Blame Game: NYT, CNN play it coy naming perp in Afghan hospital bombing

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
A wounded staff member of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), survivor of the US airstrikes on the MSF Hospital in Kunduz, receives treatment at the Italian aid organization, Emergency's hospital in Kabul on October 6, 2015. © Wakil Kohsar
Bad enough a US airstrike on a hospital killing and injuring civilians. Even worse when it is followed by US mainstream media outlets attempting to obscure US responsibility.

In the early hours of 3 October a US airstrike destroyed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan run by the international medical relief organization, Doctors Without Borders. Twenty two of the hospital’s staff and patients were killed, including three children, while a further 37 were injured.

READ MORE: MSF demands independent probe into hospital airstrike in Afghanistan

Most media outlets were accurately attributing responsibility for the airstrike to the US in their initial reporting of the event. However, in what has to qualify as one of the most cynical examples of attempting to censor the facts rather than print them, the New York Times and CNN engaged in an obfuscation of US responsibility that plumbed the depths of dishonest journalism.

US journalist, Glenn Greenwald, best known for his role in helping expose the revelations of former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden on the mass and illegal surveillance of American citizens by their own government back in 2013, jumped on this mendacity in typically forensic fashion.

Writing in the online magazine, Intercept, Greenwald reveals that even though Human Right Watch and the Wall Street Journal were clearly attributing responsibility for the airstrike to the US, CNN was reporting that an “aerial bombardment” destroyed the hospital “around the same time as a US airstrike.”

This kind of abstraction begs the question of who else could have been responsible, given that only the US is currently operating in that particular airspace. Could it have been the birds in the sky? Or how about aliens from outer space? Wait a minute, but of course, it could only be Russia!

The New York Times, meanwhile, Greenwald reveals came up with this corker of headline in its original report on the atrocity: “Airstrike Hits Afghan Hospital.”

Again, we have no attribution of responsibility; just your bog-standard everyday airstrike that falls from the sky like the rain.

It is hard to conjure up words strong enough to properly express the disdain such yellow journalism deserves. Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières) posted an eyewitness account of the impact of the airstrike on its website. According to one of the organization’s nurses, Lajos Zoltan Jecs, who was in the hospital when the bombs struck, it was “absolutely terrifying.” Jecs goes on to describe how afterwards he and some of his colleagues “tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.

The US version of events has also come under a harsh light. The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, was forced to correct his initial statement that the airstrike took place after US forces on the ground in the area came under fire. He subsequently changed his statement to attribute responsibility to Afghan forces, engaged in an operation to remove the Taliban from Kunduz, which they had taken over, and called in the airstrike.

It is hard to believe that General Campbell managed to provide any comfort to the families and loved ones of those killed in the airstrike with his assurance that a US military investigation into the tragedy would report back within a few days. Indeed, Doctors Without Borders have no doubt that the attack on the hospital was tantamount to a war crime.

Christopher Stokes, the relief organization’s general director, was scathing in his response to General Campbell’s news conference at the Pentagon. “Their description of the attack keeps changing,” he said, “from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition.

Compounding Stokes’ sense of outrage is the fact that Doctors Without Borders had provided precise coordinates of the hospital’s location to all sides in the conflict prior to the airstrike.

The broader story here is the extent to which the US military operation in Afghanistan, now into its fourteenth year, has failed. Rather than destroyed, or even weakened, the Taliban in the country is resurgent. Its ability to overrun a town of the size of Kunduz is bad enough, even more worrying is the fact that Kunduz lies in the north of the country, far from the Taliban’s strongholds and usual sphere of activity in the south.

The attack on Kunduz was clearly carried out as part of a northern offensive by the Afghan insurgent group. Another provincial capital in the north, Maimana, came under assault while the battle for Kunduz was ongoing. According to the town’s governor it involved around 2,000 insurgents and was only barely repelled by Afghan security forces.

Afghanistan is a country mired in corruption and violence with scant evidence of any progress after the longest continuous foreign military deployment ever undertaken by the US. At its peak in 2011 US military personnel in the country reached 101,000, comprising the bulk of an overall NATO force of 140,000. Four years on, the number of US and NATO troops has been reduced to around 10,000.

The blood and treasure expended in trying to forge a stable, secure, and pliant state, a mission undertaken after 9/11 with imperial hubris rather than foresight, paints a grim picture of a failed strategy.

The 22 killed in this latest US airstrike on the hospital in Kunduz are merely the latest in a by now dreary and desolate human toll.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.