Doctors group: Don't brush aside Afghan hospital attack as 'mistake'

The US airstrike on the Afghan hospital in which 22 people were killed has prompted Doctors Without Borders to call for an investigation into possible war crimes.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Joanne Liu, President of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) International, delivers a statement in Geneva, Switzerland, October 7, 2015. MSF (Doctors Without Borders) called on Wednesday for an independent international fact-finding commission to be established to probe the deadly US bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

International aid group Doctors Without Borders has called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes following the US airstrike on an Afghan hospital that left 22 people dead last weekend.

“It is unacceptable that the bombing of a hospital and the killing of staff and patients can be dismissed as collateral damage or brushed aside as a mistake,” Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, said at a news conference in Geneva Wednesday. On Tuesday the United States military took responsibility for the airstrike, calling it an accident.

Doctors Without Borders, known as MSF by its French initials, called on the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, an additional protocol set up under the Geneva Convention, to investigate the attack. Some 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed in the bombings. Another 37 people were wounded.

According to CNN, the commission, set up in 1991, has never been used before. It requires at least one of the 76-nation signatories of the additional protocol to request the commission’s formation, and is tasked with uncovering whether anyone has violated international humanitarian laws. MSF says it is talking with Switzerland about mobilizing the 15-member commission of independent experts, Reuters reports.

“If we let this go as if it were a nonevent, we are basically giving a blank check to any country” involved in an armed conflict, Ms. Liu said in Geneva.

On Tuesday, US Army Gen. John Campbell told Congress the airstrike was an accident.

"The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," Gen. Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee, promising a thorough and objective investigation, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The actual target of the airstrike remains unclear, as initial reports said that the airstrike aimed for individuals "in the vicinity" of the hospital. It’s protocol for US forces to verify a target before firing, and MSF said that the organization had informed both the US and Afghan authorities of its GPS coordinates. The Pentagon has changed its narrative of the incident since Saturday.

Although MSF has characterized the attack as a war crime, it said the goal of the inquiry isn’t about establishing “criminal liability, but rather to clarify the laws of war and the conditions under which medical teams can operate in situations of armed conflict,” reports The New York Times.

The Saturday bombings bring to light the intense pressure for results in the fight against the Islamic State and the Taliban, writes The Christian Science Monitor.

On one hand, the United States is being accused of being too scared of civilian casualties to take the fight to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

On the other, the US is being accused of razing a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan … and even continuing the attack for 30 minutes after being told what the building was….

[T]he episode raises new and pressing questions about how an airstrike could go so horribly wrong at a time when the stated goal of the Obama administration is zero civilian casualties. At best, it was a terrible mistake that illustrates how thin the line can be between waging war with a modicum of morality and committing what could be a war crime. At worst, it shows how even the most careful policies can be undermined by fast-moving events on the ground.

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