Even War Has Rules

Doctors Without Borders, (Medecins San Frontieres or MSF)  the Nobel Peace Prize winning NGO, suffered a precise, hour long, aerial assault by the US military on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 3, 2015. Some patients were burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling Lockheed AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building. At least 30 Doctors Without Borders staff and patients were killed. (MSF fact sheet).

The first round of munition created hot fires that burned patients in their beds.

The first round of munition created hot fires that burned patients in their beds.

Kunduz Hospital 2

The hospital was busy and fully functional   patients and 140 MSF national staff.

The attacks took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to the US Department of Defense, Afghan Ministry of Interior and Defense and US Army in Kabul as recently as Tuesday, September 29. The attack continued for more than 30 minutes after MSF first informed Resolute Support and US military officials in Kabul and Washington that it was a hospital being hit. (MSF: Kunduz Hospital Airstrike)

The hospital, now entirely closed, was the only facility of its kind in northeastern Afghanistan, providing free, life-saving trauma car to a poor, war-torn populace. The doctors treated anyone who needed help, the only requirement was that no guns were allowed inside the hospital.  In 2014 more than 22,000 patients received care, and more than 5900 surgeries were performed. Never, however, were its services more needed than in 2015, as Taliban and State forces fought for control of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest city. Without the hospital tens of thousands of people will go without medical attention.

MSF is demanding an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFCC.org) to establish the facts of this event. The Commission is not a UN body; it was created in 1991 by the Geneva Conventions that govern the rules of war. The Commission is set up for precisely this purpose: to independently investigate violations of humanitarian law, such as attacks on hospitals, which are protected in conflict zones. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is asking people to sign this petition which asks President Obama to consent to an independent investigation of the hospital bombing.

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Andrew Lanier holds sign explaining that hospitals are supposed to be protected from military attack under International Humanitarian Law: rules of law that all countries agree to. 

The US warplane that struck the hospital was a Lockheed AC-130, a very large four engine transport plane modified to carry an arsenal of side firing guns. Because the warship is so large, and because it only shoots from one side, the warship makes large circles, and fires each time it comes around. The hospital was repeated bombarded for over an hour.

Dr. Joanne Lie, MSF International President wrote in a public release: “The attack on our hospital in Kunduz destroyed out ability to treat patients at a time when we were needed the most. We need a clear commitment that the act of providing medical care will never make us a target. We need to know whether the rules of war still apply.”

In front of Kaiser Permanente Emergency room in Redwood City, CA

Fumi Tosu, Andrew Lanier and Susan Crane in front of Kaiser Permanente Emergency room in Redwood City, CA, on 11/13/2015

Geneva agreements and International Humanitarian Law do not fare well in the United States. Federal courts do not uphold treaty law, although they are challenged to do so. Torture is against international humanitarian law, and yet torture has been standard procedure at the Guantanamo prison, just for example. Building, deploying and using weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians (eg nuclear weapons, drone warfare)  is against international humanitarian law, and yet federal courts again and again refuse to allow legal argument or testimony on this topic, sending defendants to prison instead.

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Lisa Washio holds sign while Larry Purcell hands out leaflets.

Still there is a need for an independent investigation into how the attack on the MSF Hospital happened despite its protected status.  Please sign the MSF petition asking President Obama to consent to an independent investigation of the Kunduz hospital bombing.

People around the world have responded to this grievous breach of international law. Following the lead of  Felton Davis and  Carmen Trotta of the New York Catholic Worker, on November 13, 2015 we went to Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City. Hospital staff and folks walking by were thoughtful and took our leaflets.

Since 2/3 of the casualties of all wars are innocent civilians, all war today is a violation of international humanitarian law. The world believes that war is a solution to problems that face us. Catholic Workers believe that nonviolence is a solution, and that war only creates more war.