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War Crime in Afghanistan?: Outrage After U.S. Airstrike on Hospital Kills 22 Patients & Staff

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Doctors Without Borders is demanding an independent international inquiry into a U.S. airstrike Saturday on an Afghan hospital in the city of Kunduz that killed 22 people, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. At least three dozen people were injured. The attack continued for 30 minutes after the U.S. and Afghan militaries were informed by telephone that the hospital was being bombed. We speak with Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Doctors Without Borders is demanding an independent international inquiry into a suspected U.S. airstrike Saturday on an Afghan hospital in the city of Kunduz that killed 22 people—12 staff members and 10 patients, including three children. At least three dozen people were injured. The attack continued for 30 minutes after the U.S. and Afghan militaries were informed by telephone that the hospital was being bombed. Bart Janssens, the director of [operations] for Doctors Without Borders, described the attack.

DR. BART JANSSENS: We now know an aerial attack, of which carries very clearly the signature of being—a lot of indication that it’s been carried out by the international coalition forces in Afghanistan. What happened is that a plane arrived, and in several ways, they came four or five times over the hospital and every time extremely precisely hit with a series of impacts on the main building of the hospital. This led to the horrible results of what we see. …

The hospital is there since four years. It’s a large hospital. The compound is larger than a football ground. And we have several times communicated, through the GPS coordinates, the exact location of the hospital to all warring parties in Afghanistan. So we really don’t understand, and we definitely do not accept denotification of “collateral damage” as we heard in the beginning, in the first reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Doctors Without Borders General Director Christopher Stokes said in a statement, quote, “Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient,” he said.

Kunduz has been the scene of fierce fighting since the Taliban seized the northern city in Afghanistan last week. On Sunday, Doctors Without Borders announced it would have to withdraw from Kunduz, where they operated the only free trauma care hospital in northern Afghanistan. Some Afghan officials said the airstrike was justified, claiming Taliban fighters had used the hospital. Doctors Without Borders rejected the claim, saying, quote, “These statements imply that Afghan and U.S. forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present. This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the U.S. government to minimize the attack as 'collateral damage.'” The United States acknowledged the hospital may have been, quote, “collateral damage.” The Pentagon promised promised a full investigation into what happened. Defense Secretary Carter said, quote, “We do know that American air assets … were engaged in the Kunduz vicinity, and we do know that the structures that … you see in the news were destroyed. I just can’t tell you what the connection is at this time.”

We’re joined by a number of guests here in the United States and Afghanistan. We’re joined by Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. He was just named winner of the Right Livelihood Award. Emergency operates a facility in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, which has taken in over 40 patients from the Kunduz hospital bombed on Saturday. Dr. Gino Strada joins us from Milan, Italy.

Kathy Kelly is also with us. She is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, just returned from Kabul—she’s now in Portland, Maine—Afghanistan. Her recent article is called, “#Enough! A Campaign to End War and Focus on Food and Health.”

And we’ll go to Kabul to Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade, who works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. Dr. Hakim is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

I want to go first to Dr. Gino Strada. Though you’re in Milan, Italy, the clinic that you operate in Kabul, Afghanistan, is taking in people from the Kunduz hospital. Can you tell us what you understand, Dr. Strada, at this point?

DR. GINO STRADA: Well, we have received 41 patients that were wounded, all coming from Kunduz. They came by different means, many of them by themselves. Some of them, they were directly transferred by MSF personnel. And for our staff in the surgical center in Kabul was a great workload, because we were already at the hospital capacity, quite fully, saturated with the wounded from the area of Kabul. The number of wounded, of civilian wounded, in Afghanistan has increased and been increasing over the years. At the moment, we are having around 300, 320 war-related patients a month, which means more than 10 per day. Many of them, they come obviously from the Kabul area, but in this moment we have to cope also with this war crime that has been committed in Kunduz.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dr. Gino Strada, if you can talk about the response of the United States, saying they’d conduct an internal investigation, and Doctors Without Borders responding that it cannot be done by one of the parties involved with the bombing?

DR. GINO STRADA: Well, you know, I am a surgeon, I am not a politician. And what I’ve seen, having spent many, many years, more than seven years in Afghanistan, every time it’s the same story: There’s been a mistake or a collateral damage. Well, I see no difference between the two ideas. The reality is always the same: Civilians are killed, civilians are wounded, voluntarily or by mistake, but there’s the reality of war. In the time we are in Afghanistan, we have been looking after more than 140,000 war wounded, all in Kabul. And Kabul is just one of the three surgical centers we have in Afghanistan, the others being in Helmand province in Lashkar Gah, and in Panjshir. And it’s going on like this since years and years. So, I’m not expecting anything to come out from the investigation. This will not bring back to life those who have been killed, will not care for the wounds.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. Dr. Gino Strada is speaking to us on Democracy Now! video stream from Milan, Italy. We’re also going to go to Kabul to speak with Dr. Hakim, who works with the war wounded in Afghanistan’s capital, and Kathy Kelly, just back from Afghanistan. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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