to be bombed.

In the all-out assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November/December 2004, hospitals were deliberately bombed, as well as raided by US troops, ambulances were shot up and hit with bombs and rockets, and fleeing civilians were mowed down as they swam a river to escape. No apologies were offered — presumably because no volunteer Western medical personnel were killed.

In Kunduz, the assault on the hospital in question lasted over an hour, from 2:08 am until 3:15 am with sorties coming in and dropping more bombs every 15 minutes. And this attack involved not just bombs and rockets, but also a deadly spraying of intense fire by a gunship designed to kill everything within the area of the target. Those who weren’t hit by direct fire or exploding bombs died (including three children) in the ensuing raging fire. The hospital was destroyed totally. If this was a “mistake” it was a long and repetitive one.

Doctors Without Borders isn’t mincing words. Its president, Dr. Joanne Liu, has called the attack a war crime, and she wants it investigated not by the US military, which is like asking the Mafia to investigate it’s own hit, or for that matter, for a police department to investigate a police officer’s killing of an unarmed civilian, but rather by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, a body established precisely for that purpose, and recognized by 76 nations (but not by the US).

This latest atrocity occurred in Afghanistan, a country where the president claims the 14-year US invasion is over. Clearly it’s not.

War crimes, under international law, must be investigated, and the perpetrators punished. When a country responsible for a war crime by its military refuses to do that, those in authority, up to and including the top leadership in the military chain of command, are considered to be guilty of the same war crime. That would include a president and commander-in-chief who refuses to investigate and punish war criminals under his command.

Of course, this president is already guilty of not prosecuting the war criminals who preceded him in the White House, President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, who launched the criminal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. So what does he have to fear in committing yet another war crime by covering up this latest atrocity by US forces?

The sad reality is: nothing.

As much as the Republicans who control Congress hate America’s first black president, and as much as they’d like to punish him, it won’t be for war crimes, because the members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, are all war lovers, and nearly all of them, for having backed America’s criminal wars, are really war criminals themselves.

As for the American people, we are just the latest incarnation of those long-pilloried “good Germans” — the silent majority in Weimar Germany who by their support or their silence in the early 1930s enabled or supported the rise of Adolph Hitler.

Evolution of a lie: The sequence of US explanations for the attack on the hospital in Kunduz

On Saturday, October 3 (day of the attack), Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said:

“U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz city at 2:15am (local), Oct 3, against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation.”

On Sunday, October 4, Gen. John Campbell, U.S. military chief in Afghanistan, said:

“U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz city at 2:15am (local), Oct 3, against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces in the city of Kunduz. The strike was conducted in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility.”

On Monday, October 5, Gen. John Campbell, U.S. military chief in Afghanistan said,

“We have now learned that on October 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces. An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports, which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf.”

On Tuesday, October 6, Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“On Saturday morning our forces provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fires was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility … I assure you that the investigation will be thorough, objective and transparent.”

Analysis: The initial explanation seeks to claim the hospital was not targeted. When the level of destruction proved that it was in fact the target, the fall back a day later seeks to continue that claim, less explicitly, but ends up almost admitting to the war crime of targeting a hospital. The third explanation one more day later seeks to pass the buck by claiming Afghan forces called in the strike. On day four, the US has to admit it made the decision to attack on its own and hit the hospital on purpose but “by mistake.” Never addressed is the claim by Doctors Without Borders that they provided clear coordinates of the hospital the the military days before precisely to avoid any mistaken attack on the compound.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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