UPDATED: CENTCOM FOIA Denial Reveals US may Seek Legal Action in Hospital Bombing
The Pentagon is planning on seeking legal action against United States Special Forces and others involved in the bombing of a Doctor’s Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last year, according to information obtained by Foreign Policy.
Earlier this month, a Freedom of Information Act request denial letter sent to the North Star Post from the United States Central Command revealed United States officials might be seeking legal action.
An unnamed source told Foreign Policy that staffers with CENTCOM in Fla. will be combing through a 3,000 page investigative document on the attack for a possible public release.
WASHINGTON — A Freedom of Information Act request denial letter from the United States Central Command has revealed United States officials may be seeking legal action against a person or persons involved in the accidental bombing of a hospital in Kudunz, Afghanistan.
In December 2015 the North Star Post sent a FOIA request to USCENTCOM for maintenance logs and any documentation on the system that failed aboard the aircraft, which bombed a Doctors Without Borders Hospital that left 30 dead.
In the denial letter Lt. Col. David A. Gale outlines the legal reasons why CENTCOM denied the request.
“…expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” and “…expected to deprive an individual of the right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication,” seem to suggest legal action may or is taking place against a person or persons involved in the bombing which was deemed to be caused by “human error” in late November 2015.
CENTCOM Public Information Officer Mark Edwards stated this may not be the case and that the bombing is still under investigation but added, “its possible.”
“Even in the military people have the right to be innocent until proven guilty,” Edwards said over the phone stating that other agencies may be investigating the matter.
CENTCOM has not denied or confirmed to the North Star Post if it is seeking legal action against any person involved in the bombing. The denial letter also revealed there is a 5,000 page investigative document into the accidental bombing, which was denied for release.
Gale also cites Executive Order 13526 in the denial letter, an executive order deemed by the Obama administration to aid in government transparency and protect national security. It was one of the President’s first executive orders.
Additional requests for comment have not been responded to yet.
Human error, system failures and procedural missteps were said to have what led a United States AC-130 to bomb the hospital, which was “several hundred meters away where there were reports of combatants,” said Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan in a November press conference.
On October 2, Afghanistan Special Forces requested support to clear the National Directorate of Security headquarters building, which they believed to be occupied by insurgents.
An AC-130 was launched 69 minutes early due to the call being deemed an emergency, Campbell said. During the flight the onboard electronic systems malfunctioned, preventing the aircraft from transmitting video, sending or receiving emails or to receive electronic messages, according to Campbell.
Once the aircraft was in the region, they believed they had been targeted by a missile, causing them to change their flight pattern.
“This degraded the accuracy of certain targeting systems which later contributed to the misidentification of the trauma center,” Campbell said.
The commander provided the crew with the coordinates of the NDS building but due to the new flight path the targeting system correlated with an open field “over 300 meters from the NDS headquarters,” Campbell said. The aircrew then located the nearest large building they felt fit the description of the NDS building which was the hospital.
According to Campbell and the report, there were times when the mistake could have been corrected but were not. For example, the report found the aircrew noticed no hostile activity around the trauma center, Campbell said.
At one point the aircrew relayed their coordinates to their operational headquarters stating they were about to engage the building. Headquarters did not have a no-strike list with them, which the hospital was currently on, according to Campbell.
The strike began at 2:08 a.m. and 12 minutes later special operations forces received a call from the hospital stating they were under attack. However the strike continued and it wasn’t until 17 minutes later they had realized their mistake and the AC-130 had already ceased firing.
Campbell assured reporters that the United States will “take appropriate administrative and disciplinary action through a process that is fair and thoroughly considers the available evidence.”
Christopher Stokes, the general director of MSF released a statement saying the statement raises “more questions than answers.”
“It is shocking that an attack can be carried out when US forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a no-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications systems,” Strokes said in his statement.
The organization is continuing to call for an independent investigation into the attack.
A NATO and Afghan partner combined civilian casualty assessment team is also conducting an investigation, according to Campbell.