by Alex Ellingboe
On July 27, the website Buzzfeed.com released graphic photos of the gruesome conditions faced by wounded Afghan soldiers in the U.S. funded Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul.
The condition of soldiers at the nation’s premier military hospital was initially revealed by a Wall Street Journal article, published on September 3, 2011. The article prompted a congressional investigation that found the hospital’s patients were routinely left in “Auschwitz-like” conditions while hospital staff siphoned off U.S. funds and solicited bribes from patient’s family members for their care (the original Buzzfeed article and photos can be found here. Warning: the images contained within are extremely graphic).
The articles by the WSJ and Buzzfeed as well as the subsequent congressional investigation have uncovered wrongdoing on the part of senior U.S. military officials as well as a chain of corruption that runs to the very top of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Ministry of Defense (MoD). The scandal is proof that the Afghan War has failed and should be ended immediately.
The original Wall Street Journal article found that patients at Dawood Hospital routinely died from malnourishment and routine infections resulting from intentional neglect by hospital staff. In some instances, the staff refused to treat patients who were not from their own tribe or whose families could not pay gratuities in exchange for their care even though the staff’s salaries are fully funded by the U.S. taxpayer. The congressional investigation later revealed that U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell knew about the inhumane conditions of patients at the hospital but actively tried to prevent an investigation for personal political reasons.
Further allegations have emerged that the ANA’s Surgeon General, Gen. Yaftali and the MoD’s Director of Finance, Major General Amiri, embezzled $20 million from the MoD and pilfered $153 million worth of medical supplies intended for patients at the hospital and ANA troops in the field. Both Yaftali and Amiri are directly connected to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The most poignant testimony on this subject during the Congressional investigation came from retired U.S. Army Colonel, Gerald N. Carozza, who was the senior legal advisor for the ANA and the MoD. Col. Carozza speaks at length about the allegations against Yaftali and Amiri and provides this assessment of the Afghan leadership as a whole:
“They are not leaders in the sense that we think of officers. They steal their soldiers’ pay, medicine, food, fuel, bullets and blankets and sell them on the black market – even to the Taliban who might shoot their undersupplied subordinates. They use U.S. taxpayer supplied vehicles and aircraft to further their own business interests over the well being of their armed forces or nation. The ANA soldiers in turn go AWOL at official rates close to 30% with Afghans having told me the rate was 40% in early 2011. The same generals told me of those who do serve, 70 to 80 percent are stoned on hash (11).”
One might wonder how such blatant corruption could exist in a country that is still occupied by over 100,000 U.S. troops and an additional 40,000 international coalition troops. Col. Carozza points to the fact that the international coalition has no jurisdiction over internal Afghan investigations despite providing almost all of the funding for the Afghan government. This leads to Afghan leaders such as Yaftali and Amiri flaunting the rule of law trying to be imposed by the coalition. Carozza goes on to say, “If we ask to look into their investigation or investigate with them, they cry that their sovereignty is being assaulted” (3), as if that sovereignty would exist without international support.
The Dawood Hospital scandal proves that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption and will ultimately fail completely despite almost eleven years of international support. Furthermore, the fact that Gen. Caldwell actively battled to prevent the investigation of the hospital from taking place is evidence that the facts of the war are routinely hidden from the citizens whose tax dollars fund it.
To quote Col. Carozza one last time, “The collateral damage in such battles (to control the reporting of the war) is to the truth and the whole truth that is critical for a democracy to make informed decisions on one of the most important decisions it can make: whether, when, where and HOW to wage war with our precious blood and treasure” (12). Col. Carozza’s testimony and the other revelations of the Dawood Hospital scandal have made it clear that the Afghan War is no longer worthy of these most precious resources and should be abandoned immediately.