Attacks on first responders transform criminality of drone strikes to sadism

The term “double tapping” fails to do justice to a military tactic that’s arguably sociopathic.

Remember the “dead bastards” — as in “look at those” — video, which was the first of the Bradley Manning stash released by WikiLeaks? It depicted an April 2010 Apache helicopter strike that killed a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters employees. Its impact was fourfold because it featured:

1. an attack on civilians
2. an attack on journalists
3. callous pilots, and the icing on the outrage cake …
4. a second round of missiles launched at those who arrived in a van to assist at the scene.

Those of us on the left who came of age during the Vietnam War, as well as the period when CIA meddling in foreign affairs to deadly effect was at its peak, may have thought we’d lost our capacity to be shocked at what the United States has shown itself capable. But attacking those coming to the assistance of the injured, which the military calls “double tapping” and doesn’t even attempt to hide, caught me off-guard with its cold-blooded cruelty. It’s not only used in helicopter attacks, but in drone strikes as well.

A February article by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) provides more insight into this insidious practice. TBIJ also served as a key source for the landmark report Living Under Drones released in September by the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. The TBIJ article reads:

A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

Attempting to prove its legality is a non-starter.

… Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University, said killing people at a rescue site may have no legal justification. ‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into the very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution’, she said. ‘We don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

It’s hard enough to digest the information that the nation in which one lives and to which one pays taxes attacks those rushing to the aid of the injured. But it gets worse.

More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.

One scheme was positively diabolical.

On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.

‘A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man’s funeral,’ according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his … book The Triple Agent. ‘True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long.’

The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others.

You can see that Langley remains as much of a conceptual charnel house as ever.

Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud’s funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians.  US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud escaped unharmed, dying six weeks later along with his wife in a fresh CIA attack.

None of this, of course, is new. If not by the United States, medics have long been attacked in war. Today, Israel has targeted Palestinian medics and the Syrian army has targeted resistance medics. Meanwhile, Bahrain persecutes medical personnel who have assisted the injured opposition.

But, in the case of the United States, drone attacks are intended, in part, to act as an alternative to — and method of fending off — a declaration of war on another country. Yet, with its barbaric tactics, the drone program not only apes the tactics of war, but draws the opposition into believing all-out war is what both sides are fighting.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

2 comments on “Attacks on first responders transform criminality of drone strikes to sadism

  1. I was interested to see that you didn’t compare the funeral attacks to those made by terrorist organisations in the not too distant past. I thought the opportunity to compare the CIA to the IRA or PLO would have been too easy a target to pass up. Perhaps it’s just your ignorance of the history of the fore mentioned tactic, or maybe you thought it best to present the idea as a new concept in sinking to new lows. It is low, by the way; an utterly condemnatory action, but it’s happened for centuries. Does this make it right? No. But that’s how wars are conducted. There is no romance, no sentimentality. Just two or more sets of people trying to kill the other set or sets of people in a manner that kills fewer of their own*. What’s more, the more ingenious you are at the killing part, the fewer of your own people bite the not so proverbial bullet.

    Now, if you want to get into the technicalities of things war was declared on an emotion, by the venerable** George W Bush, not a specific set of people, but there is a military action and as the US have been handling these military actions since the end of world war two (the last war they declared) the gray area is considerably fudged in a legal sense.

    Your closing statement is disturbing, though. According to my sources who are out in these adorable places we’re glad to be nowhere near, the drone attacks take place are, in the vast majority of cases, in pro-Taliban areas where they have the best footings. So I would like to see your reasoning why you claim this to be an outright declaration of war in the eyes of the people on the ground when they are already thinking they declared war on us before a western hemisphere boot left a print on Afghan soil.

    *One notable exception – My own beloved British Army circa 1914-18.
    **May not be true.

    • Bret,

      I won’t speak for Russ, who’s far better versed in these issues than I am, but from my perspective the issue is less about how we wage war on our enemies and more about how the way we wage war creates more enemies, people who will have reason to hate us for years, perhaps generations to come. This has been the sad history of our foreign policy, I’m afraid. There are people we have to deal with now that we wouldn’t have as enemies in the first place but for arrogant foreign policy fuckups decades ago.

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