The American military has often put a price on the lives of civilians it has killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. By making so-called condolence payments — which range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands — commanders have sought to compensate victims’ families for dead relatives, injuries and damaged property.
Sometimes wads of cash have been delivered with an apology. In rare instances, there have also been full accountings of the facts. The Pentagon, having gone through this grim ritual for so many years, might be expected to carry it out with some measure of fairness and diligence. But so far its treatment of the victims of the air attack in October on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in northern Afghanistan has been wholly inadequate.
After more than six months, the Pentagon has yet to fully explain what went wrong the night an American AC-130 gunship repeatedly bombed the hospital in Kunduz, killing 42 people and wounding dozens. Officials have called the airstrike a case of “avoidable human error,” but they have not said why they struck a facility whose location had been made known to them repeatedly.
Earlier this year, the American military offered $6,000 to the families of each person killed and $3,000 to those who were wounded. “We think it’s insulting,” Jason Cone, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, said in an interview. Abdul Ghadir, who lost a 12-year-old daughter in the bombing, described feeling powerless as he took the cash. “The money is obviously not enough compared to the life of my daughter,” he told Newsweek. “I had no other choice but to accept what they gave me.”
Adequately compensating the victims is the least the American government can do. Taking stock of the needs of the survivors and coming up with a reasonable plan to help them rebuild their lives could have been done in a matter of days. As Mr. Cone points out, many hospital staff members have injuries that are going to affect their ability to earn any sort of income. The Pentagon has refused to discuss how it has compensated the victims “out of respect for the privacy of those involved.”
Last month, Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the new top commander in Afghanistan, flew to Kunduz and apologized to the victims. “I grieve with you for your loss and suffering, and humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness,” General Nicholson said, delivering an unusually unqualified apology for a wartime commander.
The apology should have come months earlier. It remains inexcusable that the military has not explained to Doctors Without Borders, and to the victims, who is to blame for one of the deadliest war zone blunders in recent history. “For us, what’s important is an establishment of the facts in a more detailed way,” Mr. Cone said. “What happened, what procedures were not followed properly, what corrective measures might be made.”
Lt. Col. James Brindle, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military had concluded its review of the attack and was redacting a version for public review. The military has said that the individuals “most closely associated with the incident have been suspended from their duties,” but it has refused to identify them or their ranks.
Lethal mistakes are an inevitable part of combat. But a callous response to a blunder of the magnitude of the Kunduz attack is unjustifiable and entirely avoidable. According to New York Times.