America must take full responsibility for mistaken bombing of hospital in Afghanistan

Kevin Rafferty says Obama needs to apologise and make reparations for the US Armed Forces’ ‘tragic and unnecessary accident’ in bombing an MSF hospital in Afghanistan, and put those responsible on trial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 1:47pm

On October 3, a US AC-130 gunship in Afghanistan destroyed a well identified and clearly marked hospital in Kunduz, killing 30 doctors, nurses and patients, with several children among the dead.

America’s top general in Afghanistan, John Campbell, this week admitted a catalogue of mistakes, including failure to follow proper procedures, equipment malfunctions and turning a deaf ear to 17 minutes of pleading from terrified staff at the Medicins Sans Frontieres hospital under aerial attack.

Reporting on the US military investigation into the attack, Campbell concluded that it was a tragic and unnecessary accident.

No amount of apologising or money can bring back the dead. But Obama owes this to the victims, and also to his own and America’s reputation

Barack Obama, in his roles as president and commander in chief of the US Armed Forces, must make a public apology for this war crime against civilians.

He must also offer handsome compensation to the families of the victims; pay for replacing and re-equipping the hospital; put those responsible on trial publicly; and explain what steps are being taken to avoid a repeat of the atrocity. No amount of apologising or money can bring back the dead. But Obama owes this to the victims, and also to his own and America’s reputation as a civilised power.

READ MORE: When apologies for hospital air strikes are not enough

Americans may claim that they, unlike other countries responsible for civilian atrocities, have admitted to their misdeeds and investigated and reported on the “incident”, another weasel word. The investigation itself is troubling, even though it admits to too many errors for what is supposed to be a professional military operation.

READ MORE: United States owes world full and frank explanation on Afghan hospital air strike

The hospital, including a trauma centre, was not a tent or field hospital but a well-equipped construction largely reduced to rubble by bombing that went on for 29 minutes. It was an international civilian facility and the attack came under Nato command, so an independent international investigation with powers to bring the perpetrators to justice would have been in order.

The US military report has not been made public and does not name names of those responsible. The military said that those closely involved have been suspended pending disciplinary action.

This is not good enough. By Campbell’s own account, his troops fell short of professional military conduct, let alone the duty of care and attention to civilians.

It is not an excuse to say that this is war and, in war, tragic incidents happen. There are international rules concerning the treatment of civilians and the American military broke them. Without an apology and public commitment to change, Obama will be signalling that in war, the law of the jungle prevails – which would be a disaster for civilisation, including the US.

Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator