Doctors Without Borders says U.S. may have committed war crime.

Doctors Without Borders Says U.S. May Have Committed War Crime

Doctors Without Borders Says U.S. May Have Committed War Crime

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Oct. 4 2015 2:19 PM

Doctors Without Borders Says U.S. May Have Committed War Crime

A photo published by Doctors Without Borders shows fires burning in the emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit and partially destroyed by aerial attacks on Oct. 3, 2015.
A photo published by Doctors Without Borders shows fires burning in the emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, after it was hit and partially destroyed by aerial attacks on Oct. 3, 2015.

Via Médecins Sans Frontières

Doctors Without Borders said it was closing its hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on  Sunday, a day after it was hit by what seems to have been a U.S. airstrike. The medical charity, commonly known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, increased the death toll in the bombing, saying the total fatalities amount to 22, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, and 37 people were wounded. Three of the patients who were killed in the attack were children, reports the New York Times.

"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,” the charity said in a statement on Sunday. “Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.” The sentiment echoes what U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said on Saturday. "If established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime,” Zeid said in a statement.

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The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has estimated that a preliminary investigation into the incident would be completed within days.

The medical group is pushing back on claims that Taliban fighters were using its hospital as a firing point to strike at coalition forces. The active governor of Kunduz told the Washington Post that Taliban fighters had been firing “small and heavy” weapons from the grounds of the hospital, which they used as a base. “The hospital campus was 100 percent used by the Taliban,” the acting governor, Hamdullah Danishi, said. “The hospital has a vast garden, and the Taliban were there. We tolerated their firing for some time” before responding.

Without directly mentioning the claims, MSF made clear it saw the contention was nonsense. "Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the hospital compound prior to the US air strike on Saturday morning,” MSF said. The charity also pointed out the claims that the grounds around the hospital were used by Taliban fighters don’t stand up to scrutiny. On Twitter, MSF noted that the hospital itself was “repeatedly and precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.”

MSF insists there were no insurgent fighters in the hospital at the time of the bombing.* “The gates of the hospital compound were closed all night so no one that is not staff, a patient or a caretaker was inside the hospital when the bombing happened,” the group said, according to Reuters. "In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified."

*Update, Oct. 5, 2015, at 12:41 a.m.: This piece initially quoted the Associated Press claiming its own video footage of the burned compound appeared to show weapons on windowsills at the hospital. That claim was later retracted by the AP: "further review of the images cast doubt on whether they were rifles and a machine gun or simply charred debris from the bombing."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.