The controversy surrounding the coalition airstrike in Kunduz continues to rumble on this week after military investigators drove an armoured personnel carrier into a hospital’s front gate. A spokesperson for the Pentagon was quick to apologise for any damage caused, telling reporters (without a hint of irony) that the team were simply trying to gain access to the facility so that they could assess the structural integrity of the buildings hit earlier in the month. This latest incident will do little to ease tensions between the United States and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates the hospital. Three separate investigations into the original attack are now underway but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about why the hospital was targeted. What we do know is that at least 22 people were killed when the AC-130 gunship opened fire on the building, including 12 medical staff and 10 patients.
The debate so far has largely focused on whether or not the attack was lawful, but what caught my attention was the response of the military officials and, in particular, their offer of compensation. After initially blaming ground troops for the mistake and then the Afghan Army, the Pentagon eventually admitted the decision was made further up the chain of command and President Obama has now offered a full-blown apology. What is more, it has since been confirmed that the United States will compensate the victims and help rebuild the hospital. As the Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook made clear, ‘the Department of Defense believes it is important to address the consequences of the tragic incident’. But the use of financial compensation to rectify these wrongs raises a number of important ethical questions: Do these payments actually make the perpetrator any more accountable for the harm they have caused? Is there a risk that they may end up normalising the horrors of war? And do they reflect a genuine concern for the pain and suffering experienced by those living on the frontline of today’s conflicts?