Wednesday October 14, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has declared that there will be a thorough investigation of the recent US destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan that killed 22, including 12 of the medical staff, with more than thirty still missing in the rubble. The hospital, run by Geneva-based Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), had informed the US headed international military force of both its location and its activities in order to avoid becoming a target for either side in fighting around Kunduz but that apparently was not enough. The US military command in Afghanistan approved the bombing, which reportedly included multiple attacks from a C-130 gunship and lasted over half an hour, though there is some confusion over what constituted the “threat” that was being responded to, MSF claiming that there were no Taliban militants anywhere near their building either using it for shelter or as a firing point. Both MSF and some senior United Nations officials regard the attack as a war crime. President Barack Obama uncharacteristically apologized for a “mistake” though he took pains not to blame the US military.
Ashton might be a brilliant physicist but he has never been a soldier in spite of his long service in the Department of Defense. I don’t doubt his good intentions when it comes to declaring United States government willingness to let the chips fall where they may but he has no idea what he is up against. The uniformed military will stonewall, run circles around him and work hard to construct a narrative that ultimately blames no one but the Afghans for what happened. In the unlikely event that they fail in that, a soldier at the low end of the process will be punished with a slap on the wrist to demonstrate that military justice works while pari passu protecting the senior commanders. And the report will not even appear until long after Kunduz is forgotten. At that point Congress and the White House will have no stomach for going after our valiant warriors so the buck will ultimately stop with a toothless report that accomplishes nothing at all.
The Secretary of Defense, who reportedly had a dual major at Yale that included medieval history, might well consider the historical precedents for his initiating an investigation. He should appreciate above all that the “A” word that must never be spoken inside the United States government is “accountability,” which is by design as the government must never be made to look bad. Without demanding accountability even meticulous investigations into possible war crimes have no meaning and are literally not worth the paper they are written on.