CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Oct 5 2015
Much of the ‘world’ (my sneer quotes – RB) spent the last 48 hours expressing revulsion at the Pindo airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz. It was quite clear early on that the perpetrator of the attack was Pindostan, and many media outlets and other organizations around the world have been stating this without any difficulties. A straightforward WSJ headline states:
Pindo Airstrike Kills 19 at MSF Hospital in Afghanistan.
Under that appears this equally clear lede:
A Pindo airstrike in the Afghan city of Kunduz killed at least 19 people at a hospital run by international medical-aid organization MSF early Saturday, prompting condemnation from humanitarian groups and the UN.
Pindo Airstrike Hits Kunduz Hospital.
And so on. Even the media outlets that early on took a more cautious approach nonetheless prominently identified the key fact in their headline and/or lede right from the start: namely, who was the likely perpetrator. This Vice.com headline states:
19 Dead After Apparent Pindo Airstrike Hits MSF Hospital in Afghanistan.
19 killed after Afghan hospital hit in suspected Pindo airstrike.
NPR in its first sentence definitively stated that the hospital was hit by “an aerial attack carried out by Pindo forces.” But not CNN and the NYT. For the last 36 hours, and up through this moment, this is the extraordinary opening paragraph in the featured article on the attack from the cable news network:
We’re bravely here to report that these two incidents perhaps coincidentally occurred at “about” the same time. There was a hospital that blew up, and then there was this other event where the Pindosis carried out an airstrike. As the blogger Billmon wrote:
London 1940: Civilians throughout the city were killed at about the same time as a German air strike, CNN reports.
The entire article is designed to obfuscate who carried out this atrocity. The headline states:
Air attacks kill at least 19 at Afghanistan hospital; Pindostan investigating.
What’s the Pindosi role in this incident? They’re the investigators, like Sherlock Holmes after an unsolved crime.
The article itself repeatedly suggests the same:
Pindostan said it was investigating what struck the hospital during the night.
It’s a fascinating whodunit and Pindostan is determined to get to the bottom of it. Offering a tantalizing clue, CNN notes:
The circumstances weren’t immediately clear, but the Pindo military was conducting an airstrike in Kunduz at the time the hospital was hit, Pindo Army Col Brian Tibus said.
So Pindostan commits a repugnant atrocity that at the very best was reckless, and CNN can’t bring itself to state clearly who did it. In its own special way, the NYT has been even more craven. Its original article on the attack opted for this bizarrely agent-less formulation:
Some airstrike, travelling around on its own like a lost tourist, ran into a hospital in Afghanistan. Admittedly, for sheer propagandistic obfuscation, nothing will ever top the repellent missile-tourism headline chosen by the NYT when Israel bombed a Gaza cafe in 2014 and killed 8 people:
Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup.
The article in the NYT’s Sunday print edition illustrated the pains the paper was suffering to avoid framing the story as what it was: a Pindo airstrike on a hospital. This is what readers of that paper saw on Sunday morning:
In fairness, this is a modest improvement from the day before, as it at least constitutes an acknowledgment that there are some people in the world who are blaming Pindostan for what happened, but none who are at the NYT of course! That led Kade Crockford, in exasperation, to offer this obvious editorial suggestion:
Even as of this morning, more than 48 hours later, the NYT continues to obscure who perpetrated this attack. In a long article about the effects on the region’s residents from the destruction of their only hospital capable of advanced care, one reads and reads some more without any mention of who actually did this:
Note the lovely claim in the first paragraph that things have become so very “precarious for residents caught between government troops and Taliban militants after the withdrawal Sunday of an aid group that was one of the last providers of medical services there.” In addition to “government troops and Taliban militants,” they’ve also sort of been “caught between” massive Pindo firepower that destroyed the hospital in question, though this unpleasant fact has been vanished from the NYT’s narrative of this event. It’s not as though these media outlets have any doubt about who did this. Both the NYT and CNN eventually get around to acknowledging that it was Pindostan who did it. In today’s NYT article, for instance, the paper generously acknowledges in the third paragraph:
The Pentagon … has said it may have inadvertently struck the hospital during a military operation.
In the fourth paragraph, it grants anonymity to a “senior Pindo military official” to justify why “Pindo forces on the ground then called for air support,” and then all the way down in the tenth paragraph, finally gets around to acknowledging:
The attack … appeared to have been carried out by Pindo aircraft.
Pindostan and its
allies vassals, in both the Afghan government and its own media, have now switched course from the “it was a collateral damage mistake” cliché to the proud “yes we did it and it was justified” boast. Indeed, a large bulk of today’s NYT article, ostensibly about the effects of the hospital’s destruction, is actually devoted to giving voice to those who are justifying why the hospital was attacked, even as the framing of the article is designed to suppress the identity of the perpetrator. But from the start, not even the Pindo military had the audacity to try to obscure that they did this. They left that dirty work to their leading media outlets, which as usual are more than eager and happy to comply.
The Radically Changing Story of the Pindo Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Oct 5 2015
When news first broke of the Pindo airstrike on the MSF hospital in Kunduz, the response from the Pindo military was predictable and familiar. It was all just a big, terrible mistake, its official statement suggested. An airstrike it carried out in Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Oops: our bad. Fog of war, errant bombs and all that. This obfuscation tactic is the standard one that USrael both use whenever they blow up civilian structures and slaughter large numbers of innocent people with airstrikes. Citizens of both countries are well-trained, like some tough, war-weary, cigar-chomping general, to reflexively spout the phrase “collateral damage,” which lets them forget about the whole thing and sleep soundly, telling themselves that these sorts of innocent little mistakes are inevitable even among the noblest and most well-intentioned war-fighters, such as their own governments. The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic. It requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase in the first 48 hours, and throw enough doubt on what happened, and the media will quickly lose interest.
But there’s something significantly different about this incident, that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the Pindosi military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into Pindosi news stories, and when they do, they are streamrolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the Pindo military, which are typically treated by Pindo media outlets as unassailable authority. In this case, though, the Pindo military bombed a hospital run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored. Doctors who travel to dangerous war zones to treat injured human beings are regarded as noble and trustworthy. They’re difficult to marginalize and demonize. They give compelling, articulate interviews in English to Pindo media outlets. They are heard, and listened to. MSF has used this platform, unapologetically and aggressively. They are clearly infuriated at the attack on their hospital and the deaths of their colleagues and patients. From the start, they have signalled an unwillingness to be shunted away with the usual “collateral damage” banalities:
More important, they have refused to let the Pindo military and its allies get away with spouting obvious falsehoods. They want real answers:
As Spencer Ackerman put it last night:
In particular, MSF quickly publicized numerous facts that cast serious doubt on the original Pindo claim that the strike on the hospital was just an accident. To begin with, the organization had repeatedly advised the Pindo military of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital. They did so most recently on Sep 29, just five days before the strike. Beyond that, MSF personnel at the facility “frantically” called Pindo military officials during the strike, to advise them that the hospital was being hit and to plead with them to stop, but the strikes continued in a “sustained” manner for 30 more minutes. Finally, MSF yesterday said this:
All of these facts make it extremely difficult, even for Pindo media outlets, to sell the “accident” story. At least as likely is that the hospital was deliberately targeted, chosen either by Afghan military officials who fed the coordinates to their Pindo military
allies overlords, or by the Pindo military itself, or both. Even cynical critics of Pindostan have a hard time believing that the Pindo military would deliberately target a hospital with an airstrike, despite how many times Pindostan has destroyed hospitals with airstrikes. But in this case, there is long-standing tension between the Afghan military and this specific MSF hospital, grounded in the fact that MSF, true to its name, treats all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight. That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before. In July, Reuters reported that Afghan special forces “raided” this exact MSF hospital in Kunduz, claiming an AQ member was a patient. This raid infuriated MSF staff:
The French aid group said its hospital was temporarily closed to new patients after armed soldiers had entered and behaved violently towards staff. “This incident demonstrates a serious lack of respect for the medical mission, which is safeguarded under international humanitarian law,” MSF said in a statement. A staff member who works for the aid group said, “The foreign doctors tried to stop the Afghan Special Operations guys, but they went in anyway, searching the hospital.”
Pindostan had previously targeted a hospital in a similar manner:
In 2009, a Swedish aid group accused Pindosi forces of violating humanitarian principles by raiding a hospital in Wardak province, west of Kabul.
News accounts of this weekend’s Pindo airstrike on that same hospital hinted cryptically at the hostility from the Afghan military. The first NYT story on the strike, while obscuring who carried out the strike, noted deep into the article:
The hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked Afghan security forces.
Al-Jazeera similarly alluded to this tension, noting:
A caretaker at the hospital, who was severely injured in the air strike, told Al Jazeera that clinic’s medical staff did not favour any side of the conflict. ‘We are here to help and treat civilians,’ Abdul Manar said.
As a result of all of this, there is now a radical shift in the story being told about this strike. No longer is it being depicted as some terrible accident of a wayward bomb. Instead, the predominant narrative from Pindo sources and their Afghan allies is that this attack was justified, because the Taliban were using it as a “base.” Fox ‘News’ yesterday cited anonymous “defense officials” as saying that while they “‘regret the loss’ of innocent life, the incident could have been avoided if the Taliban had not used the hospital as a base, and the civilians there as human shields.” In its first article on the attack, the WaPo also previewed this defense, quoting a “spokesman for the Afghan army’s 209th Corps in northern Afghanistan” as saying that Taliban fighters were hiding in “people’s houses, mosques and hospitals, using civilians as human shields.” AP yesterday actually claimed that it looked at a video and saw weaponry in the hospital’s windows. Later it was to delete that claim, with a correction. Billmon nailed it:
The NYT today, in a story ostensibly about the impact on area residents from the hospital’s destruction, printed paragraphs from anonymous officials justifying this strike:
There was heavy gunfire in the area around the hospital at the time of the airstrike, and that initial reports indicated that the Pindos and Afghans on the ground near the hospital could not safely pull back without being dangerously exposed. Pindo forces on the ground then called for air support, senior officials said. […] Many residents of Kunduz, as well as people in Kabul, seemed willing to believe the accusations of some Afghan officials that there were Taliban fighters in the hospital shooting at Pindo troops. […] Still, some Afghan officials continued to suggest that the attack was justified. “I know that there were civilian casualties in the hospital, but a lot of senior Taliban were also killed,” said Abd’ul-Wadud Paiman, a member of Parliament from Kunduz.
So now we’re into full-on justification mode: yes, we did it; yes, we did it on purpose; and we’re not sorry, because we were right to do so, since we think some Taliban fighters were at the hospital, perhaps even shooting at us. In response to the emergence of this justification claim, MSF expressed the exact level of revulsion appropriate:
MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and Pindo forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present. This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the Pindosi government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’ There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.
From the start, MSF made clear that none of its staff at the hospital heard or saw Taliban fighters engaging Pindo or Afghan forces:
But even if there were, only the most savage barbarians would decide that it’s justified to raze a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and patients to the ground. Yet mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what the Pindo military did, either because it chose to do so or because its Afghan allies fed them the coordinates of this hospital which they have long disliked. As a result, we now have Pindo and Afghan officials expressly justifying the consummate war crime: deliberately attacking a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients. And whatever else is true, the story of what happened here has been changing rapidly as facts emerge proving the initial claims to be false. Just as this article was being published, NBC ‘News’ published a report making clear that even the latest claims from the Pindo and Afghan governments are now falling apart:
The Pentagon’s top four-star commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen John Campbell, now claims that local Afghan forces asked for air support. Pindo forces were not under direct fire just prior to the Pindo bombardment. The Pentagon had previously said Pindo troops were under direct fire.
UPDATE: Responding to the above-referenced admission, MSF has issued this statement:
Today the Pindosi government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and MSF staff. Their description of the attack keeps changing, from collateral damage to a tragic incident to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is that Pindostan dropped those bombs. Pindostan hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The Pindosi military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the Pindosi and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.
Pindostan seems to have picked the wrong group this time to attack from the air.