Leaders of the medical organization that was bombed by a U.S. warplane last weekend insisted Wednesday that the U.S. cannot investigate itself, and demanded a formal independent, impartial investigation into whether the U.S. committed a war crime.
The president of Doctors Without Borders emphasized in Geneva the need for an impartial and independent investigation, because of the "inconsistencies" in the U.S. and Afghan accounts of the bombing Saturday in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
"We cannot rely on internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces," said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières.
The U.S. has changed its story numerous times since Saturday's bombing killed 22 people in the international aide agency's hospital. "U.S. alters story for fourth time in four days," a Guardian headline noted.
On Tuesday, Gen. John Campbell, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was U.S. special operations forces — not Afghan troops — who were communicating with the U.S. aircraft at the time of the bombing, which MSF said is tantamount to an "admission of a war crime." Campbell on Monday said Afghans requested the strike.
"On Saturday morning, MSF patients and staff killed in Kunduz joined the countless number of people who have been killed around the world in conflict zones and referred to as 'collateral damage' or as an 'inevitable consequence of war,' " Liu said. "The US attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was the biggest loss of life for our organization in an airstrike. Tens of thousands of people in Kunduz can no longer receive medical care now when they need it most. Today we say: enough. Even war has rules."
Describing the carnage that occurred Saturday, Liu said: "In Kunduz our patients burned in their beds. MSF doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked. Our colleagues had to operate on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table — an office desk — while his colleagues tried to save his life."
MSF wants an independent organization, not beholden to the U.S. government or its interests, to investigate why the hospital was bombed.
But the U.S. State Department insisted Monday that an independent investigation was unnecessary because the Obama administration already has "three investigations underway."
"I mean, frankly, I think we've proven over time that we can investigate incidents like these — like this, and as I said, hold anyone accountable who needs to be held accountable, and do it in such a way that's transparent and, I think, credible," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
The State Department insists that the U.S. is still "investigating" whether a war crime was committed, but MSF said the proof of the crime is in what the U.S. has already admitted to.
It is "perfectly sound" to assume the U.S. would oppose a U.N. Security Council resolution asking for an investigation, Toner added.
"Today we are fighting back for the respect of the Geneva Conventions," Liu said. "As doctors, we are fighting back for the sake of our patients. We need you, as members of the public, to stand with us to insist that even wars have rules."