My Statement on the Hospital Bombing in Kunduz, Afghanistan

From Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Early in the morning of October 3, the United States began bombing the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Despite the facts that the U.S. military was aware that the hospital existed there and that hospital personnel contacted the U.S. and Afghan militaries when the bombing began, the attack persisted for thirty minutes to an hour. Twenty-two people, twelve medical personnel and ten patients - including three children - died in the attack. Thirty-seven were wounded. A nurse recounted seeing children in the Intensive Care Unit burning in their beds and stated that nothing could be done to save them.

Rather than taking responsibility for the bombing, the U.S. military initially tried to deflect the blame by claiming that the bombing was collateral damage from a nearby fight and that Taliban were hiding in the hospital compound. Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers or MSF) contradicted those statements with factual information. None of the excuses turned out to be true and in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on October 6 the commander in charge, General John Campbell, admitted that bombing the hospital was a decision made within the U.S. chain of command and that it was a mistake. However, the military is refusing requests from Doctors Without Borders for an independent investigation into the incident.

Attacking medical personnel is a violation of international law according to Geneva Convention Article 25 which states “Medical personnel exclusively assigned to medical duties must be respected and protected in all circumstances.” This provision dates back to 1864 and was reaffirmed last December in a resolution passed by the United Nations’ General Assembly.

I attended the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing to protest the lack of accountability for this outrageous action by the U.S. military. Appropriate steps must be taken to hold those responsible for this incident accountable. Mechanisms must be put in place to make sure that medical personnel aren’t targeted again.

As a result of this attack, MSF has pulled out of the hospital in Kunduz, “the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, offering essential medical and surgical care,” according to a statement by MSF International President, Dr. Joanne Liu. The hospital treated nearly 400 patients in the week prior to the bombing. This is a great tragedy for the people of Afghanistan and for all medical personnel who provide humanitarian aid in war zones.

As a practicing physician, when a bad outcome occurred, I worked to find out why and how similar outcomes could be prevented in the future. To me, this is the responsible course of action. Rather than shirk responsibility, we must demand that the U.S. military do the same. I ask you to join me in supporting MSF’s call for an independent investigation. Visit their website to learn how.

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