Drone Pilots Denounce 'Morally Outrageous’ Program
By Jake Heller
December 09, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "NBC"
- Former Air Force airmen are speaking out against America's use of
drone warfare, calling the military drone program "morally
outrageous" and "one of the most devastating driving forces for
terrorism and destabilization around the world."
In interviews with NBC News, three former
servicemen — who together have 15 years of military drone experience
— decried the civilian cost of drone strikes and called on President
Obama to "turn this around" before he leaves office.
"We were very callous about any real collateral
damage," said Michael Haas, 29, who worked as both a drone operator
and instructor. "Whenever that possibility came up, most of the time
it was a 'guilt by association' or sometimes we didn't even consider
other people that were on screen."
Alongside a former drone operator who was not
available to speak with NBC News, the three self-described
whistleblowers also wrote
a letter to President Obama, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and
CIA Director John Brennan in which they link drone strikes to the
rise of ISIS and to the recent attacks in Paris. For terrorists,
they wrote, drone attacks are "a fundamental recruiting tool similar
to Guantanamo Bay."
The Air Force, in a statement sent to NBC News,
said: "Our remotely piloted aircraft operators perform a critically
important mission that contributes significantly to national defense
and global security." The statement did not address the former
airmen's claims directly.
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
Meanwhile, those strikes have also killed hundreds
of civilians. Estimates range from 488 to 1,071, according to the
Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
"We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses
of power, and our country's leaders lying publicly about the
effectiveness of the drone program," the four men wrote in their
Their lawyer, Kathleen McClellan, called their
open opposition a "historic moment."
"This is the first time this many people who
served in the drone program are speaking out," she said in an
interview with NBC News.
Stephen Lewis, 29, who controlled the cameras on
the drones that helped guide Hellfire missiles into their targets,
said he "drank [himself] to sleep" every night after getting home
from work. "It was the culture there," he said. "Everybody did
something to take the edge off — to reform reality so you didn't
have to think about what you did."
Cian Westmoreland, 28, who worked on
communications infrastructure out of bases in Germany and
Afghanistan, said he had nightmares "about kids or mothers dying and
me trying to help them, and I couldn't.
"I would just feel helpless. And I knew it was
partially my fault," he said.
Brandon Bryant, 30, was the former drone operator
not available for an interview.
All four men say that they suffer from PTSD. Their
representatives say they were all honorably discharged — and that
they were offered reinstatement bonuses that ranged from $50,000 to
Drone pilots "are professional and comply with
applicable law, policies and adhere to very exacting procedures,"
the Air Force added. "Airmen are expected to adhere to established
standards of behavior."
The Air Force is currently struggling to retain
drone pilots and is losing more pilots than it is training, though
it says "a great deal of effort is being taken" to "stabilize the
"The remotely piloted aircraft career field is
under severe strain," the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in
its May 2015
Lewis remembers why he left. "Immediately after I
took my first life," he said, he told his superiors that "I didn't
belong there — I didn't need to be there anymore.
"People think it's a video game," he said. "But in
a video game you have checkpoints, you have restart points."
With drones, "when you fire that missile, there's
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