By Ahmad Abu Hayyan
On Saturday 3rd October 2015, a US airstrike killed up to 20 aid workers and patients in a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz- Afghanistan. The bombardment, went on for more than 30 minutes despite the charity raising the alarm with US and Afghan officials, and destroyed much of the compound in Kunduz.
The US military has been providing bombing raids to support Afghan forces fighting to reclaim control of Kunduz from the Taliban. It admitted that an airstrike may have caused “collateral damage”.
Sarwar Husaini, a spokesman for Kunduz police, claimed Taliban fighters had entered the hospital compound on Friday evening and were firing at security forces from inside. MSF say they can’t confirm the claim. “We have absolutely no information about that,” the charity said.
“US forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz city at 2:15am [local time] on 3 October against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation,” said Col Brian Tribus, spokesman for international forces in Afghanistan.
The main building of the hospital was completely gutted by the blaze, with some bodies of those trapped inside charred beyond recognition, said Qiamudeen, a 31-year-old whose neighbour was killed in the strike. “I was shocked, emotional and in tears when I reached the hospital,” he told the AFP news agency.
At the time of the bombing, 105 patients and their carers, and more than 80 MSF international and national staff were in the hospital. At least 37 staff members were wounded in the incident, it said. None of the international doctors volunteering at the facility were hurt.
The charity said it had recently recirculated GPS coordinates of the hospital to all parties fighting in the conflict, even though it has been operating for years and is one of few medical facilities in the city so should have been well known.
Human Rights Watch said it had serious concerns about whether US forces had taken sufficient precautions to avoid striking such a sensitive target. Hospitals are among areas protected from attack under international laws governing conflict.
“The bombing of the hospital is a shocking development for Kunduz, where civilians and aid workers are already at grave risk from the fighting,” said Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher at the group. “All forces are obligated to do their utmost to avoid causing civilian harm.”
“This attack is abhorrent and a grave violation of international humanitarian law,” said Meinie Nicolai, MSF’s president. “We demand total transparency from coalition forces. We cannot accept that this horrific loss of life will simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’.”
‘Collateral damage’ dehumanises and devalues human life
The use of the pervese term ‘collateral damage’ has a purpose, which is to desensitize people from the actual incident and think about the loss of human life as an accident, an abnormally, not worth considering seriously.
The USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide defines collateral damage as “[the] unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces”.
Another United States Department of Defence document uses “[u]nintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time. Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack.”http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf
- During the 1991 Gulf War, Coalition forces used the phrase ‘collateral damage’ to describe the killing of civilians in attacks on legitimate military targets. According to Scottish linguist Deborah Cameron “the classic Orwellian argument for finding this usage objectionable would be thatit is jargon, and to the extent that people cannot decode it, it conceals what is actually going on;
- it is a euphemism; abstract, agentless and affectless, so that even if people succeed in associating it with a real act or event they will be insulated from any feeling of repulsion and moral outrage”.
Deborah Cameron (1995). Verbal Hygiene. 2 – Restrictive practices. The politics of style. “Collateral damage” and the politics of discourse. Routledge, p.72.
Terms such as ‘Collateral damage’ are designed to replace horrendous images of death and atrocities with images of something very different. This terminology is intended to prevent any emotion to be attached the incident. It prevents any thought to the actual reality to be formed.
These terms can be translated as :
- Collateral damage (dead or wounded civilians),
- Kinetic activity (shooting and bombing),
- Compounds (homes)
- Extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture by states)
‘Mowing the lawn’ in the Muslim world
The Muslim world is well versed with terms that remove emotion from incidents and mass death
Israeli military commanders described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza the Summer 2014 as “mowing the lawn”.
Barack Obama’s drone war in Pakistan (which has so far killed 2,300 people, only 4% of whom have since been named as members of al-Qaida), Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.” The director of the CIA, John Brennan, claimed that with “surgical precision” his drones “eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it”. Those who operate the drones describe their victims as “bug splats.”
During its attack on the Iraqi city of Falluja in November 2004, the US army used white phosphorus to kill or maim people taking shelter in houses or trenches. White phosphorus is fat-soluble. Even small crumbs of it bore through living tissue on contact. It destroys mucous membranes, blinding people and ripping up their lungs. The army has developed a technique it calls Shake ‘n Bake: flush people out with phosphorus, then kill them with high explosives. Shake ‘n Bake is a product made for coating meat with breadcrumbs before cooking it.
The usage of terms such as bug splats and techniques such as ‘Shake n Bake reduce human life to the animal kingdom and cooking products. Their life is worthless and is there to be consumed. There is no consideration that they have a family, they have goals, and they have ambitions and everything else which human beings strive for.
Therefore what severely disturbs many Muslims, is the practice of the west and America of preaching to the world about the sanctity of human life? How can they point to the cruelty of others when they have perpetrated immeasurable amount of death and destruction upon others? In Kunduz it was asked “Why did the US blow up the whole hospital?” said Nasratullah, whose 25-year old cousin Akbar was among the doctors killed. “We know that the Americans are very clever. If they can target a single person in a car from their planes, why did they have to blow up the whole building?”
إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَعِبْرَةً لِّأُولِي الْأَبْصَارِ
“Verily in that is a lesson for those who possess vision.” (24:44)