Holding the U.S. Government Accountable Overseas

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By Marcelle Meyer

On Saturday morning, the United States conducted targeted airstrikes in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in response to reported fighting around a Doctors Without Borders hospital. The hospital was destroyed, and at least 22 people, both doctors and patients, were killed.

The use of airstrikes is a controversial issue for reasons such as this: civilians often become unintended casualties when the target is near a populated area or facility. Doctors Without Borders has called for a completely independent investigation, as opposed to the current investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Defense, and it is the obligation of the United States government to agree.

Despite varying opinions on the implementation and results of its missions, the United States certainly has many good intentions in its international interventions. We generally become involved in foreign conflicts when there is a concern about oppression, human rights violations or international instability. The current mission in Afghanistan that the airstrike attempted to aid is to reinforce Afghan troops fighting against Taliban occupation. We want to hold governments and leaders responsible for their crimes and help citizens find power in their own countries.
Should we not expect the same of ourselves?

How can we as a nation involve ourselves in international conflicts with the intention of holding governments accountable for their mistakes if we are not also held to that standard? Regardless of intent, is an airstrike that kills over 20 civilians not a potential violation of international war standards and worthy of an independent investigation? How can we claim to play by the same rules as the rest of the world if we are only held accountable by ourselves?

It would certainly be a stretch to say that the United States is going to become a tyrannical dictatorship any time in the future; however, that does not mean that we are not held to the same standards that are set to protect other countries from this kind of oppression. The purpose of independent investigations into war crimes, or any other type of international conflict, is to stop one government from having the ability to exempt itself from international law.

Conducting a domestic investigation sends a message to countries like Afghanistan, where we conducted an airstrike under the justification of enforcing international standards of human rights, that we are above the rules we expect them to follow. The Afghan people, Doctors Without Borders and the international community deserve an independent investigation that holds the United States responsible for its actions in the same way that every other country is held responsible.