A growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers is calling for independent investigations into the U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed at least 22 people.
Two “Dear Colleague” letters are circulating on Capitol Hill, asking for signatories to letters that will be sent to President Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter calling for an investigation by an international commission and one by an inspector general.
“Cooperating with a thorough investigation conducted by the United Nations or other independent body would send an important message to the world that the United States is unequivocally committed to the transparency and accountability required to ensure such a catastrophic event does not happen again,” reads to the letter to be sent to Obama.
On Oct. 3, the United States carried out an airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that hit the hospital and killed 12 Doctors Without Borders staff members and 10 patients. U.S. officials have said the strike was requested of Afghan forces under fire from the Taliban and that the hospital was mistakenly hit.
The release of the lawmakers' letters comes the same day Doctors Without Borders’ executive director penned an opinion piece in The New York Times, renewing the organization’s call for an independent investigation into the incident.
“Our call for an independent international investigation is not a political gesture, pursued solely because the United States was so prominently involved in the Kunduz attack,” Executive Director Jason Cone wrote in The Times.
“Just as our medical ethics and commitment to international humanitarian law mandate that we treat all wounded persons in a conflict zone — regardless of affiliation, race or religion, and regardless of how or why they were injured — our founding principles compel us to highlight encroachments on the medical facilities through which we deliver care.”
The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, set up in 1991 under the Geneva Conventions to investigate breaches of international humanitarian law, said it would investigate. But it needs the consent of both the United States and Afghanistan before it starts.
Three investigations are underway by Pentagon, NATO and Afghan officials. U.S. officials have pledged the investigations will be thorough and transparent.
The letter to Obama was written by Reps. Keith EllisonKeith EllisonMinnesota AG ups charges against ex-police officer in shooting of Daunte Wright Trump campaign, RNC refund donors another .8 million in 2021: NYT Attorneys general looking into online fundraising practices MORE (D-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and as of Friday afternoon was also signed by Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiLawmakers urge Biden to make 'bold decisions' in nuclear review Equilibrium/ Sustainability — The gentler side of Shark Week Pelosi rebuffs McConnell on infrastructure MORE (D-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
The letter to Obama says an independent investigation will ensure that hospitals will remain protected spaces in times of war.
“We appreciate your willingness to reach out directly to MSF to apologize and your call for a Pentagon investigation," the letter says, using the French acronym for Doctors Without Borders. "We believe a civilian-led independent investigation is also necessary to ensure an impartial assessment and confidence in the findings of the investigation."
Another letter, spearheaded by Garamendi, calls for Carter to direct the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate the bombing.
“While we have faith that Brigadier General Richard Kim will conduct a thorough investigation, we strongly believe that a civilian investigation, outside the military chain of command, is the most appropriate mechanism to investigate this tragedy,” the letter says, referring to the man leading the military investigation.
In his “Dear Colleague” letter, Garamendi explains that he believes the inspector general may be better equipped to investigate than the international commission, since the United States and Afghanistan are not parties to the commission.
“While I understand the call for an international investigation, it is important to note that neither the United States nor Afghanistan are state parties to the IHFFC, putting into question our ability to participate in the process,” he writes. “Further, the Department of Defense may not be able to fully disclose the sensitive details of operations in Afghanistan to a third party, leaving that investigation without critical insight.
“Without clear rules for interaction and without a full understanding of American military operations, I fear that an international investigation alone could draw poorly-supported and unfair conclusions about the actions of our service members.”
As of Friday afternoon, Garamendi’s letter was co-signed by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Ellison.