By Claire Bernish | Saudi Arabia, the United States, and their allies have developed a nasty habit of “epidemic” proportions in various military theaters, particularly around the Middle East — bombing hospitals, healthcare facilities, and, in at least one instance, an ambulance. But despite countless pleas from humanitarian organization Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), that bombing continues, so the United Nations was finally forced to issue its own resolution on the matter.
Resolution 2286, co-sponsored by 80 member nations, condemns attacks on medical personnel and facilities in conflict situations and demands “an end to impunity for those responsible and respect for international law on the part of all warring parties.”
Though it might seem superficially absurd to issue a condemnation for something so patently fundamental, evidence of its necessity remains unfortunately prevalent in headlines.
One egregious example came at the end of April in the conclusion of an investigation into the targeted bombing of an MSF hospital facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on October 3 of last year. Though 16 U.S. service members were found responsible for the attack, accountability in the form of punishment lacked the severity warranted for the deaths of 42 medical staff, patients, and civilians.
“The 16 found at fault include a two-star general, the crew of an Air Force AC-130 attack aircraft, and Army special forces personnel, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal investigations” with the Los Angeles Times. “One officer was suspended from command and forced out of Afghanistan. The other 15 were given lesser punishments: Six were sent to counseling, seven were issued letters of reprimand, and two were ordered to retraining courses.”
It would be difficult, when taken with the magnitude of what actually took place in the Kunduz hospital attack, to classify such a punishment as even slaps on the wrists of those responsible.
“Many staff describe people being shot, most likely from the [AC-130] plane, as people tried to flee the main hospital building that was being hit with each airstrike,” MSF said in a statement following the bombing. “Some accounts mention shooting that appeared to follow the movement of people on the run.”
Though the official explanation from U.S. officials inexplicably characterizes the bombing as an ostensibly horrible mistake, details of the harrowing 90-minute siege stretch the veracity of such a claim beyond the limits of feasibility. Médicins Sans Frontières has in place numerous safety precautions to protect both staff and patients — particularly since the organization treats any injured parties, regardless of affiliation, in conflict areas — including a staunch prohibition on weapons in their facilities.
A series of multiple, precise and sustained airstrikes targeted the main hospital building, leaving the rest of the buildings in the MSF compound comparatively untouched. This specific building of the hospital correlates exactly with the GPS coordinates provided to the parties of the conflict (GPS coordinates were taken directly in front of the main hospital building that was hit with the airstrikes).
Absolving itself of responsibility for what has been widely deemed a war crime, the Pentagon’s official explanation significantly downplays the attack as “a combination of human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures,” and that “fatigue and high operational tempo also contributed” to what it calls the “fog of war.”
In actuality, no excuse exists for a targeted attack on a civilian structure which dually functions as a safe haven for those injured in an already relentless, violent military campaign — itself with questionable motives and practices. No whitewash strong enough exists to paint over an inexcusably egregious so-called error.
But the worst facet of the Pentagon’s self-declared impunity is that Kunduz isn’t the only healthcare facility bombed by the U.S. and its allies — and Afghanistan isn’t the sole location such an attack has been carried out. Not by far.
Between March and November 2015, the U.S.-backed coalition managed to bomb nearly 100 hospitals in war-ravaged Yemen — though with the media’s attention trained on the imbroglio raging in Syria, that report caused little more than a ripple. Echoing innumerable unanswered pleas by MSF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) asserted the targeting of health facilities “represent a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
“The neutrality of health care facilities and staff is not being respected,” contended deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, Kedir Awol Omar. “Health facilities are deliberately attacked and surgical and medical supplies are also being blocked from reaching hospitals in areas under siege.”
Apparently and typically, repeated calls to end targeted violence fell on deaf ears.
At the end of April, Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo fell under attack, killing 27 people — including three children and one of the decimated city’s last qualified pediatricians — and eliciting one of the most gut-wrenching open letters to date, courtesy of the director of the Aleppo Children’s Hospital.
“Like so many others,” wrote Dr. Hatem, “Dr. [Mohammad Waseem] Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr. Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
“The situation today is critical — Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.”
Addressing the United Nations in utter frustration on Tuesday, MSF head, Joanne Liu, beseeched the members responsible to “Stop these attacks! You … must live up to your extraordinary responsibilities and set an example for all states.”
Though her sentiment may be broadly shared, the Pentagon’s less than lackluster response to the U.S. military members complicit in the Kunduz bombing make the likelihood of her demands being met exceedingly unlikely anytime soon.
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