By Ryan Hammill 10-06-2015

When I heard that a U.S. military plane blew up a hospital in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, I assumed that it was a mistake, albeit a deeply tragic one. That’s what NATO claimed.

“The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility,” their statement said.

In the heat of the battle, bombs fell where they weren’t supposed to fall.

But the “collateral damage,” 22 dead and 37 injured civilians, may not have been hit on accident.

General John F. Campbell said later on Oct. 3 that the strike came “against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members.” So we were protecting U.S. soldiers nearby and accidentally killed people in the hospital.

But in a Pentagon press conference on Oct. 5, General Campbell changed his story and said that Afghan forces, not U.S. ones, requested help after coming under Taliban fire.

“An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf,” he said.

So if the airstrike was purposeful, what was the U.S. trying to hit?

Surely not the hospital.

According to the Associated Press, “Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 10 to 15 ‘terrorists’ had been hiding in the hospital at the time of the strike. ‘All of the terrorists were killed, but we also lost doctors,’ he said.”

So the U.S. bombed the hospital on purpose, because it claimed Taliban fighters were hiding inside. Doctors Without Borders (also known by the initials “MSF” for its French name) has come to the same conclusion:

“MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz . These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital — with more than 180 staff and patients inside — because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.

The question of whether Taliban fighters actually were hiding inside the hospital is a vulgar one — even if they were there, would it have still been OK to blow up the hospital?

As Glenn Greenwald, co-founding editor of The Intercept, writes, “even if there were [Taliban members present], only the most savage barbarians would decide that it’s justified to raze a hospital filled with doctors, nurses, and patients to the ground.”

The question, nevertheless, is moot. On Twitter, Doctors Without Borders made it abundantly clear that there were no Taliban insurgents threatening U.S. or Afghan forces, as NATO claimed: “To be clear; not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside #Kunduz hospital compound prior to US airstrikes Saturday morning.”

So why did the Afghan forces ask the U.S. to bomb a hospital filled only with innocent civilians? Glenn Greenwald surmises, based on an Afghan special forces raid on that same hospital three months ago in search of an Al Qaeda member who was supposedly a patient there, that the Afghan government simply does not support the mission of Doctors Without Borders, because they “treat all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight.”

In other words, Doctors Without Borders’ pledge to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, to impartially care for and heal those in need, may have provoked the United States government — at the urging of the Afghans — to bomb a hospital, thereby committing a possible war crime.

"There are no words for how terrible it was," said a nurse in the hospital at the time.

"In the intensive care unit, six patients were burning in their beds."

In “Five Questions About the Bombing of a Hospital in Kunduz,” Amy Davidson asks at the end of her article, “Do we understand our own motives and priorities in Afghanistan?”

It’s a good question, but here’s a more pressing one:

If this is a war crime, when does the criminal investigation begin?

Ryan Hammill is a former Online Assistant for Sojourners. Follow him @ryanahammill.

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