In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. AFP PHOTO/MSF
The accidental bombing by U.S. forces of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Afganistan last October was a horrible tragedy, a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. The unmarked facility was mis-identified as a Taliban stronghold, apparently due to false “vetting” reports from the ground. Those held responsible have been put on leave pending results of an ongoing investigation.
On 17 November, The United States Naval Institute (USNI) posted an essay entitled “Mistakes Are Not War Crimes” by Col. Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF. Col. Pietrucha brings up some interesting points on the legal definition of the term “war crime,” its intent and history, and how it relates to the destruction of the hospital. Here’s an excerpt:
The facts, as we know them now, are fairly limited. On 28 September, insurgent forces claiming to be Taliban forces overran the Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz. Fighting continued and within days, government forces with U.S. support were attempting to regain control of the city. MSF operates a hospital in Kunduz that includes a trauma center, established in October 2011 in a building long used as a hospital.
On Saturday, Oct. 3, a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship struck an MSF medical facility in the Kunduz with a currently undetermined number and type of rounds of ammunition. The airstrike lasted for a substantial amount of time, perhaps exceeding an hour. MSF claims that 30 staff and patients were killed and at least 37 others suffered wounds of varying severity. The main hospital building was subsequently destroyed by fire.
Overhead imagery provided by Terraserver, dated April 2015, reveals that at that time the hospital building was not marked with internationally recognized symbols as a medical facility. The involvement, if any, by the International Committee of the Red Cross in facilitating recognition of the hospital is undetermined. Similarly, there is no widely disseminated video evidence in the public domain that shows any indications that the hospital was marked as such, from any viewpoint, such that its nature might be determined by any combatants.
That’s it. We do not know who precisely requested the fire or for what reason. We do not know the precise rules of engagement or to what degree they were followed. We do not know the number and type of ordnance used or the duration of the attack. The presence of Taliban fighters using the building as a fighting position has been alleged but not confirmed. MSF claims that the hospital location was provided to U.S. government authorities, but has not revealed specifically to whom that data was allegedly provided, nor if a confirmation was received. We have not seen copies of hospital certificates required by the Geneva Conventions. MSF call logs reveal that attempts were made during the attack to contact military authorities, but the logs do not reveal contact, direct or indirect, with any actual unit with command or control of air forces of any kind. We do not know if the aircrew was aware of the presence or location of a hospital. Post-attack video of the hospital, provided by the Associated Press, provides no evidence to contradict evidence suggesting a lack of marking, but the hospital roof was destroyed by fire and its remnants cannot be viewed via ground-level video.
Col. Pietrucha’s analysis is an informative read for anyone who wants to get up to speed before the mainstream media spins it into something it probably wasn’t. (Oh, wait…)
[Image, caption and excerpt from here.]