On October 3rd, a hospital managed by the French charity organization Medicins sans Frontieres (M.S.F., or Doctors Without Borders), in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan was hit repeatedly (once about every fifteen minutes) by U.S. airstrikes in an attack that lasted a little over an hour and resulted in the deaths of at least 22 people, including M.S.F. personnel and innocent Afghan civilians, including several children.
The United States was, allegedly, bombing the facility in response to reports from Afghan security forces that Taliban fighters were using the building as a stronghold, a claim later refuted by M.S.F. It also turns out that, despite initial claims by the United States that the civilians involved in the attack were collateral damage, the Afghan defense forces and coalition forces knew about the exact location of the hospital, and supplied specific G.P.S. coordinates to the U.S. military prior to the attack, which occurred at fifteen minute intervals, despite frantic calls to coalition forces from M.S.F. staff at the hospital. Several victims burned to death in their beds.
The International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) includes the following in their definition of war crimes: “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals.” It’s fairly clear that a war crime was committed in this instance, even if not by the U.S. directly, then by “coalition forces” working closely with the United States and using their military for their objectives. This alone should elicit outrage from reasonable observers, especially a U.S. thinking, observing population whose fiery outrage is triggered by individual murders, fanned, and encouraged by an increasingly hysterical media. But it doesn’t, and it gets worse.
Not only was the Kunduz hospital an important facility for M.S.F. (one which has now been razed by fire, and rendered completely nonoperational), but it was the only medical facility in war-torn northeastern Afghanistan that was capable of handling major traumas. The negative impact on the civilian populace will likely increase.
Despite the horrific implications of this individual atrocity, almost nothing will come of it in the way of consequences. President Obama issued a rare apology to M.S.F.’s International President Dr. Joanne Liu, who said she would seek international war crimes prosecution. That’s probably where it will end.
While a step in the right direction, these prosecution attempts often fall on deaf ears — especially when they lack real enforceability. It is likely that, given the dearth of attention and analysis these types of incidents are given in our mainstream media (striking when compared to the way loss of American life is analyzed), that they will simply continue to occur. More civilians will die, more war crimes will be committed by United States forces, with little in the way of reaction but an “oops” from the federal government, a general air of wincing in the media, and indifferent shrugs from even the sort of people who get up-in-arms about campus shootings and what might be racially motivated police incidents.
This attitude of indifference is severely problematic. Why is it that, even in this new world of social media immediacy, live-action reporting, and humanitarian military operations, foreign lives never matter, least of all Middle-Eastern and West Asian ones? Is it not evidence of profound international racism and a severe, timid hypocrisy that we disregard the moral implications of war crimes committed by our own government? The case could easily be made that these incidents are worse than many of the domestic ones that make us angry. We pay for this stuff. There’s a huge proportion of our tax dollars that goes towards funding these atrocities.
It’s easy to blame this discouraging reality on our media — surely it’s more profitable for CNN to spend weeks analyzing the murder of one kid in Florida, when the situation can be treated like a reality show, and every name-brand pundit and two-bit presidential candidate can be invited on to weigh in and generate revenue for the network. But the reality is that the responsibility for caring about and preventing these atrocities rests primarily with the thinking, caring, and angered citizen, who feels they shouldn’t pay for these war crimes.