Obama’s Apology Fails to Convince Médecins Sans Frontières DOD’s Investigation Is Adequate

The MSF hospital in Kunduz after a US plane bombed it.

The MSF hospital in Kunduz after a US plane bombed it.

I noted yesterday how General John Campbell and Senator Dan Sullivan responded when Jeanne Shaheen raised the possibility of an independent investigation into the attack on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz.

Since that time, MSF had a press conference reiterating its call for an independent investigation and released before and after video from the hospital, with lots of pictures of children receiving medical care.

Yesterday, when a journalist asked if President Obama planned to apologize to MSF, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “we would want the investigations to be completed, to have a full accounting of what transpired, and some discussion about what next steps will be necessary,” suggesting the President would wait for the conclusions of the investigation.

Nevertheless, just a day later, Obama called MSF president Joanne Liu today and did just that, apologized.

While apology has been widely reported, what I have not seen reported is that Obama offered the same spiel that General Campbell offered yesterday, about how independent and swell DOD’s investigation would be.

President Obama spoke today by phone with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) International President Dr. Joanne Liu to apologize and express his condolences for the MSF staff and patients who were killed and injured when a U.S. military airstrike mistakenly struck an MSF field hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. During the call, President Obama expressed regret over the tragic incident and offered his thoughts and prayers on behalf of the American people to the victims, their families, and loved ones. Acknowledging the great respect he has for the important and lifesaving work that MSF does for vulnerable communities in Afghanistan and around the world, the President assured Dr. Liu of his expectation that the Department of Defense investigation currently underway would provide a transparent, thorough, and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident and pledged full cooperation with the joint investigations being conducted with NATO and the Afghan Government.

Shortly thereafter, Obama called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, offered an apology to him too, then reiterated their ongoing cooperation.

I’m glad Obama apologized to MSF for DOD killing 22 people at their hospital, most of them MSF workers.

But given the effort to convince everyone that this investigation — which contrary to promises has already proven to be less transparent than leaks to the NYT — will be adequate, I can’t help but conclude that a similar effort at persuasion was as much the purpose of Obama’s call as any expression of remorse.

The US sure seems to want to avoid an independent investigation into this bombing. Why?

Update: And MSF isn’t buying it. Liu came reiterated her call for an independent investigation after the call.

We received President Obama’s apology today for the attack against our trauma hospital in Afghanistan. However, we reiterate our ask that the U.S. government consent to an independent investigation led by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to establish what happened in Kunduz, how it happened, and why it happened.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

41 replies
  1. @jrwstormy says:

    This is total nonsense from the administration. Does anyone seriously believe DoD deliberately, purposefully targeted an MSF clinic? Of course not. Somebody, somewhere really screwed up. Find out who it is, hang them out to dry, and be contrite about it. Let the UN (or whoever) investigate until the cows come home, put the blame wherever it goes, and move on with life. It’s not hard.

    • emptywheel says:

      The likely answer (backed up by some RUMINT) is the Afghans did deliberately target it, making us do their dirty work. We don’t want to hang out the Afghans bc we want to stay and they want us to stay.

      • Denis says:

        MW: the Afghans did deliberately target it, making us do their dirty work.
        .
        Yeah, probably closer to the truth than you realize.
        .
        This MSF hospital was targeted on Jul01 by Afghan special forces who roughed up the staff and held them at gunpoint. Things went downhill from there. Here’s MSF version 2 days after.
        .
        http://www.msf.org/article/afghanistan-msf-condemns-violent-armed-intrusion-hospital-kunduz
        .
        One of the dead docs, Dr. Ehsan Usmani, had gone ballistic on FB against the Afghan govt. The day BEFORE the rocket attack he wrote: “A thousand curses on AfgGovt for killing & covering in dust the ppl of #Kunduz with your blind bombing” – Last FB status of slain Dr.Ehsan
        .
        1000 curses doesn’t sound like many in a hell hole like Afghanistan. I mean between the USG, the Afghan govt, and the Taliban, that many curses would be inflicted on the common person before lunch.

    • JohnT says:

      Does anyone seriously believe DoD deliberately, purposefully targeted an MSF clinic?

      After an attack lasting an hour, and repeated calls during the attack from the hospital to the US military, stating that they were a hospital. And MSF deliberately giving the US military specific GPS coordinates of where they were, and what they were beforehand
      .
      Yea, I’m raising my hand
      .
      I’ve read where people have asked, why would they do that? What would they gain by it?
      .
      But, I would ask a few rhetorical questions- why Mai Lai? Why the Morro Massacre? Why Wounded Knee?

      • bloopie2 says:

        Agreed 100%. The American military is not exceptional, it is paranoid. Everyone else is the enemy unless proven otherwise. (Isn’t that really the tenet behind American ‘imperialism’?) The American military is also cold-hearted; no sympathy for anyone. Honestly, they really don’t care about you. At all. So, you (unfortunately) have to expect that when they are getting their asses kicked by a bunch of ragheads, they will explode, and so long as there is no accountability, it will go on. Would that we had leaders who embodied the ‘Fail-Safe’ mentality of sacrificing one of your own to prove to the other side that you attack on it was accidental. Think the US will ever execute 22 of its soldiers, to prove its bona fides here? God forbid.

  2. Ed Walker says:

    Let me pose an additional question. The attacks occurred over a long period of intense shelling and bombing. But the hospital wasn’t wiped out. Of the at least 200 present, there were 22 dead and 37 wounded. If air power is so great, why weren’t more people killed and why is the compound still standing? What really happened? What was that gunship really doing?

    • prostratedragon says:

      The little I’ve seen suggests that it might be because the C130 gunship is normally equipped with fearsome artillery, but no or very light and few bombs. Then, it could have a problem taking out a concrete building, say.

      Actually, that could be the single detail that gives credence to the simple screwup/accident story line. Anything else and it would be clear, were it already not, that we should quit immediately.

  3. TomVet says:

    Come now, I’m sure you know the answer to this.

    The US sure seems to want to avoid an independent investigation into this bombing. Why?

    Because an independent investigation involves unknown third parties asking embarrassing questions, the answers to which cannot be carefully planned in advance.
    .
    “Nothing to hide – nothing to fear.”

    • Rich says:

      Coverup and diversion you say? Sounds like a job for the master blaster of disaster control, the reigning heavyweight champeen of the Army, the TSG (the The Surgeon General), Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho and freshly off her victory over the West Point boxing debacle. Certainly this situation is the perfect conversion of events to test her talents as a Nurse PhD at shutting up and humiliating a bunch of Doctors, Surgeons and Physicians from Medicins Sans Frontieres

  4. allan says:

    To calm feelings on all sides and ensure credibility, DOD needs to bring in a respected elder statesman to oversee the investigation. You know, like Evan Bayh.

  5. Casual Observer says:

    Wait. You’re telling us that the Obama admin couldn’t get their story straight on the apology either?

  6. Don Bacon says:

    to expand on the MSF message today:

    Medecins Sans Frontieres called on Wednesday for an independent international commission to investigate the deadly U.S. bombing of its hospital in Kunduz in Afghanistan, which it deems a war crime.
    The medical charity said that the inquiry would gather facts and evidence from the United States, NATO and Afghanistan, as well as testimony from surviving MSF staff and patients.
    Only then would MSF consider whether to bring criminal charges for loss of life and partial destruction of its trauma hospital, which has left tens of thousands of Afghans without access to health care, it said.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    A common strategy of the US military in Afghanistan recently has been: Yes, we’re conducting operations, but the Afghans are in the lead. I suspect that this coming “investigation” by Campbell & Co. (Campbell’s in the soup) will take a similar theme. The Afghan National Army made us do it.
    .
    Which reminds me of Flip Wilson’s Geraldine: “Yes I bought this dress, the third one this week, but the devil made me do it. Yes he did. The devil made me do it.” (check out the video here)

      • Don Bacon says:

        .
        MACV? Whew, that goes back to some SE Asia unpleasantness, which has been corrected. Vietnamese pushed the US out of their country, which is not a problem — Vietnam now enjoys PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) with the US.
        .
        I had a Hispanic friend at the time who claimed that the “V” would soon stand for a new effort in Venezuela, but they could never pull that off apparently.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    The US has experience with apologies to Afghanistan after killing citizens. Some examples:

    Nov 29, 2013 — Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, made a late-night phone call to President Karzai on Thursday after the president’s criticism became public. “He talked to President Karzai directly, expressed deep regrets for the incident and any civilian casualties, and promised to convene an immediate joint investigation to determine all the facts of what happened,”

    Mar 2, 2013 — General Dunford said that coalition forces thought they were firing on insurgent forces, and killed the boys by accident. “I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed,” Dunford said.

    Oct 23, 2012 — Gen. John R. Allen: “I offer my sincerest condolences to the families of the civilians that were killed. Additionally, I am committed to ensuring we do the right thing for the families of those harmed and we will meet with them personally to offer a condolence payment and express our deep regrets.”

    Sep 16, 2012 — Major Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the ISAF international forces, said ISAF had been made aware of “possible ISAF-caused civilian casualties” numbering five to eight, extending its sincerest condolences over the “tragic loss of life”.

    Jun 6, 2012 — General John Allen: “I know that no apology can bring back the lives of the children or the people who perished in this tragedy and this accident, but I want you to know that you have my apology and we will do the right thing by the families.”

    March, 2010 — Gen. Stanley McChrystal: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

  9. P J Evans says:

    I wonder how much truthful information the president – any party – gets from DOD and the intelligence community.
    I also wonder if the president – any party – is actually interested in learning the truth, of if lies are more comfortable.

    • Don Bacon says:

      The president (this president) always acts according to his perceived political advantage. (congress-critters too) The entire Afghan war, which he swore to expand and he did, was for his political advantage as he saw it.
      .
      This included his statement in Dec 2009 that Pakistan is a US ally, despite the assessment from his general in Kabul (McChrystal) three months earlier that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban (which is still the case). Sure it’s a dumb move, he seemed to say, but the slavish press won’t question it and a good — or “good” — war always suits a sitting president. It’s just good politics, especially for a man with no character (Obama).
      .
      As Sy Hersh wrote, truth is the first casualty of war.

      • JamesJoyce says:

        America has been played as Ike feared. Perpetual war is preferable to investment in people and infrastructure.

        Simply put… This is not exceptional behavior and never was. Mr. Hersh is correct.

        Integrity and truth are no longer American values. It is all about money and power.

        Addicts suck…

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Military services do not wash their linen in public, especially when it can embarrass their president, their fundraisers in Congress and the lobbying industry, and themselves. Being among the world’s largest bureaucracies, their normal procedure would be to deny, to attack the credibility of their critics, to disperse blame anywhere but among their own, and to limit accountability to passive voice pablum, said in a manner that denies accountability or compensation for its victims. Being able to succeed in such things is a measure of manliness and one’s success as a master bureaucrat. Such leopards rarely change their spots.

  11. jo6pac says:

    The potus says nothing anyone cares about once again. I’m shocked but not surprised. The only goal is do the talking points and in behind the curtain pull off tpp and tpip. I do have faith in the new and improved Amerikan govt. I believe this will happen with capture of the so-called of the sheeple by corp.

  12. pdaly says:

    And perhaps shelling the MSF hospital means the MSF WON’T stay and THAT outcome might be welcomed by the US, too, if it means fewer places for wounded enemy fighters to receive aid.
    .
    The MSF had to remind the DoD that a wounded fighter, receiving medical care, is a NONCOMBANT under the rules of war and that attacking an unarmed hospital is a war crime.
    .
    ““This attack cannot be brushed aside as a mere mistake or an inevitable consequence of war. Statements from the Afghanistan government have claimed that Taliban forces were using the hospital to fire on coalition forces. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital, which amounts to an admission of a war crime,” Liu said on Tuesday.

  13. Don Bacon says:

    .
    An old theme of mine — forget “war crime.” War itself is a crime. It’s organized murder against people classified as dangerous, all of them. Kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out, was the saying.
    .
    This hospital thing is a fine example, and deserves to be pursued. But let’s not for a second think that it is an isolated event. That would be unfair to all the other people who are wantonly killed in a “good war” by our Perverted Peace Prize winner.
    .
    Example? The people who destroyed this hospital knew exactly what they were doing and they enjoyed doing it. There was no hostile firing from the building, according to MSF. This was what it appears to be, unfortunately. Excuses don’t work.

    • haarmeyer says:

      “An old theme of mine — forget “war crime.” War itself is a crime. It’s organized murder against people classified as dangerous, all of them. Kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out, was the saying.”

      No, I don’t think so. War crime in this context refers to a grave breach of international humanitarian law. That law does not seek to prevent war, it seeks to limit the means and methods, in order to protect those who do not or no longer are taking an active part in hostilities. Does it always work? No. Is it pretty universally acknowledged that the means and methods of war are not unlimited? Absolutely.

      As for the “saying”: It is a quote, translated from the Latin, from Bishop Arnaud D’Amalric during the Albigensian Crusade, it was not a saying, it was an order given, and what ensued was an atrocity in which 15,000 people were slaughtered in one night. In modern terms, it was an act of genocide, as it sought to destroy in whole or in part a religious group.

      We would not be hearing about the hospital in Kunduz if it were not for the Geneva Conventions, and the hospital would not have been functioning there, nor functioning on the humanitarian rules under which it was operating, were it not for the existence of a framework of law the contravention of which is what the term “war crime” means.

      Which means if you think the war there is brutal, you should try to imagine what it would be without the existence of the concept of “war crimes”.

      • Don Bacon says:

        .
        Of course it doesn’t seek to prevent war, because war is very profitable, but I do. As for your concept of war crimes, it’s a joke. It’s only been used on feckless Africans and not on any major killers.
        .
        Again, fine, we’ll go along with this. But don’t expect expect any lessening in the brutality of war. The worthwhile only solution is to prevent it.

        • haarmeyer says:

          I genuinely wish you good luck with that.

          In the mean time, there are about 45 armed conflicts going on, involving about 40 nations and about 70 armed groups. You won’t mind if we try to effect compliance to the law in those conflicts while you save the world for us? Because a couple of years ago, in the conflict in Goma, 3 months training and discipline in upholding the law of war drastically decreased the incidence of sexual and gender based violence there and brought that particular war to a close.

          Like I said, sometimes it doesn’t work. But until your end to all wars project is ready for shrinkwrap, how about those of us who do believe in humanitarian principles do what we can to prevent or ameliorate at least the atrocities? No, we don’t really have a profit motive, most don’t even get paid.

          You are aware as per the profit thing, that bullets go for 25 cents a piece and an AK-47, the workhorse of the majority of the wars out there, currently street prices at $30?

          • Don Bacon says:

            .
            Your lovely legal conventional war in Iraq killed about a million people, mostly women and children, injured many more, and displaced about five million. That’s just one war — there are several more going on. So the law of war angle in any real sense is bullshit, a minor part of the overall crime of war. It’s like telling the fat lady that her lipstick isn’t on straight.

            • haarmeyer says:

              My war? Iraq? My only participation in it has been to help ameliorate the psychological suffering of some of those Iraqis affected by it. You need to do better profiling, your signature strikes are hitting the wrong targets.

  14. Don Bacon says:

    .
    Well, well. I commented on a previous thread about the US military destroying three hospitals in Falluja Iraq, looks like we have a trend here. Hospitals treat US enemies, seems to be a factor. …

  15. haarmeyer says:

    Most likely the U.S. will end up acceding to a fact-finding investigation and turning down the demand to accede to the one Joanne Liu is demanding — the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission. The reason is quite simple. The U.S. is not party to the 1st Additional Protocol, and beyond that, only 76 of the 180 countries that are are party to that particular commission.

    MSF has been telling everyone that the Commission and its procedures are in the Geneva Conventions. They are not. They are Article 90, AP1. MSF has every right to demand an impartial independent inquiry. They have no right to demand that a nation state submit to a treaty they aren’t party to. They can advocate for that, many of us do. They can’t demand that. It’s far above Joanne Liu’s pay grade. MSF is neither a party to the conflict nor a High Contracting Party (nation-state). Demanding justice is within their purview, demanding accession to treaties is not.

    • Rich says:

      Let those issues be sorted out and settled in court. Maybe the judge and jury won’t see it “that way” and mete out a significant bit of jury nullification for the Pros from Dover to choke on

  16. GKJames says:

    (1) Even if Obama preferred an independent investigation (and there’s zero evidence that he does), the Pentagon would have his head if he agreed to one. (2) With respect to the expression-of-remorse game, nothing ever changes; this Kunduz case will be followed by future such cases because the underlying premise itself is never questioned. And notice the difference in Obama’s approach when it comes to his demand not just for prayers and regrets, but for action when it comes to gun massacres in the US.

  17. bloopie2 says:

    If it had been a US military hospital that was “accidentally” bombed, then independent investigation or not, I’d bet that lots of heads would roll, and fast. Shouldn’t the result be the same here?

  18. Don Bacon says:

    The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called the airstrike “utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal.” Mr. al-Hussein also said, “International and Afghan military planners have an obligation to respect and protect civilians at all times, and medical facilities and personnel are the object of a special protection. These obligations apply no matter whose air force is involved, and irrespective of the location.”

    Angry Arab has pointed out that the UN’s top humanitarian al-Hussein spoke only of the obligation of “International and Afghan military planners;” the US was not mentioned in this “planning” problem.

    the rest is from wiki:
    Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein (born 26 January 1964) is the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, having taken up this post in September 2014.[1] He is the son of Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid, Lord Chamberlain of Jordan, and his Swedish-born wife Margaretha Inga Elisabeth Lind, subsequently known as Majda Raad. Previously, he was Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. From 2007 to 2010 he served as Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States

    Zeid was born in Amman, Jordan. He was educated at Reed’s School, Surrey, in England, then at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, where he was a prominent member of the university’s rugby club and graduated B.A. in 1987. He was then a research student at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he gained a Ph.D in 1993.

  19. bevin says:

    “Does anyone seriously believe DoD deliberately, purposefully targeted an MSF clinic?
    Gaa
    I certainly believe that it was very possible, not just because MSF treats all comers but because it houses credible observers likely to report what the US and its Afghan creatures are up to as they attempt to re-capture the city.

  20. Rich says:

    For Haarmeyer: All subsequent human actions are infected with a pretentious denial of human limits. But the actions of those who are particularly wise or mighty or righteous fall under special condemnation. you seem week-read. Try out Stanley Fish’s essay from Harpers a few years back addressing warfare and postmodernism and the interminably referenced Keegan’s The Face of Battle. Superficial pieties and surface niceties to which we all can assent because they are empty insipid and safe. It cuts both ways and no successful U.S. Warrior believes in the word humanitarian.

Comments are closed.