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War crimes swept under the carpet

On the night of September 4 2009, Colonel George Klein of Germany ordered the bombing of two trucks in Kunduz, Afghanistan. More than 100 Afghans – most of them civilians and many of them children – died in the incident.

Despite Klein’s tragic misjudgment, he was never charged. Instead, this year he will be promoted to the rank of general.

In future, he will be sitting behind a desk in his new position as head of human resource management, while the families of his victims hopelessly await justice.

Fast forward to October 3 this year, when the area of Kunduz faces unspeakable atrocities at the hands of Nato forces once again.

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Nearly a year after United States President Barack Obama formally announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, calling it a “responsible conclusion”, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) trauma centre in Kunduz was hit by an air raid in the early hours of the morning.

It has been unequivocally reaffirmed by the MSF that all parties to the conflict, including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location (the GPS co-ordinates) of the MSF facilities in Kunduz, so it cannot have been an error. And the bombing persisted for more than 30 minutes.

The MSF has revealed that the main building where staff were caring for patients was repeatedly and very precisely hit during the raid, whereas the rest of the compound was left largely untouched. Twenty-two people, including MSF staff members, have been confirmed dead, and countless others were seriously injured.

It would be interesting to know how Colonel Brian Tribus, speaking on behalf of the US forces behind the attack, would justify his army’s gross and calculated human rights violations when he stated: “The strike may have resulted in collateral damage.”

Since when did the deliberate targeting of medical staff, patients and medical facilities become “collateral damage”?

This is not the first time the US has bombed a hospital. Following the invasion of Iraq, US airstrikes “razed to the ground” the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in Fallujah.

The US also seized the Fallujah General Hospital, arguing that the hospital’s casualty reports constituted a form of “propaganda”. Just two months ago, the Iraqi government, a US ally, destroyed a women and children’s hospital near Fallujah.

If it had been any other country but the US, the international calls of “war crimes” would have been reverberating throughout media houses. Mass condemnation, UN Security Council votes and maybe even a march led by all the leaders of the “free world” would have been front-page stories. This was a war crime by any standard.

But, given that the lives of the innocent victims are only those of Afghans, or medical staff who have dedicated their lives to helping those subjected to a war waged for economic gain, I guess the world will remain in slumber.

The carnage unleashed in Afghanistan, led by the US and supported by Nato forces, has driven the land back into the Middle Ages.

There is no single official figure for the overall number of civilians killed by the war since 2001, but estimates (most, if not all, of the sources state that their estimates are likely to be underestimates) have been collaborated for statistical purposes.

The 14-year war – the second-longest war in American history – has cost at least $1-trillion, caused 26 000 civilian deaths from war-related violence, and an additional 36 000 people have lost their lives because of incidents indirectly related to the war. Nearly 30 900 civilians have been wounded.

Aid organisations in the region estimate that up to two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental disorders related to the consequences of the war.

These numbers are used for analytical purposes, but the colossal devastation thrust upon the people of Afghanistan is unimaginable. Their projected standard of living does not promise a bright future.

Instead of being threatened with arrest and trial at The Hague, instead of being forced to be accountable for his country’s atrocious crimes, I expect to see Obama finding himself in a boat similar to that of Klein – a comfortable promotion, perhaps even as the next UN secretary general?

When it comes to the lives of the innocent victims of war – and when there is little economic or political gain in ensuring that they are protected – it seems accountability is entirely absent.

Dr Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor and the vice-chairperson of the Media Review Network

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