Their Unspeakable Crimes and Our Avoidable Mistakes

The other day the president said, “The killing of innocent people is an attack on the civilized world.” He was not condemning the Nov. 29, 2014 nighttime bombing by US jets that destroyed a school for the deaf and mute in Raqqa, Syria, the capital of the so-called Islamic State. Neither was he criticizing the hour-long US bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed 34.

Nor was the president apologizing for the United States’ siege-like sanctions, bombing, invasion, and military occupations of Iraq, beginning with “Desert Storm” in1991, and Afghanistan, since “Operation Enduring Freedom” started in 2001. These ongoing wars attack the civilized world by having killed as many as 500,000 innocent people; but Obama was remarking the other day on the 129 people killed by suicidal fundamentalists in Paris.

Attacking civilians is always a hideous crime regardless of who does it, but when the USS Vincennes, with advanced radar, shot down the civilian Iranian Airbus A300 airliner Flight 655 July 3, 1988, using two radar-guided missiles, the military said it mistook the Airbus for an F-14 jet fighter. All 290 passengers and crew were killed. The size difference between the two planes makes the “mistake” story completely implausible, but the Pentagon is sticking to it.
CIA and FBI documents allege that CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles was one of the “engineer[s]” of the 1976 terrorist bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455 that killed 73 passengers, according to research by Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive. Convicted of terrorism in Venezuela, Posada escaped prison and lives in Miami, Florida because the US refuses Venezuela’s demands for his extradition.

Doctors Without Borders, which operated the Kunduz trauma center, reported Nov. 5 that “medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.” I thought, “Now why doesn’t the Islamic State decapitate innocents the way the civilized world does, with warplanes.”

Reuters reported Oct. 4, “Witnesses said patients were burned alive in the crowded hospital after the airstrike. Among the dead were three children. Frantic staff telephoned military officials at NATO in Kabul and Washington [18 times] during the attack, but bombs continued to rain down for nearly an hour, one official of the group said.”

The bombing of the Afghan hospital killed 14 doctors and 10 patients. Seven bodies initially found in the wreckage were not identified for over seven weeks. DWB later said that another 27 of its staff members were wounded, in addition to many patients and caretakers.
It took until Nov. 23 for DWB to identify all the staff members who’d been killed. The group reported Nov. 23 that the hospital was, “hit with precise and repeated airstrikes for more than an hour.”

“Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants. Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated,” said the humanitarian group’s director Christopher Stokes. “The facts inside the hospital speak for themselves,” Stokes said. “The facts, in our view, demand a reaffirmation of the basic rules of war.”

The Huffinton Post Oct. 6 reported, “Originally, US military officials claimed that US forces were under threat and called for the attack. But on [Oct. 6], US Army Gen. John Campbell changed the narrative. ‘Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from US forces,’ he said. Gen. Campbell said they called for an airstrike to target the Taliban.”

David Swanson writing in Let’s Try Democracy notes that the Pentagon has refused to release video and audio tapes of the pilots who bombed the hospital. “The Pentagon says the evidence is critically important. Congress has asked for it and been refused,” Swanson reports. Tellingly, Gen. Campbell claims the hour-long attack “was a tragic but avoidable accident,” but the tapes are held tight. As Swanson suggests, “It is highly unlikely that the hidden recordings include any exculpatory comments.” If they did bolster the “mistaken bombing” story they would have been made public.

It is crucial that the Doctors Without Borders be heard in their petition for US participation in an investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. The IHFFC is the only agency explicitly created by the Geneva Conventions to investigate alleged violations of international law. Jason Cone, the DWB’s executive director in the US, has made this much clear: By agreeing to such an independent investigation, Obama could begin building some credibility which would be helpful the next time he denounces attacks on the civilized world by other states.