After Deadly U.S. Bombing, Doctors Without Borders Wants Independent Probe

Photo: Wakil Kohsar/Getty Images.
A Doctors Without Borders staff member wounded in Saturday's bombing of a hospital run by the clinic receives treatment in Kabul.
When U.S. military airstrikes hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on Saturday, uninjured staff scrambled to save everyone they could.

But the aftermath was devastating: 12 staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed in the bombing conducted by U.S. military forces. And 37 more, including 19 staff, were injured.

"In Kunduz, our patients burned in their beds. Our doctors, nurses, and other staff were killed as they worked," Jason Cone, the group's U.S. executive director, said at a news conference at Doctors Without Borders' New York office on Wednesday. "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."

Now, as they mourn colleagues and patients lost in the strike, the organization is demanding answers — and accountability — from U.S. and Afghan officials.

Doctors Without Borders, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, called for a first-of-its-kind independent investigation into whether the strike constituted a violation of international humanitarian law.

The bombing, Cone said, "was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions."

"This cannot be tolerated," he said. "These conventions govern the rules of war and were established to protect civilians in conflict, including patients, medical workers, and facilities. They bring some humanity into what is otherwise an inhumane situation."

Sunday's strike came amid renewed conflict and violence in the region. Doctors Without Borders, which reported treating nearly 400 wounded people since the fighting intensified late last month, said it had informed U.S. officials that it was operating a hospital at the site of the bombing as recently as September 29.

Staff on the ground reported no fighting at the hospital or advanced warning ahead of the strike, Cone said.

In Kunduz, our patients burned in their beds. Our doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked.

Jason Cone, Doctors Without Borders
On Tuesday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the hospital was "mistakenly struck" as part of a decision to conduct airstrikes that was "made within the U.S. chain of command."

"We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to the Associated Press.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also told reporters on Wednesday that the president apologized to Doctors Without Borders' International President, Dr. Joanne Liu in a telephone call earlier in the day, ABC News reported.

President Obama, Campbell and other U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter, have pledged a full investigation into what happened. But MSF officials say they still want an independent probe.

Doctors Without Borders wants at least one nation to sponsor an inquiry by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, an organization Cone said was created "specifically to investigate violations of international humanitarian law."
An official call to investigate would mark the first time the commission was activated since its creation in 1991. None of the 76 nations empowered to sponsor an inquiry had agreed to the request as of Wednesday morning, Cone said.

Doctors Without Borders expects to release a list of the victims once it has finished notifying families of those killed in the strike, Cone said. Some of the injured remain hospitalized in Afghanistan.

Doctors Without Borders, which does not receive any governmental funds, accepts donations here.

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