by Robert Koehler
October 17, 2015

“The Pentagon said on Saturday that it would make ‘condolence payments’ to the survivors of the American airstrike earlier this month on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan, as well as to the next of kin of those who died in the attack.”

Such a small piece of news, reported a few days ago by the New York Times. I’m not sure if anything could make me feel more ashamed of being an American.

Turns out the basic payout for a dead civilian in one of our war zones is . . . brace yourself . . . $2,500. That’s the sum we’ve been quietly doling out for quite a few years now. Conscience money. It’s remarkably cheap, considering that the bombs that took them out may have cost, oh, half a million dollars each.

If we valued human life, we would never go to war. Everybody knows this. It’s the biggest open secret out there, buried under endless public relations blather and – since the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz on Oct. 3, and the killing of 22 staff members and patients – a sort of international legalese.

Is it “really” a war crime? Simply asking the question implies that the law has a certain objective reality.

“The mere fact that civilians are killed, that a hospital is damaged, doesn’t automatically mean that there has been a war crime,” according to John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the State Department, as quoted last week by National Public Radio. “It only becomes a war crime if it is shown that the target was intentionally attacked.”

Another legal expert in the same story, a professor of international law, pointed out: “The burden would be on the prosecution to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that this was an attack willfully undertaken in the knowledge that it was an object entitled to protection. That is a very, very high hurdle.”

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