Reports of heinous abuses of patients treated at Afghanistan's Dawood Military Hospital are being investigated by Congress and the Pentagon, six years after the offenses were first documented and almost a year after The Wall Street Journal first broke the story.
The US funds the Kabul military hospital and trains the doctors and nurses working there, many of whom are accused of gruesome negligence -- everything from starving patients, to allowing maggots to collect on open wounds, to surgeries done without sedatives, and evidence of bedsores so deep patients' bones are exposed, reported Al Jazeera.
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Army officers testified about the conditions at the hospital at a July 24 hearing held by the committee on oversight and government reform, four days after the Pentagon announced it was launching its own investigation into the Dawood affair.
But Colonel Schulyer Geller, the former Command Surgeon of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, said in a July 30 interview that the Department of Defense has yet to hand over key documents to congressional investigators, reported BuzzFeed.
The lack of cooperation also sparked an angry letter from Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah. "Individuals within the Department may have withheld [documents] in an effort to obstruct the Committee's oversight," Chaffetz wrote to Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta on July 15. (See the full six-page letter obtained by BuzzFeed here.)
As investigations struggle to get under way, it's unclear what, if anything, is being done about the situation on the ground. Geller told lawmakers said the hospital staffers responsible for "unspeakable" acts still "walk the halls of the hospital ... unrepentant, unscathed, and unprosecuted," reported the Christian Science Monitor.
A US colonel involved said the conditions there were "Auschwitz-like," said The Daily Beast. So why has it taken so long for US officials to take action?
Army officials told congressional leaders investigations were blocked by Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who was reportedly "visibly upset" at the prospect of a probe.
Colonel Mark Fassi, then-inspector general for the training command, told lawmakers Caldwell's “first response to me was, ‘How could we make that request with the election coming?,'" according to The Christian Science Monitor.
The Pentagon, apparently worried about its image in managing the Afghan mission, seems to have gone to great lengths in hushing the whole thing up.
Even more troubling is the prospect of more Dawood-like incidents that remain hidden from the public eye. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis published a damning 86-page report in February in which he argues that the American military promotes a culture of hiding abuse. Army assessments, he claimed, are "solely intended to influence American and European public opinion ahead of the withdrawal," reported The Christian Science Monitor.
"Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable," Al Jazeera cited Davis' report as saying.
Watch Al Jazeera's August 2 roundtable on the issue here: