“I saw men, women and children die during that time,” former US drone pilot Brandon Bryant told the December 10 Der Spiegel. “I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.”
Studies of soldiers who have served in the front-line in Western armies suggest that killing causes more post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than being shot at, injured or seeing fellow soldiers killed. The Der Spiegel article shows that despite their lethal activity being a nine-to-five job in the safety of New Mexico, drone pilots are still at risk from PTSD.
On the other side of the world, US drones are creating a different order of risk, leaving “as many as 4,515 dead, including 216 civilians under the age of 18”, Buzzfeed.com said on February 7.
The majority of those killed were in Pakistan, the rest in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. There are no accurate casualty figures for US drone strikes because of the secrecy surrounding the operations.
The US's growingsubstitution by the US of human combatants with airborne remote-control killing machines has received some rare media attention because of the Senate confirmation hearings for the new presidential nomination for CIA director, John Brennan.
A former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia and senior “counter-terrorism” adviser to the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations, Brennan is the architect of the drone program. On February 7, protesters from anti-war group Code Pink were ejected from the hearings before Brennan defended the drone operations, ABCnews.go.com reported.
On February 6, the New York Times and Washington Post revealed that US drones attacking Yemen were based at a secret US facility in Saudi Arabia.
However, while congratulating themselves on their scoops, the Times and the Post revealed that they had known about the Saudi base for two years, but not reported it at the government’s request.
The Post tried to justify this on February 6: “The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.”
By helping the US government maintain its veil of secrecy around the drone war, the corporate media are assisting indiscriminate killing in the guise of “operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate”.
The tepid debate about Brennan’s Senate confirmation hearings is the closest US mainstream discourse has come to questioning the US's self-declared “right” to kill anyone it wants anywhere in the world.
Civilian casualties are reported as “militants” or “fighting age men”. Only when local media or social media report images of dead children or women will there be any acknowledgement that some of them are, after all, civilians.
If one accepts corporate media reporting and the Obama administration’s official line, in the past decade 4000 key al-Qaeda leaders have been killed by drones. How al-Qaeda manages to remain a threat is never explained.
Drones are not invincible. On February 6, Iranian TV broadcast footage extracted from a US drone that the Iranian military electronically hijacked and captured in December 2011 and are reverse engineering.
The attraction to imperialist leaders of replacing military combatants with machines is obvious. To solve the problem of the remote control pilots in New Mexico getting PTSD, researchers are working on drones that will be fully automated and able to make the decision to kill without human intervention.