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Obama's army commits war crime, say humanitarians

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The New York Times reports on a Swedish-run charity hospital which recently saw U.S. military forces illegally enter the building late at night for a two hour reign of terror:

Aid Group Says U.S. Troops Raided Afghan Hospital
By Sangar Rahimi

KABUL, Sept 7 (NYT) - A Swedish aid agency said Monday that American soldiers stormed through one of its hospitals in Afghanistan last week, searching men’s and women’s wards for wounded Taliban fighters, breaking down doors and tying up hospital staff members and visitors.

The soldiers also demanded that administrators at the hospital inform military authorities of any incoming patients who might be insurgents. After that, they reportedly said, the military would decide if the patients would be admitted...

[Anders Fange, the country director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan] called the episode “not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement” between nongovernmental organizations and international forces...

Mr. Fange said his group “cannot and will not tolerate this kind of treatment” by the military and would not allow troops to decide on hospital admissions... (link)

The Swedish NGO's press release on the incident spells it out:

They searched all rooms, even bathrooms, male and female wards. Rooms that were locked were forcefully entered and the doors of the malnutrition ward and the ultrasound ward were broken by force to gain entry. Upon entering the hospital they tied up four employees and two family members of patients at the hospital. SCA staffs as well as patients (even those in beds) were forced out of rooms/wards throughout the search... (link)

Reuters quotes a U.N. spokesperson on the matter:

U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was not aware of the details of the particular incident, but that international law requires the military to avoid operations in medical facilities.

"The rules are that medical facilities are not combat areas. It's unacceptible for a medical facility to become an area of active combat operations," he said. "The only exception to that under the Geneva Conventions is if a risk is being posed to people."

Believe it or not, this incident comes on the heels of a similar incident the week before -- on election day (Aug 20) to be exact. On that day, a US helicopter gunship fired at a health clinic in eastern Afghanistan where a wounded Taliban commander was being treated. While American commanders claimed that insurgents fired first from inside the clinic, questions remain. Afghan state owned television reported that "MPs from Paktika Province in the lower house regard the US air strike on the clinic as contrary to Islamic and international norms." And they are not the only ones questioning the legality of the attack:

Human rights group Amnesty International has urged NATO forces to launch a "transparent, credible" investigation into the attack, saying the military alliance may have violated international laws of war that protect wounded fighters getting medical aid.

"If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," Amnesty official Sam Zarifi said in a statement Thursday. "But if they were using the clinic for health care, NATO forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility." (link)

We can only assume it is a coincidence that the clinic in the earlier attack was built with Swedish funds.

- (Dec 07) NATO troops face war crimes trial in Poland (more here)
- (Feb 08) Torturing, killing civilians and other war crimes
- (Nov 08) Afghans allege American war crimes
- (Nov 08) Former Canadian judge and current UN human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour stated during a trip to Afghanistan that NATO forces "breach international law"
- (April 09) British war crimes
- (May 09) A U.S. war crime?
- (May 09) More American war crimes

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