Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012, 1:17 pm
Army General Accused of Stalling Investigation into Horrific Conditions in Afghan Hospital
Yesterday, four military officers testified to Congress that a U.S. general had stalled investigations into an Afghan hospital with what one of them called "Auschwitz-like" conditions in order to avoid casting the war effort in a negative light. One congressman described the hearing as "the most honest and unvarnished assessment of Afghanistan that Congress has ever heard."
In 2010, Colonel Mark Fassl, then the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan Command Inspector General, requested an investigation into the Dawood National Military Hospital, the main military hospital for Afghan security forces (the Afghan equivalent of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center). Dawood is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and overseen by the NATO Training Mission. Fassl was prompted to start an investigation after witnessing firsthand the horrible conditions at the hospital.
Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who was then in charge of the NATO Training Mission, told Fassl to retract his investigation request. Fassl told the committee that Caldwell cited the 2010 congressional elections as reason to stall the investigation, saying, "How could we do this or make this request with an election coming? He calls me Bill." Fassl believed the "he" Caldwell was referring to was President Obama.
Fassl testified to the exceedingly poor conditions at the hospital in front the the House oversight and government reform committee. "There were open vats of blood draining out of soldiers wounds, there was feces on the floor," Fassl told the committee. "There were many family members taking care of their loved ones. The family members were emptying these vats of blood to help their patients out."
Colonel Gerald Carozza, who was also part of the NATO training mission, told Congress, "Patients were lying in filth, in some cases starving and with grotesque bed sores."
Even after the election, Caldwell continued to delay any investigation into the hospital. Carozza testified, "The evidence is clear to me that General Caldwell had the request for a probe withdrawn and postponed until after the election and then, after the election, tried to intimidate his subordinates into a consensus that it need not move forward at all."
This is not the first time Dawood has been in the news. Last September, the Wall Street Journal reported that soldiers treated at the hospital were dying of simple infections and starvation, while doctors and nurses demanded bribes from patients before they would treat them. In December 2010, Ahmed Zia Yaftali, the Afghan army's surgeon general, was relieved from his post for his involvement in stealing $153 million of medical supplies (mostly donated by the U.S.) while working at Dawood.
The Dawood hearing is another event in a series of scandals that have led many to question the U.S's involvement in Afghanistan. In 2010, the Afghan government spent $820 million to bail out a Kabul bank that had essentially operated as a Ponzi scheme for six years. Then, in July of last year, a U.S. military task force discovered that part of a $2.16 billion transportation contract had been used to fund the Taliban insurgency.
Caldwell eventually allowed a limited investigation into the hospital, although the "Auschwitz-like" conditions were not to be mentioned, according to Carozza. A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday, "Some of the problems we saw at the hospital have in fact been resolved, corrective measures have been taken and patient care was improved as a result."
However, Colonel Schuyler Geller, former Commander Surgeon to the NATO training mission, told Congress that the doctors and nurses who committed many of the horrific acts still "walk the halls of the hospital, unrepentant, unscathed and unprosecuted."
Joseph Misulonas is a summer 2012 In These Times editorial intern.