What do the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia have in common? All three nations have, based on credible reports, intentionally dropped bombs on working medical facilities in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, respectively.
The Associated Press reports that U.S. special forces operating in Kunduz ordered airstrikes on a known Doctors Without Borders hospital, perhaps in the mistaken belief that the hospital contained Taliban fighters, despite what DWB (or MSF) had previously told the U.S. forces– no insurgents were in the hospital compound. Not at all in dispute was that there were wounded people being treated in the hospital, which, under the laws of war (in which we attempt to make humane that which is inherently inhumane), makes destroying a hospital illegal.
Meanwhile in Sarmin, Syria, a field hospital was hit by Russian airstrikes on Oct. 20, killing two Syrian American Medical Society personnel and 10 civilians, and injuring 28. Russia has, according to SAMS, bombed eight other hospitals in Syria since the Russians joined the violent mayhem currently tearing apart Syria and sending millions of its people fleeing to Europe.
And today a report from Yemen that another Doctors Without Borders hospital was hit by missiles launched from an aircraft of the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition fighting Houthi rebels. One patient was in critical condition. DWB had made sure the location of the hospital was known to the Saudi coalition. The U.S. administration is now concerned about the perception of its support of the airstrikes in Yemen which have already killed some 1,500 civilians.
Yes, we can give everyone the benefit of the doubt, chalking the bombing of hospitals up to the “fog of war.” But beneath the “fog” is something far more elemental– the inhumane folly of war itself, the mistaken idea that we can limit the destruction and death and play by the rules, honor the law. What these airstrikes show is that however much nations insist on fighting wars honorably, the ultimate law of war is victory at any cost. And the cost is our humanity.