Column: United States should answer for alleged war crime

Injured Doctors Without Borders staff are seen after explosions near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Doctors Without Borders announced that the death toll from the bombing of the group's Kunduz hospital compound has risen to at least 16, including 3 children and that tens are missing after the explosions that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. (Médecins Sans Frontières via AP)

A war crime is a crime against humanity, one of the severest breaches against International Law defined by the Geneva Conventions. The International Criminal Court defines a war crime as murder, cruel treatment, taking of hostages, intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals, pillaging, sexual violence and enlisting children under 15 into armed forces. 

Early Saturday, Oct. 3, an airstrike ordered by the United States military blew apart a Doctors Without Borders hospital located in Afghanistan. According to CNN, it killed 12 of the medical staff and at least 10 patients, leaving 37 people wounded. All people who died were Afghanis. 

General John Campbell, the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan stated in his initial reports that U.S. forces were under attack and called in airstrikes for their defense, according to the Washington Post. He then changed his story at a press conference on Monday saying that the Afghan forces were taking fire from enemy position and asked for air support. 

In an early statement, the hospital’s attack was referred to as collateral damage, but then later called a tragedy. The aid group repeatedly claims there was no fighting in or around the building, and despite having sent the military their coordinates days before to prevent an accidental attack and contacting the military shortly after the start of the airstrike, the bombing continued on for another hour in 15 minute intervals, according to PRI. None of the buildings around the hospital took on as much damage as the hospital itself, alluding to a very pointed attack on that area. 

Charlie Dunlap, a former Deputy Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Air Force, an indisputable candidate for impartial reasoning in terms of International Law and the U.S. military, gave his judgment of the case. To him, Doctors Without Borders has lost his respect for jumping to conclusions and throwing around such harsh accusations that carry weight. 

“What surprises me about what Doctors Without Borders is saying – an organization I previously had a lot of respect for – is they’re making conclusions before the facts have even been gathered,” Dunlap said according to PRI.

This intensifying culture of attempting to bestow ignominy on victims struggling to find justice is apparent in the words of Dunlap. Doctors Without Borders hasn’t made a conclusion, but an accusation against the U.S. military based on its involvement surrounding the attack. They are entreating an investigation to occur in an attempt to find the realities of the situation. Civilians have been killed in this airstrike and if faulty intelligence led to an unnecessary airstrike on the hospital, consequences must be dealt.

“We need to assemble the facts before we start making very, very serious accusations against people,” he claims. 

If it weren’t for the gravity of the accusations, would there be such an international, unanimous call for an independent, impartial and thorough investigation? Both the government and its military are notorious for the lack of transparency in many cases, and in the few moments of accidental exposure that are available to the public, there are some blatant discrepancies immediately noticed.  

It is true that a hospital can lose its immunity from such attacks if it is being used by the enemy for military attacks, Steven Gordon, associate professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said to CNN. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest claims the U.S. military holds the protection of civilians as a priority and no other military in the world has done a better job at avoiding civilian casualties than the U.S. Department of Defense. Even if there were such attacks present in the hospital (though accounts from those located in the hospital say otherwise), if the United States military lived up to the words of Earnest, then they would have taken several precautions before the airstrike took place. Using the least destructive weapons possible and giving warnings to civilians to evacuate immediately would have been a decent start. 

Doctors Without Borders has every right to voice their accusations and demand an investigation. This is necessary not only to the families of the victims of this airstrike, but to the rest of the world for assurance that even formidable forces such as the U.S. military can still be held in check and responsible for any and all transgressions.


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.