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August 1, 2004 - No one is neutral as you are with us or with the evildoers...

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Médecins sans frontière (“Doctors Without Borders”) became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. That was Wednesday of this week.

I came across this odd comment from Jeff Stivers in an MSNBC column –


For the inside scoop on why Medecins sans Frontiers (pardon my mangled French) left Afghanistan, go check out some French papers. Or something filed by AFP. The main reason they left was because U.S. troops were issuing leaflets saying medical help would be withheld unless people started turning in, or ratting out, those the U.S. considers terrorists. MSF thought that to be very dangerous to their personnel. To say nothing of offensive. And I think they are right on both counts.



We take this you’re with-us-or-against us stuff to the medical level? Cooperate or no medical treatment for you, you evil one? And you doctors? You cannot be neutral. You are with us or against us – so make your choice.

No, that couldn’t be.

The Associated Press wire on this says this is, well, kind of so.

Doctors aid group leaves Afghanistan over security
Stephen Graham - Associated Press Writer - 07/29/04


KABUL, Afghanistan - Medecins Sans Frontieres became the first major aid agency to quit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, saying Wednesday that the government failed to act on evidence that local warlords were behind the murder of five of its staff.

The Nobel prize-winning medical relief group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, denounced the U.S. military's use of aid to persuade Afghans to snitch on insurgents, saying it risked turning all relief workers into targets. It was also dismayed that Taliban rebels tried to claim responsibility for the June 2 attack on its staff.

''We feel that the framework for independent humanitarian action in Afghanistan at present has simply evaporated,'' said Kenny Gluck, MSF's director of operations. There is a ''lack of respect for the safety of aid workers.''

The withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontieres, which had 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff in the country before the June attack, is the most dramatic example yet of how poor security more than two years after the fall of the Taliban is hampering the delivery of badly needed aid.

More than 30 aid workers have been killed here since March 2003, rendering much of the south and east off-limits.

… A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, and accused the victims of working for American interests - a shock to MSF, which relies on neutrality to protect staff who venture into war zones.

… The aid group … called on the U.S. military to halt its expanding use of humanitarian work to win over skeptical Afghans.

U.S. and NATO troops are running a string of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams across the country, setting up clinics, digging wells and doing other work normally carried out by civilians.

The military apologized in May for distributing leaflets telling Afghans that they had to provide information on militants if they wanted assistance to continue.

Blurring the distinction ''puts all aid workers in danger,'' MSF secretary-general Marine Buissonniere said.

The U.S. military said the protests were misguided.

''We don't put anyone in danger,'' spokesman Maj. Jon Siepmann said. Many aid groups were working effectively alongside American troops, he said. Others ''need to direct their concern towards the Taliban, towards al-Qaida. We do nothing here but help.''


Summary?  It got too dangerous.  And one of the reasons it got too dangerous was that there was lots of talk floating around – from us – that all this aid and medical stuff was fine, but unless the locals got serious about giving up the evil ones among them, there was going to no more of it.

Medecins Sans Frontieres wanted to be neutral – and just provide medical services in one sorry part of the world.  We maintain no one is neutral.  So they left, before more of them died.

The AFP– the French press agency – late in the week had only a brief item on its English language service. And it contained this -


The United States said it "regretted" a decision by Medecins Sans Frontieres to pull out of Afghanistan for security reasons and asked the aid organization to reconsider the move.

At the same time, the State Department denied MSF charges that U.S.-led stabilization forces now in Afghanistan were using humanitarian aid to further political and military goals.

In announcing the move, MSF, known in English as Doctors without Borders, blamed the Afghan government for failing to protect aid workers and chase militants who killed five of its staff last month.

It also accused the U.S.-led forces of blurring the boundaries between aid workers and military personnel and "endangering the lives of humanitarian workers and jeopardizing aid to people in need."


Well, this all begs the question.  Can medicine be neutral in a time of war, or ever, really?  Isn’t caring for the sick or injured or halt or lame or all the rest, really, a political act?  What if the fellow you fix-up and make all better is someone who knows someone who is a bad guy?  Have you, the doctor who treated him, not then become one of these terrorists yourself?

Interesting questions.


The French Press?

Afghanistan : Médecins sans frontières plie bagage
Le Figaro - 28 juil 2004
Cela faisait presque vingt-quatre ans que Médecins sans frontières (MSF) y était implanté. Mais hier, l'organisation a annoncé ...

Les humanitaires en crise identitaire
Libération - 28 juil 2004
Deux mois après l'assassinat de cinq de ses collaborateurs en Afghanistan, Médecins sans frontières a annoncé hier le retrait de ses équipes du pays «pour ...

Médecins sans frontières va quitter l'Afghanistan
Nouvel Observateur - 28 juil 2004
KABOUL (AP) -- Médecins sans frontières (MSF) a annoncé mercredi son départ d'Afghanistan, après le meurtre de cinq de ses employés début juin. ...

Afghanistan: MSF quitte le pays
France 2 - 28 juil 2004
MSF, suite à l'assassinat début juin de cinq de ses employés dans le nord-ouest de l'Afghanistan, a annoncé mercredi sa décision de se retirer. ...

Médecins sans frontière se retire d'Afghanistan
L'Express - 27 juil 2004
KABOUL (AFP - 07:32) - L'organisation humanitaire Médecins sans frontière (MSF) va se retirer d'Afghanistan, suite à l'assassinat début juin de cinq de ses ...

And so on…


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