From Game Console to Drone Trigger

By Andrej Mrevlje |

The U.S. military has been targeting kids who are good at playing video games. Their wired brains, their eye-thumb coordination, their multitasking and team fighting abilities, their target shooting skills – these are all perfect for the drone war. According to one recent documentary, the U.S. Army has even produced a video game to test kids to see if they have appropriate skills to become drone pilots. Tonje Hessen Schei, the director of the documentary Drone, claims that the American military has been using this technique for 10 years. This tool for recruiting drone pilots is now spreading to some European countries. For kids with these kinds of skills, switching from a console in the game room to a drone trigger to shoot real targets is just another game. Until they become aware that they’ve murdered real,  innocent people.

A few months ago, the Intercept reported on a press conference called by a group of drone whistleblowers:

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 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.

These four drone operators, who left the service some time ago, decided to go public after last year’s deadly attack  on Paris. It is their conviction that drone assassinations have fed the rise of the extremist group called the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The whistleblowers also wrote an open letter to president Barack Obama:

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.

The other day, Reprieve – an organization of lawyers and investigators assisting those facing execution, extrajudicial killing and detention without trial – organized a screening of Eye in the Sky,  a film about a secret drone operation to capture terrorists in Kenya. In the film, a British intelligence officer discovers through remote surveillance that certain terrorists are planning a suicide bombing. As a result, his operation escalates from “capture” to “kill.” But as an American drone pilot is about to engage from a secret base in the U.S., a nine-year-old girl enters the kill zone. The presence of the young girl in proximity to the target triggers an argument among the highest levels of U.S. and British government. In the film, they argue over the moral, political and personal implications of modern warfare. But Eye in the Sky is just a movie, and Cian Westmoreland, a former senior airman of the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron who answered questions after the screening, immediately denied that the U.S. army would ever consider this kind of question when the collateral damage is such a small number of people.

“We killed during weddings and funerals,” said Westmoreland, who had obvious difficulties discussing his memories. He still has nightmares. He still dreams that he is trying to help the innocent mothers and children they killed. During the discussion, there was talk about the high rate of suicides among – mostly young – drone operators.

His voice breaking, Westmoreland said that the CIA considers even 12-year-old kids to be potential enemies and targets. Westmoreland also denied that drone and surveillance technology is at the level shown in the movie. “We acted on the basis of moving silhouettes that we suspected to be our targets. There is never facial recognition before targeting, because the technology is simply not that good.”

Westmoreland, who wants the president of the U.S. to stop drone targeting, said that he voted for Obama before he became the drone president. At the same time, he admitted that drones are more precise than the F-16 and other planes that use precision-guided missiles. “But while they might be useful in particular cases of fighting terrorists, using the drones as warfare cannot be a long term solution,” Westmoreland said.

According to an NBC report:

American drone strikes have increased exponentially under President Obama; in Pakistan alone, the current administration has launched 370 strikes compared to the Bush administration’s 51, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the attacks.

Add Somalia and Yemen (using New America Foundation data), and President Obama has launched 894 percent more drone strikes than did his predecessor.

Combined, drone strikes on Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have killed 2,736 to 4,169 militants, according to the New America Foundation.

Meanwhile, those strikes have also killed hundreds of civilians. Estimates range from 488 to 1,071, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Perhaps the only good news in this horrific drone business is the fact that the military is short of the pilots they would need to continue their killing.

However, if you watch the interviews with the whistleblowers in this video, you might be willing to take action to stop this killing game. It is horrible – comparable to the training of child soldiers in Africa.    

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