US Taxpayers Bankrolling Abuses at Afghan Hospital

Last fall the Wall Street Journal broke the story of abuses and corruption at Afghanistan’s military hospital. “Injured soldiers were routinely dying of simple infections and even starving to death as some corrupt doctors and nurses demanded bribes for food and the most basic of care,” the story read.

If the systemic abuse at the hospital weren’t bad enough, a U.S. official may have prevented an investigation into the hospital, according to witnesses at a congressional hearing last week.

“The evidence is clear to me that General Caldwell had the request [for an investigation] withdrawn and postponed until after the election,” retired Colonel Gerald Carozza testified at the hearing. “Then, after the election, [Gen. Caldwell] tried to intimidate his subordinates into a consensus that it need not move forward at all.”

Not only were U.S. officials possibly complicit in the cover-up, the hospital was partly funded by U.S.aid dollars—meaning, U.S. taxpayers have been bankrolling the hospital that witnesses describe as ‘Auschwitz-like’.

Exactly how much the U.S. has spent on the hospital and related medical programs is unclear. The widely-cited figure is $185 million in 9 years, but retired Colonel Schuyler Geller, former Command Surgeon for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan places the figure much higher.

“My team discovered early on that no reliable accounting of dollars spent existed prior to 2007, but we had been mentoring medics since 2003 and the Daoud Khan Hospital since 2005,” Col. Geller testified. “Considerably more than $185 million has been utilized in the development of the Afghan Army health system by many donor nations. The U.S. had spent $153 million just on medical supplies and medicine from 2007-2010 with over $42 million in pharmaceuticals delivered in 2010 alone.”

Col. Geller’s testimony goes on to detail other U.S. aid streams routinely diverted to criminal private networks.

The case of the Afghan hospital is particularly disturbing because the consequences are clear and painful. This is just one example of the corruption in aid to Afghanistan. If $185 million missed the mark, what about the rest of the more than $30 billion in humanitarian and development aid that the U.S. has sent to Afghanistan over the past ten years?

A former senior auditor for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimates that only 15 percent of Afghan aid makes it to the intended recipient. The rest—85 percent, or $25 billion—is lost to waste, corruption, and overhead costs.

While billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars fund criminal networks in Afghanistan, hospitals here in the U.S. are hurting. In Louisiana, for example, a $329 million budget shortfall is forcing the public hospital system to cut patient services. Hospitals expect a reduction of 79,000 outpatient visits and 12,400 fewer days of in-hospital care.

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