ON TARGET: Who's getting away with murder?

By: Scott Taylor

If Putin got away with murder in the case of Flight 17, Obama got away with murder in Kunduz. (wikimedia commons)

If Putin got away with murder in the case of Flight 17, Obama got away with murder in Kunduz. (wikimedia commons)

On Wednesday, the United States military reluctantly admitted its air force had erred when it engaged a civilian hospital in the northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz.

That happened on the night of Oct. 3 and left 31 Afghans dead and hundreds more wounded. Immediately following the “error,” indignant spokespersons from Medecins Sans Frontieres, operators of the targeted hospital, denounced the incident as a war crime and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice.

In response to the outrage, U.S. military officials denied any responsibility by trying to blame the loss of civilian lives on the Taliban.

In the days preceding, the Taliban had indeed successfully captured the city of Kunduz when the demoralized Afghan security forces fled without a fight. Regrouped and bolstered by overwhelming U.S. air support, the shaky Afghan government troops were in the process of recapturing the city when the hospital was struck.

The excuse floated by the Pentagon was that Taliban gunmen had been observed entering the facility, and there were even claims the Taliban were firing from inside the hospital at allied Afghan forces.

In other words, the Taliban tricked a U.S. AC-130 gunship into firing 211 75-millimetre cannon shells into a crowded medical trauma centre. The Medecins Sans Frontieres eyewitnesses were quick to denounce this theory by stating that the only gunfire they heard was the incoming rounds blowing apart their hospital.

After nearly eight weeks of internal review, the Americans had to admit that the Medecins Sans Frontieres version is true. Due to human error and some targeting problems that night, the Taliban fighters were actually in a facility some 500 metres away.

The media were advised that those responsible have been identified and suspended. No names or ranks were revealed, but we are assured that those American military personnel who “erred” that night will face disciplinary action.

It was, after all, a fluid situation, and lethal force was being applied amidst the fog of war. Accidents happen.

No one in the western media thought to link this all the way up the U.S. chain of command to President Barack Obama. No front page headline asked “Is Obama getting away with murder?” regarding the slaughter at the hospital, even though there is now no question the U.S. air force was at fault.

Contrast this with the western media coverage from July 2014, when it was first reported that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 had fallen out of the sky over disputed territory in eastern Ukraine. In that tragedy, 283 passengers and crew were killed instantly.

There were claims and counterclaims of responsibility between the Ukrainian government and the separatist, pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels.

As the wreckage was slowly recovered from inside the rebel-held territory, it appeared as though Flight 17 had been struck by a ground-to-air Buk missile. The Buk air defence missile system dates back to the Soviet era, and as such it is found in both the Ukrainian and Russian military inventories.

Even without any conclusive proof as to who actually fired the missile, or why they would target a civilian airliner, the western media was quick to lay blame on Vladimir Putin personally. The front cover of a Maclean’s magazine ran a sinister-looking photo of the Russian president with the question “Is Putin getting away with murder?”

After 16 months of investigation, the most likely scenario for the fate of Flight 17 is that it was shot down by a pro-Russian Ukrainian militia commander, using a Buk missile captured from Ukrainian government forces.

Like the U.S. pilots who hit the hospital, the rebels thought they were targeting a legitimate target, this time in the form of an enemy fighter jet.

In other words, if Putin got away with murder in the case of Flight 17, then Obama just got away with murder in Kunduz.

Let’s not set a double standard of responsibility when it comes to collateral damage caused by the fog of war.