"Yusufzai, who reported on the attack, says those killed in the follow-up strike 'were trying to pull out the bodies, to help clear the rubble, and take people to hospital.' The impact of drone attacks on rescuers has been to scare people off, he says: 'They've learnt that something will happen. No one wants to go close to these damaged building anymore.'"
Since that first bureau report, there have been numerous other documented cases of the use by the US of this tactic: "On [4 June], US drones attacked rescuers in Waziristan in western Pakistan minutes after an initial strike, killing 16 people in total according to the BBC. On 28 May, drones were also reported to have returned to the attack in Khassokhel near Mir Ali." Moreover, "between May 2009 and June 2011, at least 15 attacks on rescuers were reported by credible news media, including the New York Times, CNN, ABC News and Al Jazeera."
In June, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said that if "there have been secondary drone strikes on rescuers who are helping (the injured) after an initial drone attack, those further attacks are a war crime." There is no doubt that there have been.
(A different UN official, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, this weekend demanded that the US "must open itself to an independent investigation into its use of drone strikes or the United Nations will be forced to step in," and warned that the demand "will remain at the top of the UN political agenda until some consensus and transparency has been achieved." For many American progressives, caring about what the UN thinks is so very 2003.)
The frequency with which the US uses this tactic is reflected by this December 2011 report from ABC News on the drone killing of 16-year-old Tariq Khan and his 12-year-old cousin Waheed, just days after the older boy attended a meeting to protest US drones:
"Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed's deaths, Akbar did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack."
Not only does that tactic intimidate rescuers from helping the wounded and removing the dead, but it also ensures that journalists will be unwilling to go to the scene of a drone attack out of fear of a follow-up attack.
This has now happened yet again this weekend in Pakistan, which witnessed what Reuters calls "a flurry of drone attacks" that "pounded northern Pakistan over the weekend, killing 13 people in three separate attacks." The attacks "came as Pakistanis celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan with the festival of Eid al-Fitr." At least one of these weekend strikes was the type of "double tap" explosion aimed at rescuers which, the US government says, is the hallmark of Hamas:
"At least six militants were killed when US drones fired missiles twice on Sunday in North Waziristan Agency.
"In the first strike, four missiles were fired on two vehicles in the Mana Gurbaz area of district Shawal in North Waziristan Agency, while two missiles were fired in the second strike at the same site where militants were removing the wreckage of their destroyed vehicles."
An unnamed Pakistani official identically told Agence France-Presse that a second US drone "fired two missiles at the site of this morning's attack, where militants were removing the wreckage of their two destroyed vehicles." (Those killed by US drone attacks in Pakistan are more or less automatically deemed "militants" by unnamed "officials," and then uncritically called such by most of the western press -- a practice that inexcusably continues despite revelations that the Obama administration has redefined "militants" to mean "all military-age males in a strike zone.")
It is telling indeed that the Obama administration now routinely uses tactics in Pakistan long denounced as terrorism when used by others, and does so with so little controversy. Just in the past several months, attacks on funerals of victims have taken place in Yemen (purportedly by al-Qaida) and in Syria (purportedly, though without evidence, by the Assad regime), and such attacks -- understandably -- sparked outrage. Yet, in the west, the silence about the Obama administration's attacks on funerals and rescuers is deafening.
But in the areas targeted by the US with these tactics, there is anything but silence. Pakistan's most popular politician, Imran Khan, has generated intense public support with his scathing denunciations of US drone attacks, and tweeted the following on Sunday:
As usual, US policies justified in the name of fighting terrorism -- aside from being rather terroristic themselves -- are precisely those which fuel the anti-American hatred that causes those attacks.
The reason for the silence about such matters, and the reason commentary of this sort sparks such anger and hostility, is two-fold: first, the US likes to think of terror as something only "others" engage in, not itself, and more so; second, supporters of Barack Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, simply do not want to think about him as someone who orders attacks on those rescuing his victims or funeral attendees gathered to mourn them.
That, however, is precisely what he is doing, as this mountain of evidence conclusively establishes.