On Monday, the Pentagon issued an eye-opening report detailing troop confusion about the broader mission in Afghanistan, and a lack of clarity regarding the rules of engagement, in a review following the tragic killing of 42 people when an American AC-130 Specter Gunship opened fire on a trauma center operated by Doctors Without Borders in the Afghan City of Kunduz.
While international analysts called the attack a war crime, the Pentagon Report proposed no criminal punishment for the military personnel involved, citing a lack of intent to commit a war crime. Instead, the 12 military personnel involved face administrative punishments and continue to hold their positions within the US military with no lasting ramifications.
The incident occurred on October 3, 2015, when a US attack gunship took several passes at the hospital, firing 211 shells at the compound over a period of 29 minutes before commanders finally realized their mistake and ordered the crew to cease firing. Doctors Without Borders said that their staff reached NATO headquarters in Afghanistan minutes after the firing began, demanding an immediate ceasefire, but the heavily-armed aircraft continued firing for another 17 minutes.
The international human rights community has decried the lack of accountability in the strike, with many wondering whether civilians were intentionally compromised for the sake of eliminating a high-value target or if it truly was a mistake, as US officials claim.
The report raised the broader question of what the US hopes to accomplish by continuing to bomb Afghanistan fifteen years after America first invaded. Although the late terrorist Osama bin Laden took refuge in the country’s southern mountains, a recent public opinion poll found that over 90% of the region’s inhabitants have never heard of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
Tragedies continue to rack up in an undeclared war. US troops report confusion about their mission on the ground and how far they can go in assisting Afghan soldiers to reclaim their city. As one anonymous US official recently said, "The rules of engagement are trapped in the jaws of political confusion about the mission."
With the release of a Pentagon report that raises more questions than it answers, Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down on Wednesday with Brian Terrell, a human rights activist and the co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
What is your response to the Pentagon report on the Kunduz bombing, citing confusion?
"This is no surprise that the soldiers should be confused about the legal parameters about this war because the whole thing is criminal from the beginning to the end," said Terrell. "The soldiers on the ground are left to try to figure out the nuances actually involved in the conflict so this should not be wondered about at all, it is no surprise."
The activist described the US attacks on the Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz, detailing stories of patients "burned alive in their hospital beds" and "doctors killed at the bedside next to their patients." Terrell argues that the attack on the hospital was intentional and a war crime, further stating that the entire ongoing conflict is illegal.
"I think it is kind of an extension of the mentality of the drone warfare where someone who is not involved and not a combatant can be killed by people far away because of the accusations of a neighbor, innuendo, or patterns of behavior," said Terrell. "It is only a short distance from that to incinerating someone who you think might be a Taliban fighter in a hospital bed and anybody else in the hospital."
With the rules of engagement gray and blurry, do you expect war crimes to continue?
"Yes," said Terrell. "The disturbing thing is that the Pentagon investigated this crime which is the criminal investigating themselves despite there having been draft appeals from all levels to have an international inquiry into what happened."
Terrell questioned the Pentagon’s rationale for only issuing administrative punishment to the military personnel involved, rather than criminal punishment, as the soldiers purportedly did not intend to commit a war crime.
"The word intent is very specific in legal language," started Terrell. "It is not the same as motive. The internationally recognized test of intention is that when planning their actions, people may be aware of many of the possible and plausible consequences."
The activist stated that the soldiers should have foreseen the consequences of their actions, as the hospital’s location was well documented. He further questioned how it was possible that NATO headquarters could not have known what would occur, especially after Doctors Without Borders told them they were firing on a hospital.