Gwynne Dyer: Double-tap drone attacks are truly shameful

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      “Double tap” is what mobsters do when they put somebody down. One bullet in the heart, one in the head. That way they stay down. It’s practically standard operating procedure among hitmen.

      Then there’s a different, nastier kind of “double tap”. Suppose you live in some hill village in western Pakistan, and one of the families nearby has a boy fighting with the Taliban who has come home for a visit, bringing several friends with him. It’s worrisome, because you are always hearing American drones overhead—and sure enough, one day there is a terrifying explosion and his house is destroyed.

      What do you do now? There was a whole extended family living in that house: children, old folks, a cousin or two. Some of them are probably still alive under the rubble, perhaps badly injured. Do you rush over and help to dig them out? Better not. The Predator or Reaper drone (lovely names) will wait until all the neighbours have gathered round, and then launch a second Hellfire missile onto the site. Double tap.

      “These strikes are becoming much more common,” Mirza Shahbad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who represents the victims of drone strikes, told the Independent newspaper recently. “In the past it used to be a one-off, now and then. Now almost every other attack is a double tap. There is no justification for it.”

      Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic have just released a report, based on nine months of research and 130 interviews, which concludes that barely two percent of the victims of U.S. drone strikes were known militants. That’s not to say that everybody else killed or injured was an innocent civilian, but these are definitely not “surgical” strikes.

      The best estimate of the number of people killed in U.S. drone strikes over the past eight years comes from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: between 2,532 and 3,251 dead in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Of those, between 475 and 879 deaths were civilian non-combatants who just happened to be nearby when the Hellfire hit—often because they were trying to rescue survivors from an earlier strike.

      The Stanford/New York University study, entitled “Living Under Drones”, describes the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s database as “far more reliable than other aggregating sources,” based on a far wider range of sources than other comparable studies. And of course there are no official numbers. The U.S. government doesn’t even try to count the casualties.

      Washington doesn’t formally admit that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a remote-control assassination programme at all, because it is legally a very doubtful area. At the same time, it strives to reassure the American public that there is almost no “collateral damage”: that practically all the victims are “bad guys”. Including the 175 children who, according to the Bureau’s numbers, have been killed in the strikes.

      Let’s be honest here: children always get killed in air strikes. When you explode 10 kilograms of high explosives on a single target (the standard Hellfire load), there can be nothing surgical about it. The really questionable aspects of the CIA’s drone programme lie elsewhere.

      First, is it legal to make air attacks in a country that you are not at war with? Second, can you distinguish sufficiently between “militants” and civilians living in the same area? And, above all, why are you making double-tap attacks?

      The legal question is particularly problematic in Pakistan, where the government has not authorised the United States to carry out attacks. Islamabad tacitly accepts them, but sometimes public opinion forces it to respond vigorously, as when an American missile killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. That blunder also highlights the difficulty of distinguishing between “militants” and civilians through the lens of a remote-controlled camera.

      It’s the double-tap attacks that are truly shameful. Do the controllers really think that the people rushing to rescue the survivors of a first strike are all “militants” too? Or are they just trying to deter people from helping those who were wounded in the first strike? That is certainly the effect of the policy: villagers now often leave the injured survivors of an attack in agony for hours before going to help them, for fear of becoming victims too.

      There’s no point in telling the military and their masters that this tactic is counter-productive, generating more new “militants” than it kills. The bureaucratic machine doesn’t respond to such subtle arguments. There’s probably no point in talking about the moral problem of killing innocent people either. But the fact that some fifty countries now have drones should inspire a little reflection about this unwritten change in the rules of engagement.

      The latest proud possessor of these weapons is Iran, which has just unveiled a new drone with a range of 2,000 kilometres, capable of flying over most of the Middle East. If it is really copied from the U.S. drone that Iran captured last year, then it has major air-to-ground capabilities. So what if it starts using those capabilities over, say, Syria, against the rebels that the Syrian government calls “terrorists”?

      The U.S. could not really complain (though no doubt it would). What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.




      Sep 27, 2012 at 1:05pm

      This is Dr. Frankenstein 'surgical'.


      Sep 28, 2012 at 8:13am

      I am not really surprised to read this. Dyer never mentioned the victims of the Taliban, but will cry a river for the same fascists killed by US drones. It again show the immorality of the left who will support any dictator, mass murdered, fascist, or totalitarian as long as they are anti-American.


      Sep 28, 2012 at 8:30am

      Have you ever stopped to think about how many innocent civilians worldwide Uncle Sam has killed in it's path to world ascendcy? They are now pioneers of remote control murder. I have no doubt, the immoral killing of Pakistanis in this manner is based on racist prejudice.
      Right now Fortress America is immune to revenge but a time will come when America will become vulnerable. Live by the sword ,die by the sword.

      Lisa Smith

      Sep 28, 2012 at 1:19pm

      Remote control slaughter, from half way around the globe, is sickening on the face of it, and the US’s shameless lies about the results of its drone strikes are too moronic to believe. Only a lunatic could consider every adult male a legitimate target for murder.

      In specific regard to this 'double-tap' tactic of targeting good Samaritans and medical staff: The US decried this tactic with raw moral outrage, when it was used against invading US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      The US’s righteous indignation – which unambiguously demonstrated its understanding of the indefensible malevolence inherent in this tactic – has been replaced by unapologetic imitation.

      I don’t believe that there is any thinking person who can possibly defend this hostile, terrorizing, slaughter.

      This racket of creating “terrorists” in one region and squeezing us dry for “protection” against them in another, is an assault on us all; Pakistanis, Americans, Afghans, Canadians, Iraqis and Brits alike.

      We should ALL be outraged by this cynical savagery.

      Eric S. Smith

      Sep 28, 2012 at 2:02pm

      One of the things we all hated so much about September 11th was the way so many first responders died trying to rescue the trapped and injured.

      Dyer’s right — this “double tap” business stinks.

      Hammer of Judah

      Sep 28, 2012 at 5:38pm

      More of Gwynne Dyer's bullshit. The term "double tap" has nothing to do with mobsters - it is a military term. And it is not a shot to the heart and one in the head - it is two quick shots in succession at whatever part of the body the shooter is aiming at.

      The trouble with Gwynne Dyer is that he starts from such a strong position of anti-Americanism that his columns have become banal and utterly predictable. No one reads Gwynne for any real analysis anymore. They only read him to confirm their own prejudices.

      21 Murrays with Cheese

      Sep 28, 2012 at 6:33pm


      Hey, Jackass (notice that I capitalized – yes, subtly is a handy tool for insulting others) – Dyer didn’t express a single goddamn word of sympathy for militants. Go back and re-read the fucking article – NO WHERE does he say anything suggesting ANY concern for militants. What he does do is point out that perhaps killing CIVILIANS isn’t such a great idea.

      Really, Asshole (see? I did it again), if you’re going to attack someone, at least make sure they’re guilty of whatever it is you’re attacking them for. That's good advice for you and your War-Monkey heroes, the US.

      Oh yeah, and in case I didn't make it clear enough:
      Fuck you, you reactionary fucking idiot.

      Thank you for your attention, I will now take questions from the audience.

      War Monkey Hero

      Sep 28, 2012 at 9:58pm

      The only trouble with drones is that there aren't enough of them.


      Sep 28, 2012 at 10:10pm

      Interesting lapse in Our Narrative by a Respected Military Historian who has written extensively on 'terrorism'.

      “Double tap” could be an allusion to America's criminality
      “Double tap” could be as someone said a military term

      OR -- the notion of setting off a bomb, then having a second bomb ready to go to kill the rescuers/supporters which was once a considered act of terrorism by Western standards and was/is frequently cited as something 'the enemy' does because they hate our freedom...

      Things like torture, show trials, clearing a whole neighbourhood because cops have an incident, or xrays at airports...or the strange fact that no matter WHO you vote'll always get WAR or/and increased military budgets and a bizarre diorama of our enemies' version of a government!

      So the US is murdering people with MACH 2 drones and telling us the people they killed were bad? Could be worst...a belly full of bombs with Agent Orange?

      It's 2012...let's stop apologizing for this shit....esp. idiot Military Historians