RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Hussain writes: "U.S. drone operators are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, four former operators said at a press briefing in New York."

Drone pilots. (photo: Getty)
Drone pilots. (photo: Getty)

Former Drone Operators Are 'Horrified' by the Cruelty of the Assassination Program

By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept

27 November 15


.S. drone operators are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, four former operators said at a press briefing today in New York.

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.

In addition to Haas, the operators are former Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Bryant along with former senior airmen Cian Westmoreland and Stephen Lewis. The men have conducted kill missions in many of the major theaters of the post-9/11 war on terror, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We have seen the abuse firsthand," said Bryant, "and we are horrified."

An Air Force spokesperson did not address the specific allegations but wrote in an email that "the demands placed on the [drone] force are tremendous. A great deal of effort is being taken to bring about relief, stabilize the force, and sustain a vital warfighter capability. … Airmen are expected to adhere to established standards of behavior. Behavior found to be inconsistent with Air Force core values is appropriately looked into and if warranted, disciplinary action is taken."

Beyond the press conference, the group also denounced the program yesterday in an interview with The Guardian and in an open letter addressed to President Obama.

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 Obama administration has gone to great lengths to keep details of the drone program secret, but in their statements today the former operators opened up about the culture that has developed among those responsible for carrying it out. Haas said operators become acculturated to denying the humanity of the people on their targeting screens. "There was a much more detached outlook about who these people were we were monitoring," he said. "Shooting was something to be lauded and something we should strive for."

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. Drone operators, he said, would frequently get intoxicated using bath salts and synthetic marijuana to avoid possible drug testing and in an effort to "bend that reality and try to picture yourself not being there." Haas said that he knew at least a half-dozen people in his unit who were using bath salts and that drug use had "impaired" them during missions.

The Obama administration's assassination program has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. This October, The Intercept published a cache of classified documents leaked by a government whistleblower that showed how the program killed people based on unreliable intelligence, that the vast majority of people killed in a multi-year Afghanistan campaign were not the intended targets, and that the military by default labeled non-targets killed in the campaign as enemies rather than civilians.

The operators said that they felt increasing urgency to speak out in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week; they believe drone assassinations have fed the rise of the extremist group the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Westmoreland said of drones: "In the short term they're good at killing people, but in the long term they're not effective. There are 15-year-olds growing up who have not lived a day without drones overhead, but you also have expats who are watching what's going on in their home countries and seeing regularly the violations that are happening there, and that is something that could radicalize them."

In their open letter to Obama, the former drone pilots made a similar point, writing that during their service they "came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS," going on to describe the program as "one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world."

At the press conference today, the pilots echoed these sentiments. "It seems like our actions of late have only made the problems worse. … The drones are good at killing people, just not the right ones," Bryant said. "Have we forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of vengeance and security?" your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+30 # PCPrincess 2015-11-27 11:55
I would like to add one post-Thanksgivi ng 'thanks' to my list. I'm grateful for these four ethical men who are taking the time to ensure that the horrible U.S. practice of drone strikes can be viewed for what it really is. So, to the four men, I say, "Thank You".
+13 # tedrey 2015-11-27 12:38
"Behavior found to be inconsistent with Air Force core values is appropriately looked into."

Somehow, given recent Air Force activity, I am not reassured.
-14 # Shades of gray matter 2015-11-27 12:42
Courageous whistleblowers. Ferocious enemy. Extremely difficult considerations.
A dozen major factors figure into Jihad, humiliation at being so far behind much of the rest of the world is one. Some rigid backward looking cultures wreak havoc on progress. Overpopulation and gross inequality. Needless to say, the damage wrought by imperialism. We face an implacable enemy, partly of our own making. Since we cannot defend every potential target, we must fight on the offensive at all times. Armies and B52s won't do. We can't walk away, and give them bases for acquiring WMDs. Quite the predicament. Very complex, very difficult. Not entirely of our own making. Jihad would exist without many of our blunders. But, it is here, now.
+4 # RGV.REG 2015-11-27 14:05
Capitalism and competition create a "me and you" society, greed, and inconsideratene ss towards our fellow man.
I believe this is what causes "terrorists"!
+2 # janie1893 2015-11-27 15:54
Terrorism is the result of cowardly killers. Drones are the weapons of liars and cowards.
+7 # Radscal 2015-11-27 16:03
The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines terrorism as:

"The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."

Drones buzzing overhead are intended to terrify the people below them. The people cannot know which drones are armed, and since Hellfire Missiles fly faster than sound, victims never hear them before they rain down their hellfire. So those people live in constant terror.

And those who wish to deny the religious aspect of the Global War OF Terror, just where does this term "hellfire" come from?

Finally, bear in mind that Hellfire Missiles include an incendiary warhead. About 1/3 of Hellfire casualties are burned to death.

We ARE terrorists, and it is most heartening to see more drone operators come to that realization and publicize it.
+4 # evalderrama 2015-11-27 16:08
"...the program as "one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world. " Sounds to me as if it is fulfilling its purpose perfectly.

"targeted assassination program" These pseudo humans have perfected the art of coming up with obscene titles for their "programs."
+3 # Billy Bob 2015-11-27 16:10
Decades from now, the "fun sized terrorist" murderers will be shouting about liberals calling them "baby killers", for even reporting the truth.
+2 # jsluka 2015-11-27 17:24
Good point Billy Bob.
0 # Billy Bob 2015-11-27 18:48
Thank you. It's true that all of us have our "patriotism" challenged for questioning murder.
+2 # PABLO DIABLO 2015-11-28 00:07
"If the President does it, it's not illegal"--- President Richard Nixon

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.