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Survivors Of Afghan Hospital Airstrike Dissatisfied With Compensation Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The news in this next story is not something that happened, something that has not. Victims say they're still waiting for compensation after a mistake in Afghanistan. An American plane repeatedly fired at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, having mistaken it for a compound seized by the Taliban. President Obama apologized for this incident six months ago. The U.S. has even handed over a little cash. NPR's Philip Reeves met victims who expect much more.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Zahibullah Niazi is a nurse - or rather, he was. He was inside the hospital in Kunduz when one U.S. missile after another and another came crashing in. He lost an eye, most of an arm and two fingers. The Pentagon later concluded this attack was a tragic, avoidable accident, citing human error and faulty computers. Niazi's not satisfied with that.

ZAHIBULLAH NIAZI: (Through interpreter) I want the Americans to clarify why they hit us. What was the reason? We were just there to serve. They bombed us while we were asleep.

REEVES: Niazi's now too disabled by his injuries to work. He says, so far, he's received no compensation from the U.S., nor have the families of the doctors, patients and caretakers killed in the hospital bombing and nor have the many others who were injured. The U.S. military has made what it calls condolence payments. These are one-off payments to express sympathy and meet immediate expenses. Families of the dead were given $6,000. The injured got $3,000. Niazi thinks these condolence sums are derisory.

NIAZI: (Through interpreter) It's ridiculous assistance. It is ridiculous and insulting.

REEVES: Jonathan Whittall of Doctors Without Borders, or Medicins Sans Frontieres, as it's also known, says other victims feel the same way.

JONATHAN WHITTALL: The feedback that we've had from families and from people inside the facility has been that it's not sufficient. It's not respectful to the loss that they suffered. Some of them were medical professionals - a surgeon, for example.

REEVES: A few weeks ago, the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson went to Kunduz. He apologized on behalf of the U.S. military for the attack and asked forgiveness. This hasn't removed the resentment some victims feel about the handling of the aftermath. The compensation issue is complicated. The U.S. military says it's actually helping victims of the attack to file compensation claims. It's provided them with claim forms and advice. The military says, if it gets any claims, these will be adjudicated under the U.S.'s Foreign Claims Act. Note the word, if. It seems it hasn't received any claims yet. There's a reason for this. Doctors Without Borders has arranged lawyers for the victims. These lawyers believe these claim forms are useless because the Foreign Claims Act doesn't cover combat. It also appears that, thanks to agreements between the U.S. and Afghan governments, the U.S. has impunity against such claims in Afghanistan. Bottom line - the victims may well have to accept whatever compensation the U.S. eventually offers. Right now, though, confusion over the issue is causing anger among the victims.

NIAZI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Zahibullah Niazi, the nurse badly injured in the bombing, is planning a protest. He says he's going to hand back the $3,000 the U.S. military gave him as a condolence payment. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this report, we say the AC-130 fired missiles at the hospital. In fact, its guns fire shells. Also, the headline and story description on this page previously said the hospital had been bombed. It was hit by gunfire, not bombs.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the audio of this report, we say the AC-130 fired missiles at the hospital. In fact, its guns fire shells. Also, the headline and story description on this page previously said the hospital had been bombed. It was hit by gunfire, not bombs.