URL for this article is http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/redcross.htm
Introductory Note: There has been much news coverage of the U.S. bombing - twice! - of Red Cross humanitarian warehouses in Kabul. Afghanistan.
Yet, while Pentagon spokesmen such as Gen. Richard Myers and Donald Rumsfeld have been interviewed and widely quoted, we have seen only one interview with a Red Cross spokesmen; that was on Canadian TV.
The general thrust of media coverage is that the Red Cross was hit because it is right next to some military facilities, or even that its warehouses had been taken over by the Taliban.
So on 31 October I called Red Cross headquarters in Geneva and spoke to two officials.
Please feel free to repost or reprint the following interview in any media, giving credit to www.tenc.net, and without altering the text.
Here is the transcript.
Jared Israel: The warehouses that have been bombed, are they in an isolated area or are there many other warehouses right there?
Christoph Luedi: We had this warehouse which is our compound on its own with these buildings inside and a wall around. So it is separate.
Jared Israel: You have a wall around?
Christoph Luedi: Yeah, it's five buildings; the compound has a wall around; it's a compound on its own. At least two of the buildings had a red cross on the top. There are three buildings in a row and then there are two; they are very close together. As far as we know, one building is still intact. One has been hit in the first bombardment. Two have been hit in the second and the other caught fire.
Jared Israel: There is a news story from CNBC [29 October], they say:
"Also, there was an interesting case on Friday where the US--American warplanes hit a Red Cross food warehouse twice. Now initially, it was said that that was hit by mistake. However today, senior military officials tell us that that Red Cross warehouse was hit on purpose because it was seized by the Taliban, who was stealing all that food."
Is that a true statement or false?
Christoph Luedi: This we can confirm is not correct because we started four days before the bombardment to distribute food out of these warehouses to disabled-headed families, a distribution which started on Tuesday and should have been ongoing until Sunday. This distribution was notified to the Americans especially in light of, because we distributed to different districts and this leads to a massing of people and we wanted to keep them [the Americans] informed that the massing people was linked to our distributions.
Jared Israel: And that involved the massing of people to receive the food?
Christoph Luedi: But not around the warehouses. We load it on trucks the day before. We load it, and then we bring it to the different districts in Kabul where we distribute. So we gave a plan of distribution to the Americans, we say, "On Tuesday the distribution is in this district, District 1, these and these are the distribution spots, on Wednesday these and these districts and so many beneficiaries, on Thursday, on Saturday and on Sunday." And this is where they get this information.
But we were using this food through our own channels. That means we had the control over this warehouse. The only thing there was security around the building, our own security and an extremely limited number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give us protection because after the first bombing we were afraid of looting so we had to negotiate. So we said OK, we want to do a distribution but we need to keep this material. And the Taliban said, OK, fair enough, that's your warehouse.
[At this point Mr. Luedi consulted with another gentleman nearby; this was John Wurt, a Red Cross specialist in logistics.]
Christoph Luedi: He [i.e., Mr. Wurt] is logistician who visits regularly and he has a clear picture. As I said it is a compound; you go through a gate. The compound is quite big. We used it for jogging. And he confirms that it is fairly alone [i.e., isolated].
Jared Israel: Could I talk to him for a sec? Is that OK?
John Wurt: Hello.
Jared Israel: Hi. So, there's a fair amount of space between the wall around the compound and the other buildings in the general area?
John Wurt: As I remember there aren't buildings around in the general area. There's kind of a residential area as you go down the road to the compound and then there's nothing much around as I remember and then you go through the gate into the compound and basically it's open field all around. [See pictures at bottom of this page.]
Jared Israel: So this is really a Red Cross compound; this isn't a complex of warehouses that the Red Cross has some food in?
John Wurt: No, no, no, we had the whole compound. There's a series of, I think there was five chambers, some food some non-food, then we had some other material stored in containerized material that wasn't stuff we were using on a regular basis. But nobody else's stuff was in our compound. It was solely for the use of the Red Cross.
Jared Israel: The Red Cross has a policy of non-discrimination, right? You give out the food irrelevant of whose people are getting it, based on need?
Christoph Luedi: Yeah, sure.
Jared Israel: Do you think they [the U.S. command] object to that?
Christoph Luedi: I will not speculate on the reasons why this happened because I don't have the information and that's not my job. Our job is to try and continue our work within Afghanistan.
Jared Israel: OK. But you do have this non-discrimination policy. That is a true statement?
Christoph Luedi: OK, but humanitarian work should be that, not only of the Red Cross but also of others.
Jared Israel: But that is not always true, right?
Christoph Luedi: Probably not but I will not judge others. But we work together in a conflict with all parties to the conflict, and we are in contact with the Americans; we are in contact with the Taliban, with Northern Alliance, with Pakistan, to discuss what we are doing, why we are doing it and remind them of their obligations within the international humanitarian law. That's our job that we have to do with all parties.
Jared Israel: Thank you for speaking to me.
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