U.S. bombing of Afghan hospital sparks accusation of war crime
"Collateral damage" is a common side-effect of modern warfare
The cause of incidents are often murky and fault is difficult to prove
New details are emerging about the deadly U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan in what the charity has called a “war crime.”
The commander of U.S. forces there, Gen. John Campbell, said the hospital in the northern city of Kunduz had been struck accidentally after Afghan forces called in air support.
“We have now learned that on October 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces,” he said Monday. “An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat, and several innocent civilians were accidentally struck.”
The general stopped short of acknowledging U.S. responsibility.
The military previously called the bombing an incident of “collateral damage,” a description Campbell’s story would seem to support.
The term, which arose in the 1960s and has been widely used by the U.S. military since, has been criticized as “Orwellian” and in 1999 was dubbed by a German publication the “un-word of the year” for trivializing civilian deaths.
The principle of collateral damage is codified in international law however. According to Frederic Rosen, author of “Collateral Damage: A Candid History of a Peculiar Form of Death,” the key to whether an action is lawful is what precautions were taken both to ascertain whether civilians would be put at risk and that the target was definitely military.
“According to the laws of war, it is illegal to fire a rocket or mortar without using binoculars to check whether there are any civilians [in the target area],” he said.
“This is a very, very old problem that boils down to the problem of explaining imperfect human agency.”