Col. Schuyler Geller testifies at congressional hearing on Dawood military hospital in Afghanistan

A congressional subcommittee heard statements from investigators and members of the US military who had observed shocking conditions at the Dawood military hospital in Afghanistan. One colonel, Mark Fassl, described how he had observed “open vats of blood draining out of wounds,” along with “many family members” taking care of their loved ones instead of doctors or nurses. He spoke about the lack of personnel at the hospital, the lack of hygiene, and said, “How can we be allowing this type of suffering to go on?”

The hearing, chaired by Representative Jason Chaffetz, was both a response to a report in the Wall Street Journal in September of last year and a response to the Pentagon’s decision to essentially engage in a coverup and not investigate the conditions of this hospital, which was and continues to be supported by US taxpayer dollars.

Each of the men who testified—with the exception of Daniel Blair, Inspector General for Auditing, Department of Defense Inspector General)—were there to blow the whistle on some aspect of the Pentagon’s effort to conceal what was really going on at the hospital. One of the witnesses, retired US Air Forces Colonel Schuyler K. Geller, who served as Command Surgeon for the NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition, had filed a request that the Defense Department (DoD) inspector general investigate the hospital. When the request was responded to by the DoD, the investigation was limited to how the hospital was procuring pharmaceutical materials because graft was a problem at the hospital. It was specifically designed to not examine the human suffering in the facility.

Chaffetz highlighted an email from Colonel Marian Amrein, Command Staff Judge Advocate, to U.S. Army to Colonel Gerald N. Carozza, Jr. and Captain Steven Anderson (who were both present as witnesses at the hearing). The email, sent on January 1, 2011, read, “Brigadier General Patton reviewed the summary and documentary evidence that we intended to provide. He made changes and told us to reduce the documentary evidence that we provide.” Patton had apparently instructed officers involved in requesting an inspector general investigation to intentionally limit the investigation’s scope.

The congresman asked Blair and Fassl, since they had both been operating in an inpector general-type capacity, to state whether limiting materials that might be reviewed would be acceptable or preferred. They did not suggest a scenario. He also had them address the fact that officers established a “statement of policy,” which called for the destruction of materials that might have been critical to any investigation of the suffering occurring in the hospital:

…September 12, 2011. This was a statement of policy that was put out. The timing is quite remarkable to me. This comes nine days after the Wall Street Journal reported on the Dawood Hospital situation. September 7 of that same year, Congressman Coffman of Colorado sent a letter and then issued a press release on his concerns at Dawood. In this memorandum—and we can put it up, one of the three stated purposes of this new statement of policy coming from the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan was, “Help promote the positive image of coalition forces serving in Afghanistan.” What’s concerning is here on page two under 5(c) of the policy – “Unofficial personal photographs or video or audio of patients or healthcare events taken by personnel subject to this policy which already exist will be destroyed or deleted.”

The idea that we would purposely, knowingly, willfully in an effort to promote the goodness that is going on there, to actually put in writing from our Col. Command Surgeon Andrea Crunkhorn, is totally unacceptable. And I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about this and the concerns that it has in moving forward. This is the deeper concern. There was an effort to coverup rather than fix, that people’s political aspirations, political futures were of utmost concern. [emphasis added]

Brigadier General Gary Patton and Lieutenant General William Caldwell were upset that a request for an investigation was being made so close to the congressional election. Carozza thought, when Patton expressed concern about how this might influence the election, “Is that person saying that officers in a combat zone when making decisions on the conduct of war are supposed to weigh the effects their decisions may have on an election back home? I don’t recall that point being made when I learned about the Military Decision Making Process.” As it turns out, the election was just an excuse because after the election the officers still did not want the investigation to go forward.

Carozza testified:

After the U.S. elections of November 2, 2010, a meeting was called in Lieutenant General Caldwell’s office. Although I was not invited to this meeting, its events were relayed to me by three officers who were there and all three descriptions were in sync. Lieutenant General Caldwell screamed at these three officers, waiving his finger at them for trying to bring in the DoD IG. He said “you are all O6s (the pay grade for Colonels and Naval Captains) and should know better. There is nothing wrong in this command that we can’t fix ourselves.” To the great credit and moral courage of these officers, they stood their ground and insisted that bringing in the DoD IG was appropriate and necessary. As a result, Lieutenant General Caldwell directed that Assistant Commanding General for Army Development, then Brigadier General David Neasmith (Canadian), examine the issue and make a recommendation to him on whether the request to DoD IG proceed.

In August 2011, Geller, who was now the International Security Assistance Forces Medical Advisor, wanted to share what he had seen with Maria Abi-Habib, who put together the WSJ report. Superiors refused to let him speak to Habib in an official capacity:

…GEN Allen sent Col Bruce Pagel, a US Army Reserve attorney working for GEN Allen’s chief military attorney Marine Colonel Mike Jordan to interview me in August of 2011 after a line of questioning by Ms. Habib indicated a concern about a delay in calling in the DoD IG to look into the National Military Hospital abuses. When Col Pagel, accompanied by a young USMC Capt. attorney, asked me if there was any reason to believe LTG Caldwell delayed the investigations into the NMH I replied: “Any reason to believe? I know it for a fact.” He repeated that last phrase somewhat incredulously but then listened as I relayed the information that you have in the 25-page MFR to him while the young Capt. took copious notes. I provided a number of corroborating witnesses to interview to ascertain my veracity. I heard nothing further regarding my clearly presented accusation of wrongdoing by a general officer still under the command of GEN Allen to a member of his military justice department. I heard nothing, that is, until I put it in writing to Congress four months later.

Shortly thereafter Ms. Habib made a request with ISAF’s Public Affairs Office for an interview with me. Rear Admiral Lower Half Beck, GEN Allen’s Public Affairs Officer, sent two junior public affairs officers to meet with me to assess my knowledge of the topic, the Daoud Khan Military Hospital. They listened in silence as I spoke for over forty minutes on the topic and then finally interrupted me with the question: “Have you ever had any PA training?” I responded to the affirmative and noted that every PAO I have ever worked with in the Air Force had told me to “talk about what I knew and always tell the truth” and that I hoped that also applied in the joint arena. They left and I was summoned to meet with Rear Admiral Beck the next day. After listening to what I was going to tell Ms. Habib his response was to state that I was clearly a disgruntled officer, could not be a spokesperson for ISAF, he was not going to allow her to have an official on-the-record interview with me and if I tried to meet with her I was “on my own.” The warning was clear. He came to my office later and in front of CDR Terry Johnson, a Navy ENT physician assigned to my division, told me he was now going to tell Ms. Habib she could submit questions and I could submit answers to him that he would filter and edit before providing them back to Ms. Habib. Ms. Habib apparently refused as I never received any questions to answer but her article did indicate that ISAF had refused to make me available to her for an interview…

The problems of the hospital are not limited to US corruption. What the witnesses described was an environment of lawlessness created by no accountability. Geller stated that individuals wearing Afghan National Army uniforms, who are being paid salaries with US tax dollars, have “perpetrated unspeakable abuses upon Afghan soldiers, civilians and family members” and walk the halls of the hospital “unrepentent, unscathed, enriched and still unprosecuted.” A “private fee-for-service” practice with American equipment, supplies and drugs is being run by these individuals. The callous nature of these people is not to be diminished, but one cannot overlook the US role in exacerbating the problems at the hospital.

The testimony indicated funding and resources being provided has enabled the criminal activity being engaged in by individuals in this hospital. Without a full investigation and absent a commitment to finding a way to stop the flow of funding and resources in a manner that does not create greater human suffering, the problem only persists. The US is occupying this country and cannot entirely pretend the culture of corruption is not symptomatic of the fact that an effort at so-called nation-building has been underway for over a decade.

In summary, Geller and others sought an investigation from the inspector general. Commanding officers pushed back because they did not want one to happen. They did not want to rock the boat. When they conceded one should be allowed, they tried to limit the materials that would be part of the evidence in the investigation. They put into writing a policy of destroying photos, audio or video of patients or conditions in the hospital. And, finally, they ensured the inspector general investigation looked at the innocuous issue of procurement of pharmaceuticals because it would not develop into a scandal for the US military.

The DoD, as Chaffetz stated in his closing remarks, engaged in obstruction of Congress. They made it policy to destroy documentation of what was happening in the hospital. And, once again, here’s a situation where people in a government institution wanted to respond to their conscience and sought to blow the whistle on corruption and were pretty much dissuaded from standing by their call for an investigation. One of the whistleblowers even tried to go to the media after an inspector general investigation appeared to be delayed, but his superiors would not let him talk to the press. The truth was suppressed so people would not know what was really going on and the Defense Department would be under no obligation to address the corruption and human suffering in the hospital.