When the re-election of President Obama was official, I was very interested to see what would happen to the trajectory of foreign military interventions — especially the use of unmanned Predator drones. We didn’t have to wait long, however; within hours of being reelected, Obama celebrated with strikes in Yemen. As unaccountable, lawless, and dangerous as U.S. use of drone warfare has been under the Obama administration, new developments reveal that it may actually be getting worse.
NYU student Josh Begley has been tweeting every U.S. drone strike since President Bush’s first bombing in Yemen back in 2002, and his Twitter feed highlights an incredibly disturbing tactic. The U.S. is employing a “double-tap” method in its use of drones, which means the bombing of a target multiple times in a very short period of time.
These “double-tap” attacks end up hitting “first responders” to the rubble and ashes that are left over after the initial strike, and Begley’s tweets reveal that the U.S. has been intentionally targeting funerals and civilian rescuers.
While these tactics, when discussed at all (Obama’s drone program is shrouded in an intense level of secrecy), are justified under the rubric of “national security,” even the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have classified “double-taps” as staples of terrorists, not the repertoire of supposed constitutional republics.
So while the “double-tap” method may please the likes of Hamas and the abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, these attacks, even by the most broad definitions of international law, are blatant war crimes.
According to UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns, “secondary strikes on rescuers who are helping (the injured) after an initial drone attack, those further attacks are a war crime.” Clive Stafford-Smith, the lawyer who heads the Anglo-US legal charity Reprieve, believes that such strikes “are like attacking the Red Cross on the battlefield. It’s not legitimate to attack anyone who is not a combatant.”
Not only has the Obama administration adopted the use of “double-taps” in its already hyper-aggressive drone warfare, the U.S. military now officially says that children are legitimate targets in the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban “may be recruiting children.” While this may or may not be the case, President Obama’s drone strikes have killed at least 178 children so far, proving that this may be yet another attempt to cloak the innocent deaths caused by drone strikes — and the anticipation of many, many more — in some type of legalese justification.
Proponents of the drone war, including the president and his administration on the rare occasion that they do discuss it, claim that drone strikes are precise and only target terrorists. A study, however, from Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute finds that the number of Pakistani civilians killed in drone strikes are “significantly and consistently underestimated” and that as many as 98% of those killed by drone strikes are civilians.
While it is ultimately impossible to get exact numbers, the Obama administration has dismissed this criticism by simply counting all “military-age males in a strike zone” as combatants, assuring that nearly every person vaporized by a drone missile is labeled — and reported as — a “militant.” With this kind of argumentation coming from Washington, the use of “double-taps” and the establishment of children as legitimate military targets is an unsurprising next logical step.
The controversial use of Predator drones, and their perversion of law, transparency, and presidential powers, is rendered even more contentious by these latest revelations as the Obama administration and the CIA seek to expand their use while masking their illegal, immoral, and murderous actions in as much secrecy as they can get away with.
Covert warfare, lawless drone strikes, and the ruthless use of military power abroad are not only the biggest threats to checks-and-balances and the rule of constitutional law, but as retiring Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) recently argued, will also undoubtedly create blowback and makes us less safe.
In the name of fighting a perpetual, indefinite “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration has expanded and even codified the use of the aforementioned tactics that can appropriately be labeled terrorism and war crimes.
It is truly a telling and troubling sign of the state of our republic when the most (in)famous legacy of our current president is the extended use of unmanned killer robots dispensing arbitrary death and destruction from the sky. And since “conservatives” will only criticize the president for not being militaristic and lawless enough while “liberals” will simply ignore and/or excuse him, it appears that highlighting and exposing the dangers of lawless drone war will be left up to the libertarian remnant in America.
This post originally appeared at A Little Rebellion.