- Widney Browndirector of programs at Physicians for Human Rights.
The latest figures from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) show the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, earlier this month killed 30 people—13 workers, 10 patients and seven others who remain unidentified. Another 27 staffers were injured, along with an unknown number of patients and caretakers. The bombing left the 94-bed trauma center in ruins and hundreds of thousands of Afghans without a critical surgical facility. Doctors Without Borders has accused the U.S. of a “war crime” and demanded an independent international probe. Just three weeks later, another MSF hospital was destroyed in Yemen, this time by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition that has waged war there since March. Doctors Without Borders says the attack will leave 200,000 people without access to medical care. “The U.S. has been very strong at condemning the Syrian attacks on hospitals in Syria, yet it is backing the Saudis in Yemen, supplying them with weaponry—just like Russia is in Syria—and ignoring the fact the Saudis are doing in Yemen everything the U.S. government is accusing the Syrian government of doing in Syria,” says Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re staying with Widney Brown, who is the head of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, to talk about attacks on hospitals. We spoke about Syria, now Yemen and Afghanistan. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to turn to Yemen, where Doctors Without Borders says the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition bombed one of its hospitals late Monday. Hospital staff and two patients managed to escape. The hospital’s roof was marked with a Doctors Without Borders logo, and the GPS coordinates had been shared multiple times with the Saudi-led coalition, most recently just two weeks ago. And while the coalition denied responsibility, Doctors Without Borders said there is no doubt the coalition is responsible.
DR. MEGUERDITCH TERZIAN: Since the beginning of the last conflict, only coalition forces’ planes are capable to organize strikes, military strikes, in the country. The other belligerents, they don’t have planes circulating in Yemen. So we have no doubt that the coalition forces bombed Heedan district, and they bombed, as well, our hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, still with us, Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights. Can you talk about this?
WIDNEY BROWN: Yes. The thing that’s so shocking about this is the U.S. has been very strong at condemning the Syrian attacks on hospitals in Syria, yet it’s backing the Saudis in Yemen, supplying them with the weaponry—just like Russia is in Syria—and ignoring the fact that the Saudis are doing in Yemen everything that the U.S. government is accusing the Syrian government of doing in Syria. In fact, the head of OCHA said that he’s seen more devastation in four months in Yemen under the Saudi-led coalition attacks than in four years in Syria.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, but what about—the United States condemns Syria’s actions, but what about Afghanistan itself, the attack on the Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan, which the United States has apologized for, but still it’s unfathomable how it happened?
WIDNEY BROWN: Yes, they’ve apologized, but from the get-go, they did everything they could to obscure what happened. So the announcement came in that there was the attack on the MSF hospital, and the U.S. government said, “Well, we were taking fire from the hospital.” Then they immediately we had to change their tone, and then they said Afghan forces were taking fire, and they were supporting the Afghan forces. Then they said they had never been given the coordinates, even though MSF operating procedure always is to give coordinates—except for in Syria, where that will get you even more targeted. And then the U.S. went back and said, “Oops, we made a mistake. We didn’t follow standard operating procedure.”
But to step in that rapidly with misinformation rather than say, “Something happened, and we need to investigate it,” shows that they have no interest in actually finding out what’s happened. And that’s reinforced by the fact that it’s a military—a two-star general, who’s leading the investigation into the attack. You don’t have an independent investigation, and that is what Physicians for Human Rights is calling for, as is Médecins Sans Frontières. They’ve actually called for the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, to activate its international humanitarian fact-finding group, which is a group of international law experts, to conduct this investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: In Kunduz, tell us what is known so far, Afghanistan.
WIDNEY BROWN: Yes, what we know is that the U.S. did strike, and it struck over a period of an hour. Immediately after the first strike, MSF called the military to say, “You’re bombing our hospital.” It continued for at least a half-hour after we know that the call was made saying that this was happening. So, the U.S. had the target. The other interesting thing is, the U.S. is now acknowledging that they were actually investigating the hospital. They are making the claim that a Taliban operative was working from the hospital. MSF denies that. MSF has no interest in allowing its clinics to become militarized because, in some cases, militarization of the clinic could make it a legitimate target. The idea that MSF would allow Taliban operatives to operate from the hospital doesn’t make any sense. The fact that they were treating Taliban fighters does not militarize the hospital. The doctors have an ethical obligation to treat anybody who needs medical care.
AMY GOODMAN: What is happening with both the U.S.-backed Saudi attacks in Yemen and with Kunduz, this attack on the hospital, that Médecins Sans Frontières has rejected the U.S.’s explanation of why they bombed the hospital and killed so many inside?
WIDNEY BROWN: Well, if it’s like most U.S. investigations of allegations of war crimes, the U.S. government won’t have an arm’s-length investigation, and there will be some form of cover-up and denial. In Saudi, there has to be some accountability. And again, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that enabled the Saudi-led coalition to make those strikes. The U.S. government cannot be a hypocrite. Neither can the U.K. and the French government, who also are criticizing Syria but not Saudi. And that needs to be addressed.