Sen. Sanders: Call for Independent Investigation of Doctors Without Borders Bombing

President Obama formally apologized Wednesday for the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan by the U.S. armed forces.

Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of the organization that treats war wounded regardless of nationality, was having none of it.  She said tersely that the message had been received, and that was that.

Why the cold shoulder?  Because the Obama administration has balked at the suggestion that an independent investigation should get to the bottom of how and why the hospital facility had been destroyed.  So far, the only investigations into the incident are being conducted by a U.S./Afghani government joint effort, by NATO, and by the U.S. Department of Defense, of which Doctors Without Borders and many international observers are deeply skeptical, as military/governmental investigations into military/governmental misdeeds tend to be little more than official whitewashing affairs.  Liu instead wants the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to conduct the investigation.  What is suspected, of course, is that the bombing took place at the direction of the Afghani government in an effort to intimidate Doctors Without Borders for having treated in the past— or for having currently treated at the time of the bombing— Taliban members.

Needless to say, an independent investigation should take place because the skeptics are right.  The misdeed took place with the knowledge and/or consent of some combination of NATO, the White House, the Afghani government, and the Department of Defense (i.e., the U.S. military writ large).  So they are patently unqualified to investigate themselves.  The bombing, by the way, was against international law and rules of war that say that you have to give hospitals warning before you bomb them so that noncombatant civilians can be cleared out first.  The strike killed 22, injured 37, and left 33 missing as of Wednesday.

Senator Bernie Sanders needs to come out and condemn the attack, and echo and amplify Dr. Liu’s call for an independent investigation.

Not because it would score him political points in the presidential race.  Of course not.  But rather, because it’s the right thing to do.  Period.  Full stop.

But, as it happens, it would actually score him political points in the presidential race too, if he did.

Right now, Sanders has enjoyed leads in Iowa and New Hampshire over rival Hillary Clinton for a number of weeks.  The very first national poll showing a slim Sanders lead over Clinton has also just been released.  Sanders recently broke more records with a crowd in Boston, with another attendance that looks like a ZIP code.  His trend lines are going up; Hillary Clinton’s trend lines are going down.

The reason for this is because of the perception that Bernie Sanders is the most— perhaps the only— honest person in Washington.  Going into the October 13 debate as the only candidate who has had the guts to stand up to administration whitewashing and call it out for what it is would only bolster those credentials.

He would not lose any support.  His base of support is already deeply skeptical of the degree to which President Obama is in bed with corporate cronies, Wall Street, and, not to say the least, the military-industrial complex.  To say that President Obama has been a disappointment to progressives on these fronts would be to understate to the nth degree.  Progressives would galvanize around Sanders all the more because it’s the right thing to do.  Progressives love organizations like Doctors Without Borders.  And, most importantly, this would win back whatever progressives have shied away from Sanders because of Sanders’s shaky record on gun control, which is Sanders’s one chunk of kryptonite with progressives.  With the recent Oregon shooting, a few progressives here and there have drifted toward Hillary Clinton because of her full-throated support for gun control, vis-a-vis Sanders’s disappointing past votes (such as his vote against the Brady Bill).

Furthermore, Sanders would gain support of independents by calling for an investigation of the current administration.  It would underscore his independence.  In the mind of the independent, the independent would identify with Sanders.  I’m an independent; look, he’s independent too.  He doesn’t identify as a Democrat, and he’s no administration lackey.  He’s calling out the administration on something that needs to be called out.  That’s true independence.

Sanders would also win over a few sane Republicans, because, after all, even the sane Republicans still have no love lost for the Obama administration.  Again, the independence shown by Sanders would curry favor with the sane Republican crowd who are beginning to realize they don’t have a dog in the race among the crazies that are actually running for the Republican nomination.

Finally, going into the October 13 debate, it would give Sanders an edge over Hillary Clinton in showing not only that he is the only candidate who has had the integrity to stand up to the administration— not over some triangulating calculus, but because the cause is just— it also would put some much-needed foreign policy bona fides on the table for Sanders.  It would show that Sanders is paying attention to our foreign misadventures in the middle east— foreign misadventures that one Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did precious little to bring to an end.  There is a widespread perception that Clinton owns Sanders on foreign policy because Sanders has never held an executive office in which foreign policy was relevant.  His only executive experience was being mayor of Burlington, Vermont.  So pointedly making an issue of this would beef up Sanders’s profile in the foreign policy department.

That all said, really, though, he should do it because it’s the right thing to do.  Period.  Full stop.

-Robert Gross

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