Last November, the Pentagon announced that the soldiers involved in the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, had been suspended from duty. It was expected that the investigation following the massacre was over.
The results of that investigation have never been announced, but rumors continue to leak. The latest is in regard to the “punishment” of the soldiers. But if it is true what the Associated Press is reporting, picked up now throughout the Afghan press, there have only been disciplinary sentences and no criminal ones. That is, for the killing of dozens of civilians, possibly a war crime, the consequences were were little more than the suspensions previously announced by General John Campbell, then commander of the NATO Joint Force and in charge of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
The administration limited its action to a written reprimand, which can, at most, be an impediment to the continuation of a military career. Moreover, those higher up the chain of command have apparently been discharged of all responsibility. For now, Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, has no comment, pending an official announcement from the U.S. military.
This is the latest turn in an ongoing controversy. In late February, the U.S. Defense Department wrote to 140 relatives of the victims, offering an apology and promising compensation that the families perceived as offensive and ridiculous: $3,000 for each wounded victim and $6,000 for each dead one. It’s not known if the money was actually paid. Almost six months after the attack, the affair is full of shadows and none of the official reports have been published. The only certainty is that 52 people were killed: 14 staffers, 24 patients and 14 other civilians.
The MSF report, presented in November in Kabul, described in detail one of the most tragic violations of humanitarian law, an hour-long bombardment that started just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 3. Some patients burned alive in their beds, and some staffers were beheaded and mutilated by shrapnel, perhaps while trying to take cover. This city is in the hands of the Taliban and besieged by Afghan soldiers with U.S. air support. The report also explained that in the trauma center there were no armed fighters or ongoing fighting, but only patients of both factions being treated in the beds of a place that should have been a protected temple.
The objective of the raid, classified by NATO as an “error,” had a clear goal: “From what happened in the hospital, it is clear that this attack was carried out in order to kill and destroy,” explained Christopher Stokes, MSF general director. “But we do not know why. We don’t know what happened in the cockpit, or in the U.S. and Afghan chains of command.”
The Americans have explained that there was a miscommunication in the orders — namely, that the pilots hit the wrong building. The correct target was 411 meters away from the hospital.
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