Four former operators of US killer drones revealed at a press briefing what really happens in that program. They themselves seem to feel the killings they carry out are actually making the situation worse, in addition to inflicting psychological trauma on themselves. The Guardian has a report on the story.
Haas, a 29-year-old, in a Notre Dame baseball cap and Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey jersey, looks too youthful to be burdened by such enormous issues. Yet the existential sensation of killing someone by manipulating a computer joystick has left a deep and lasting impression on him. “Ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you are made to think of the targets – as just black blobs on a screen. You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do – they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day – and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.”
They talk about many situations where they felt that they had killed innocent people.
In the fourth of the Hellfire strikes in which Bryant directly participated, his team was called in to take out a group of five tribal individuals and their camel who were travelling through a pass from Pakistan to Afghanistan. They were said to be carrying explosives for use in attacks on US troops.
Bryant, together with a pilot and mission coordinator who formed the other two members of his team, tracked the group for several hours from their computers outside Las Vegas. They flew the Predator drone out of sight and beyond earshot of the targets at about 20,000 feet and a distance of about four nautical miles from the group on the ground.
He was puzzled during that time, because there was no sign of any weapons on the men or in the baggage carried by the camel. The drone team patiently waited for the men to descend the valley and bed in for the night, before they let rip with the Hellfire. Even then, there were no secondary explosions, which made Bryant think that his hunch had probably been right – five men and a camel had been reduced to dust for no apparent reason.
“We waited for those men to settle down in their beds and then we killed them in their sleep. That was cowardly murder,” he said.
And there is the callous killing of children.
And then there were the children. The airmen would be flying the Predators over a village in the tribal areas of Pakistan, say, when a series of smaller black shadows would appear across their screens – telling them that kids were at the scene.
They called them “fun-sized terrorists”.
The pilots also wrote an open letter to president Obama.
We are former Air Force service members. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.
When the guilt of our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life became too much, all of us succumbed to PTSD. We were cut loose by the same government we gave so much to sent out in the world without adequate medical care, reliable public health services, or necessary benefits. Some of us are now homeless. Others of us barely make it.
We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country’s leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program. We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home. Such silence would violate the very oaths we took to support and defend the Constitution.
We request that you consider our perspective, though perhaps that request is in vain given the unprecedented prosecution of truthtellers who came before us like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. For the sake of this country, we hope it is otherwise.
Their invocation of Manning, Assange, and Snowden is not likely to win them friends in high levels of US government, especially with Obama who has gone out of his was to harshly treat these brave exposers of US government misdeeds. I suspect that the drone operators know this and were using this opportunity to express solidarity with them.
Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept also reports on the briefing and how the operators were horrified at the cruelty of the program they were part of.
The killings, part of the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program, are aiding terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the program’s goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans added. Drone operators refer to children as “fun-size terrorists” and liken killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long,” said one of the operators, Michael Haas, a former senior airman in the Air Force. Haas also described widespread drug and alcohol abuse, further stating that some operators had flown missions while impaired.
At the press conference, Bryant said the killing of civilians by drone is exacerbating the problem of terrorism. “We kill four and create 10 [militants],” Bryant said. “If you kill someone’s father, uncle or brother who had nothing to do with anything, their families are going to want revenge.”
The deaths of children and other non-combatants in strikes was rationalized by many drone operators, Haas said. As a flight instructor, Haas claimed to have been non-judicially reprimanded by his superiors for failing a student who had expressed “bloodlust,” an overwhelming eagerness to kill.
Haas also described widespread alcohol and drug abuse among drone pilots.
When history writes about president Obama, it will look on his drone killings program as one of the most shameful aspects on his record, similar to the way that the internment of Japanese-Americans by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam are now viewed. All those who are now cheering Obama on may want to think about that.