Why Bombing a Hospital Is a War Crime
By Robert C. Koehler
October 08, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - “We tried to take
a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was
inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive
Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.”
Lajos Zoltan Jecs, a nurse at the hospital the U.S. bombed in
Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people: doctors, staff, patients
(including three children). This image is now spiraling through the
Internet and across the global consciousness.
The hospital was not “collateral damage”; it was
deliberately targeted, deliberately destroyed, in multiple bombing
runs that lasted at least half an hour. Médecins Sans Frontières
(Doctors Without Borders), which operated the hospital,
its sources in the U.S. government immediately, pleading for the
attack to stop — to no avail. The bombing continued until the
hospital, with more than 180 occupants, was destroyed.
And we’re left with the aftermath of a mass
murderer spree, except the killer isn’t dead or hogtied and shoved
into a police wagon. The killer gives a press conference.
Oh same old, same old!
The killer offers condolences, promises to
investigate itself. “If errors were committed, we will acknowledge
them,” said Gen. John Campbell, commander of American forces in
Afghanistan. The killer, as usual, flees from any real
But this time, maybe . . . maybe . . . something
is different. The organization that ran the demolished hospital, as
Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, is a Western-based
international humanitarian association with media credibility and
powerful support outside the Third World. It’s not like we’ve simply
bombed another wedding party or killed a few more women and children
in an outlying village. On this occasion, those who have suffered
also have a global voice.
Jecs’ words cry out from the MSF website: “It was
crazy,” he said. “We had to organize a mass casualty plan in the
office, seeing which doctors were alive and available to help. We
did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died
there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough.”
And the world, or a sizable piece of it, can put
itself inside the burning, deliberately bombed hospital. And the
U.S. is accused of committing a war crime.
I’ve been pondering those words ever since they
entered the conversation: pondering their moral weight, their
heart-stopping, accusatory coldness. My initial reaction was, well,
of course it’s a war crime. Indeed, the two words, “war” and
“crime,” ought to be inextricably linked. It’s impossible to wage
war — especially the way a superpower wages war, with so many
weapons of mass destruction at the ready — without violating
conventional moral strictures, without killing civilians in
mind-numbing numbers, with virtually every action.
So why is this different? Bombing a hospital,
especially with deliberate intent — apparently at the behest of the
Afghan government, which has hated the hospital for treating the
injured regardless what side they’re on — is depraved and utterly
reckless. Not only did the U.S. kill patients and staff members from
all over the world, who were working there because of a commitment
to give help to those in harm’s way, but it destroyed one of the few
medical centers in a city with a population of over 300,000.
All of this clearly makes the act a crime by any
moral standard, but in point of fact, we’ve been doing this for so
long and causing so much horrific damage — in the long term as well
as the short term, considering, for instance, the environmental
consequences wrought by the use of depleted uranium missiles and
bombs — that one more act of carnage, 22 more murdered civilians,
hardly seems more “criminal” than all that happened throughout the
Middle East before the Oct. 3 bombing.
Nevertheless, I felt a need, in my heart and in
our collective heart, to address the bombing’s strategists and
apologists with moral directness, of the sort my friend
Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a long-time
antiwar activist, recently described:
“Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq,”
she wrote, “a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly
go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and
well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities,
water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl
banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: ‘To
Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.’ We encouraged people in U.S.
cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in
Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.”
She encouraged doing this again and, in fact, a
public demonstration was held in front of Stroger Hospital,
Chicago’s enormous county hospital, protesting the Kunduz bombing.
Suddenly I imagined Americans standing in front of every hospital in
the country, proclaiming that there’s no difference between bombing
a hospital in Afghanistan and bombing one here.
And that’s when I realized the significance of
calling the bombing a war crime. Doing so attempts to bring both
moral and legal force to bear on what was done and interrupts the
post-war-crime press conference. Indeed, the act creates — births —
this force: an international conscience.
Because the outrage is global, the time is ripe.
To call the bombing of the Kunduz hospital a war crime and act on
what must happen because this is the case – to demand reparations,
healing and a public rethinking of the aims of this war – is,
perhaps, the most effective way people have, at this juncture of
human history, to address war itself, to stand up to its powerful
perpetrators and put a halt to their uncontrolled behavior.
Robert Koehler is an
award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated
writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at
the Wound (Xenos Press), is still
available. Contact him at
email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.