Last August, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reported that though the U.S. considered attacks on first responders a tactic reserved for terrorists, this secondary strike strategy was also routinely used by the Barack Obama administration.
Known as the “double tap,” the U.S. often launches second drone strikes on an area after rescue teams have arrived to help the wounded and remove the dead, according to Greenwald. Double taps usually involve bombing multiple targets in relatively quick succession.
While the mainstream American media has failed to highlight the United States’ hypocritical stance on the use of this military strategy, the issue has once again resurfaced after a July 2013 report from Reuters found that double-tap tactics are commonly used in the U.S. drone war.
The Reuters report said that after a drone strike killed at least 17 people in Pakistan earlier this month, rescuers delayed going to the scene of the strike “for fear of falling victim to a second attack, a common tactic with drone strikes.”
The FBI classifies secondary strikes as a terrorist tactic because it invokes fear in the population.
“The problem [with secondary strikes],” said Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation, “is that once the initial explosion goes off, many people believe that’s it, and will respond accordingly.”
He added that the goal of double-tap strikes is to “incite more terror.”
“If there’s an initial explosion and a second explosion, then we’re thinking about a third explosion,” Spencer said.
In a 2012 report from the New York University School of Law and Stanford Law School, researchers spent nine months interviewing more than 130 victims, witnesses and medical experts. The report documented firsthand accounts of just how harmful these double-tap strikes were to rescuers and humanitarian workers.
Faheem Qureshi was the only person to survive the Obama administration’s first drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The region is near the Afghanistan border and has one of the highest poverty rates in the world.
“Usually, when a drone strikes and people die, nobody comes near the bodies for half an hour because they fear another missile will strike,” he said, according to the report.
Qureshi added that he likely would not be alive today if he had not been able to get himself out of the rubble because rescuers would have waited too long to help for fear they would be killed.
The report from NYU and Stanford concluded that the U.S. government’s decision to use double-tap drone strikes “raises crucial moral and legal concerns.”
“Not only does the practice put into question the extent to which secondary strikes comply with international humanitarian law’s basic rules … but it also potentially violates specific legal protections for medical and humanitarian personnel, and for the wounded. As international law experts have noted, intentional strikes on first responders may constitute war crimes,” the report says.
Other objections come from individuals such as Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who says he considers secondary strikes to be “war crimes.” Even so, many in the U.S. government and military claim that using drones saves the lives of both servicemembers and civilians because the “robotic planes are more precise than manned planes.”
It’s not clear whether news of the double-tap tactic will alter American opinions on the use of drones.
In May, President Obama defended his administration’s use of drones, saying, “Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage.”
However, according to a study by a U.S. military adviser, “U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft.”
In sum, the study found that drone strikes — at least those that occurred in Afghanistan — “were an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement than manned bombing runs.”
Many Pakistanis and civilians in other nations where the U.S. often conducts drone strikes are already furious about the U.S. drone program. The Pakistani parliament has repeatedly denounced the drone strikes and called upon the U.S. to end the campaign.
The nation’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said, “We hope that drone attacks will end in the days to come.” He described the drone strikes as a violation of international law and the U.N. charter. Sharif also said that unlike previous Pakistani administrations, he would not silently support the drone strikes in his country while publicly criticizing the U.S.
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