US Air Strikes on Hospitals

Recently I commented on a list of eleven US air attacks on civilian targets.  The purpose of the exercise was to gain insight into the likelihood that the strike on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was intentional, i.e., done with knowledge that the facility was a hospital.

A weakness of using these eleven incidents for this purpose is that none of them were actually attacks on hospitals.  However, shortly after publishing my article friends made me aware of some hospital strikes.

The incidents are below.  As before, I give my subjective judgments of the probabilities the attacks were intentional.  These are on a scale from 0 to 1 where 0 means definitely unintentional and 1 means definitely intentional.

Falluja, November 2004  –  0.4

This article and this article describe a newly built hospital reduced to rubble at the beginning of the second siege of Falluja in November 2004.  The information is sketchy but it appears that many on the US side believed that Falluja hospitals had inflated civilian casualty figures during the first siege.  So there was a tendency to view hospitals as connected to the enemy camp.

There had also been a raid by Iraqi commandos on a different hospital in Falluja.  This suggests a climate of disrespect for hospitals. On the other hand, this hospital was raided rather than bombed so there doesn’t seem to have been a general policy of bombing hospitals.

Moreover, civilians were told to leave Falluja prior to the siege.  After this the US appears to have regarded remaining people as presumptively legitimate targets.  Injured fighters tend to flow toward hospitals, providing a further reason why they could be targeted.

So it seems plausible to me that the US could have viewed a hospital in Falluja at this time as a target.

Rutbah, Iraq, March 2003  –  0.05

This entry is in the Iraq Body Count database.  There is little to go on here other than the fact that it was during the “shock and awe” stage of the invasion where a lot of things were happening really fast.   Also, it’s a children’s hospital which means there would have been little reason to suspect that insurgents were being treated there.

This looks unintentional to me.

Mogadishu, Somalia, June 1993  –  0.05

This article by Alex de Wall is extremely interesting but, again, the information is sketchy.  Unfortunately, there was never an investigation so there is little hope that we will learn more about it.  But I can’t see a reason to suspect that the attack was intentional.

Looking at these incidents makes me somewhat more inclined than I was before to think that the attack on the MSF hospital was intentional.  I think that air powers must feel a constant temptation to attack hospitals, given that they may contain fighters.

Of course, the policy of MSF is, correctly, to treat anyone who needs medical attention regardless of whether or not that person is a fighter.  This is the right policy for them to have but I’m not sure it’s getting the respect it deserves.


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