The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Last October, a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship shelled a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, for nearly 30 minutes. The military was looking for a Taliban command center, but instead destroyed a facility operated by Doctors Without Borders. The international aid organization says 42 people – many of them women, children and medical personnel – died. A hundred people were being treated at the hospital at the time of the attack.
International outrage was swift. The Pentagon quickly admitted the assault was the result of human error and promised a thorough internal report that would assign blame and punishment. President Barack Obama issued an apology.
The loss of life prompted the organization to leave the region because it couldn’t guarantee the safety of its workers or patients. The organization, founded in France and known primarily as Medecins Sans Frontieres, was not satisfied with the Pentagon’s assurances that it could mount a comprehensive inquiry and called for an independent international investigation to guarantee transparency. Its leaders called the attack a “war crime.”
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On Friday, the Pentagon announced that 16 military personnel will be disciplined for their roles in the attack, but not court-martialed. It concluded that the airstrike was the result of human error and equipment malfunction. Accidents, incompetence and bad judgment are not war crimes, according to the commanders.
For failing to follow the military’s rules of engagement, punishment will include letters of reprimand, extensive retraining, suspensions and removal from command. This will effectively end a few careers and prevent promotion to higher ranks for all, but it is not the robust response that Doctors Without Borders called for.
The Pentagon apologized for the loss of innocent Afghan life and authorized condolence payments to 170 individuals and families as compensation. Nearly $6 million has also been allocated for the construction of a new hospital in Kunduz. Still, one has to ask whether the lack of court-martials in this case is a reasonable response to the facts. Is the idea of military justice an oxymoron when the military investigates itself?
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