LUMPENPROLETARIAT—During today’s Democracy Now! broadcast, Amy Goodman and company have taken on the issue of drone warfare and imperialism. (See text below, or video here.) Goodman and company interviewed former U.S. military drone pilots risking prosecution by turning whistleblowers and also introduced free speech radio audiences to the 2014 Norwegian documentary film, Drone, directed by Tonje Hessen Schei. Drone paints a chilling human face to the otherwise anonymous identity behind the US military’s drone strikes, as the military refocuses its recruiting toward detached videogamers.
John DeFore, reviewing for The Hollywood Reporter, called Drone “an important contribution to debates over a means of warfare that is just in its infancy”. DeFore said the documentary had an “effective and clear-headed” presentation of “multiple sides of the debate”. The critic concluded, “Drone takes a quick look at realities of the warfare industry and asks the obvious question: How will Americans feel when another government (or non-governmental entity) has remote-controlled death hovering constantly over our heads?”
THE NEW YORK TIMES—[19 NOV 2015] This probably isn’t the best moment to find a receptive audience for a film that questions the American use of drone strikes in the war on terror. Regardless of whether armed drones would have been useful countering the attacks in Paris, those events have many people locked into a “whatever it takes” mentality when it comes to fighting extremism.
But “Drone,” a documentary by the Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei, has a lot to say that needs to be heard. Some of it is already fairly familiar, though that makes it no less urgent. The morality of killing people without trial and the substantial civilian casualties caused by the so-called targeted strikes have been the source of debate and protest for some time. And others have argued, as this film does, that drone warfare is actually a recruitment tool for terrorist groups because of the resentment it is generating.
But this film examines some less familiar issues, too, including how the makers of traditional weapons will respond as the increasing use of drones reduces demand for heavy armaments. There is also a chilling nod to the fact that drones aren’t the exclusive province of the United States or its allies.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state, says, “There has never been any technology of warfare that isn’t ultimately adopted by your enemy or enemies.” Then comes an aerial shot of Lower Manhattan.
There are no suggested solutions here to the difficult issues raised, but the film at least reminds us that it’s important not to accept this new way of warring without scrutinizing it.
Learn more at THE NEW YORK TIMES.
DEMOCRACY NOW!—[20 NOV 2015] “Exclusive: Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror”
Has the U.S. drone war “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS“? That’s the conclusion of four former Air Force servicemembers who are speaking out together for the first time. They’ve issued a letter to President Obama warning the U.S. drone program is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism. They accuse the administration of lying about the effectiveness of the drone program, saying it is good at killing people—just not the right ones. The four drone war veterans risk prosecution by an administration that has been unprecedented in its targeting of government whistle-blowers. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, they join us in their first extended broadcast interview.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. [accessed 20 NOV 2015 10:16 PDT]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Since the Paris attacks one week ago, France has escalated bombings of Syria, and the U.S. has vowed an intensification of its war on the Islamic State. With only a small number of U.S. special forces on the ground, Iraq and Syria have become new fronts in a global drone war that has launched thousands of strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
But now an unprecedented group is calling for the drone war to stop. In an open letter to President Obama, four U.S. Air Force service-members who took part in the drone campaign say targeted killings and remote control bombings fuel the very terrorism the government says it’s trying to destroy. The four whistleblowers write, quote, “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.”
They continue, saying, quote, “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.”
AMY GOODMAN: On top of the toll on civilian victims, the letter also addresses the personal impact of waging remote war. All four say they have suffered PTSD and feel abandoned by the military they served, with some now homeless or barely getting by. The letter brings together the largest group of whistleblowers in the drone war’s history. Three of the signatories operated the visual sensors that guide U.S. Predator drone missiles to their targets. Two are speaking out for the first time; three in a TV broadcast, they’ve never done it before. The other two have previously raised their concerns about the drone program, including in the documentary, Drone. The film, premiering in New York City and Toronto today, reveals how a regular U.S. Air Force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA’s drone strike program in Pakistan.
BRANDON BRYANT: We are the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate peeping Toms. I’m watching this person, and this person has no clue what’s going on. No one’s going to catch us. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives.
MICHAEL HAAS: You never know who you’re killing, because you never actually see a face. You just have a silhouette. They don’t have to take a shot. They don’t have to bear that burden. I’m the one that has to bear that burden.
P.W. SINGER: There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. The military has invested in creating video games that they’re using as recruiting tools.
UNIDENTIFIED: War is an unbelievably profitable business.
CHRIS WALLACE: The drones have been terrifically effective. They’ve taken out a lot of the al-Qaeda leadership. It’s cheap. It doesn’t involve putting troops on the ground.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe the United States of America must remain a standard-bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight.
UNIDENTIFIED: United States is violating one of the most fundamental rights of all: the right to life.
UNIDENTIFIED: There’s a large number of innocent civilians who are being killed, and that has to be reported.
CHRIS WOODS: The majority of the secret drone strikes that have taken place have, we have always understood, been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency.
BRANDON BRYANT: There is a lie hidden within that truth.
AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the documentary Drone, premiering today in New York City and Toronto. In speaking out together, the four former servicemembers risk prosecution under the Espionage Act by an administration that’s waged an unprecedented campaign against government whistleblowers. They also set their sights on a cornerstone of President Obama’s national security policy just as it threatens to escalate in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. After being elected to office on a platform of Iraq War opposition and a vow to bring the troops home, President Obama has quietly expanded the drone war far beyond its size and lethality under President George W. Bush.
Today, in this Democracy Now! exclusive, these four war whistleblowers join us in their first extended broadcast interview. We’re joined by Brandon Bryant and Michael Haas, who have spoken out to a certain extent before, both former sensor operators for the U.S. Air Force Predator program. Stephen Lewis, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is also a former sensor operator for the Air Force Predator program and this week is speaking out for the first time. Also going public for the first time is Cian Westmoreland, a former Air Force technician who helped build a station in Afghanistan used to relay drone data.
But first, I want to turn to Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project, former ethics adviser to the U.S. Department of Justice. As an attorney, she is representing several former drone operators, including this group of four young men who are speaking out today.
Jesselyn Radack, how much do they risk in speaking out on Democracy Now! today?
JESSELYN RADACK: They’re taking an enormous and very brave public risk in speaking out. I have clients in the national security and intelligence communities who have done nothing more than tell the truth about some of America’s darkest secrets, like torture and secret surveillance—and now, in this case, drones—and those clients, a number of them, have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act—and Edward Snowden, of course, another one, is living in exile—not because they’ve done anything wrong or even revealed classified information, which they’re not here to do today, but because they have embarrassed the U.S. government. All of these men—a number of them, half of them, have complained internally, to no avail. They have gone through internal channels.
And we’re hoping that today, by going public, that this will have more of an influence in the debate, because somehow there’s a complete disconnect between these terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere and the fact that the drone program has fueled ISIS and al-Qaeda and a number of terrorist groups, and that really needs to be addressed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to ask Brandon Bryant—we’ve had you on Democracy Now! a couple of years ago, and these guys here worked with you, as well. Could you talk about the decision to come out as a group, how you came to that and why at this particular point?
BRANDON BRYANT: Well, you know, when I first started talking out about my experiences, it was more to get a bunch of stuff off my chest and to actually try to come clean with what I have done and reveal what exactly is going on. And I’m actually really honored to be with these gentlemen right here, is that I trust them. And this is their decision to come out, and I’m here to support them, because I’ve already been doing this for three years, and it’s time that we just get a bigger coalition of people together to attack this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you sign this letter? And what are you calling on President Obama to do?
BRANDON BRYANT: We want the president to have more transparency in this issue, and we want the American people to understand exactly what’s being done in their name. And I think that all this fear and hatred that keeps going on is just out of control, and we need to stop it somewhere.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Michael Haas, I wanted to ask you, in terms of your experience in the drone program and the culture that the military basically allowed to flourish in the drone program, you’ve talked about how your fellow servicemembers talked about the children that they were targeting, as well.
MICHAEL HAAS: Yes, the term “fun-sized terrorists” was used to just sort of denote children that we’d see on screen.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it?
MICHAEL HAAS: “Fun-sized terrorists.”
AMY GOODMAN: “Fun-sized terrorists”?
MICHAEL HAAS: Yes. Other terms we’d use would be “cutting the grass before it grows too long,” just doing whatever you can to try to make it easier to kill whatever’s on screen. And the culture is—that mentality is very much nurtured within the drone community, because these—every Hellfire shot is sort of lauded and applauded, and we don’t really examine who exactly was killed, but just that it was an effective shot and the missile hit its target.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you start to have questions?
MICHAEL HAAS: Shortly after I became an instructor and I started to see how much the mentality had shifted since I had been in. And the 11th hadn’t really changed how they had trained their sensor operators from a basic-level standpoint.
AMY GOODMAN: The 11th is?
MICHAEL HAAS: The basic training squadron up at Creech. They train all the sensor operators.
AMY GOODMAN: This is at Creech in Nevada.
MICHAEL HAAS: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you were a video game addict as you were growing up. Can you talk about this whole impact of sort of the video game approach to war?
MICHAEL HAAS: The thing that makes the gamers a prime target for this job field is that ability to just multitask and do a lot of things subconsciously and just sort of out of reflex. And you don’t really even have to think about it, which is, you know, paramount to doing this job. But a lot of it is getting used to just seeing something on screen, killing it and then going about your business as though you don’t really—you don’t really pay it a second thought. It was just an objective to be completed.
Learn more at DEMOCRACY NOW!
DEMOCRACY NOW!—[20 NOV 2015] “From Console to Trigger: How Pentagon ‘Exploits’ Video Game Culture to Wire Youth for War”
Among the issues tackled in the new documentary film “Drone” is the connection between video games and military recruitment. We air a clip from the film and speak to its director, Tonje Hessen Schei, as well as drone war whistleblower Brandon Bryant. “I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using to manipulate and recruit,” Bryant says. “We’re more interconnected now than at any time in human history — and that’s being exploited to help people kill one another.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. [accessed 20 NOV 2015 12:43 PDT]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to a clip from the film Drone about the connection between video games and military recruitment. This clip features Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Callahan and former U.S. Navy pilot Missy Cummings. But first, P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War.
P.W. SINGER: There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. And I call this phenomenon “militainment,” where the military world is actually now pulling tools from the world of entertainment to do its job better. The military has invested in creating video games that they’re using as recruiting tools.
LT. COL. BRYAN CALLAHAN: How do we find our 18X pilots? There’s been a lot of different theories. If you can answer that question or I can answer that question, you can make a lot of money for the Air Force right now, because we don’t know. We’re trying to get our arms around what really does make the best candidate for unmanned airplanes and how do we identify these people early.
MISSY CUMMINGS: Video gamers do have a skill set that is very important and actually enhances the skill set of drone operators. So, when I talk to people about this, I say, “We don’t need Top Gun pilots anymore. We need Revenge of the Nerds.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re also joined by Tonje Hessen Schei, the director of the film, of Drone.
Tonje, welcome to Democracy Now! Could you talk about this whole issue of the recruitment of gamers by the military?
TONJE HESSEN SCHEI: Yeah, the gamers have been incredibly important for the U.S. military, and they have been targeting gamers in their recruiting strategies for the last decade. And this has been very successful, and it is now also spreading around the world. It is done in Germany and in Sweden and also in Norway. You know, gamers, their brains are pretty much wired to handle the challenges in modern warfare. And, you know, their eye-thumb coordination, their multitasking, their team fighting, the target shooting—they are basically perfect for the drone war.
And the relationship between the military and the entertainment industry, I think, is very, very important to take a close look at here. Our children are basically growing up playing real war scenarios from a very young age. And this game fight, you know, strange perception of war, has a big impact on them. To them, war is made to look fun, killing is made to look cool. And it really shapes them. And I think this “militainment” has a huge cost. And working with the drone operators, too, just seeing, you know, how the gaming attitude maybe is bleeding into how the drone program is operating, has been very disturbing to me.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, you guys know, in your own experience, that you’re involved in a war where you never actually meet or see the people you’re killing. You have no direct relationship—no real relationship to the war that you’re actually playing such a critical role in. I’m wondering what you—your thoughts on that?
BRANDON BRYANT: Well, I think that one of the big things that we should address is, like, there’s a lot of gamers that have been offended by stuff that we’ve talked about. And there’s a lot of gamers that are offended by, you know, talking about the correlation between violence and video games. And there’s a lot of studies that are out there that say that only certain video games cause certain aspects of this violence. And, you know, I’m an avid gamer—or I was, at least. I’m trying to get back into it. And I love this medium. It’s just the drone program destroyed my love of this medium, as well.
And I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using this type of thing to manipulate and recruit these guys. It’s a blatant misuse of power, abuse of power. It shouldn’t be something along the lines of, like, “Yeah, I want to play this game with my friends,” or even people that you don’t—you don’t see them face to face. You meet a lot of people instantaneously all over the world. We’re so interconnected. We’re more interconnected now than we’ve ever been in the entirety of human history. And that’s being exploited to help people kill one another.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Michael Haas, as we wrap up, what you want people to be left with today? And there’s a large military audience here, too. What you have to say to your fellow servicemen and women?
MICHAEL HAAS: On the other side of that screen, they’re very real. It feels like a video game, and it looks like a video game, but it’s very, very real. And to keep that in mind and not become disconnected from your own humanity and not to take away theirs—that’s what I’d want to leave them with.
AMY GOODMAN: Cian Westmoreland?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: We should all take responsibility for what we do at all times. I have a cellphone in my pocket. It has metals in there that were extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there’s been a war for 15 years and 4 million—I think 4.4 million people have died. I know that, and that bothers me.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve all left the military. Were you—did they request you re-enlist?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you offered a bonus to re-enlist?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: We all were.
AMY GOODMAN: How much?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: $50,000.
AMY GOODMAN: How much, Michael?
MICHAEL HAAS: $80,000.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Over $100,000.
BRANDON BRYANT: $109,000, plus a step promotion and safety evaluation upgrader.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you say?
BRANDON BRYANT: I said, “F— that. I’m getting out.”
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen?
STEPHEN LEWIS: “I’m done.”
AMY GOODMAN: Michael?
MICHAEL HAAS: I made my decision to get out long before that re-enlistment became even an option.
AMY GOODMAN: Cian?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: I burned my uniform in my boss’s grill, and I hitchhiked around the world.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But for so many young people, that’s a lot of money, and they’re tempted. I guess—and they’re going to keep increasing the bonuses, obviously, as the situation in the war on terror continues.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, very important what you had to say today. Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland, Stephen Lewis and Michael Haas, thank you so much. Tonje Hessen Schei, director of the film, Drone, as well, and Jesselyn Radack, with the Whistleblower & Source Protection Program, known as WHISPeR, at ExposeFacts.
And that does it for our show. An update right now on what’s happening in Mali as we speak, the ongoing hostage situation in Bamako, the capital: The U.S. military says U.S. special operations troops are working with Malian special operation forces to free the more than 140 hostages still inside the Radisson Blu Hotel right there in Bamako, which was seized by suspected Islamist gunmen this morning.
And that does it for our broadcast. For the whole show today, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. The video is there, the audio is there, the podcast and the transcript of our broadcast. We are hiring a director of development to lead our fundraising efforts. You can find out more at democracynow.org.
Learn more at DEMOCRACY NOW!
DEMOCRACY NOW!—[20 NOV 2015] “Exclusive: 2 Air Force Vets Speak Out for First Time on Why They Want the Drone War to Stop”
In an unprecedented open letter to President Obama, four U.S. Air Force servicemembers who took part in the drone war say targeted killings and remote-control bombings fuel the very terrorism the government says it’s trying to destroy. Two of the signatories, former sensor operator Stephen Lewis and former Air Force technician Cian Westmoreland, tell us why they are speaking out for the first time about what they did. “Anybody in the Air Force knows that an air strike has collateral damage a significant amount of the time,” Westmoreland says. “I’m saying it wasn’t all enemies. It was civilians, as well.”
is a former Air Force technician who helped build a station in Afghanistan used to relay drone data.
is a veteran of the United States Air Force, and former sensor operator for the Air Force Predator program.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. [accessed 20 NOV 2015 11:19 PDT]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Stephen Lewis, I wanted to ask you—you made one kill, and then you immediately appealed to your superiors about—about what you were doing. Could you talk about your experience, who you killed?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It was late 2009, and I was tasked to go support a troop in contact. And that’s whenever our troops are taking fire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this was in which country?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Oh, this is in Afghanistan. And during this troops in contact, we were told to go to this specific location. It was four guys walking down a mountain path. And I didn’t see any weapons. I didn’t see anything. About five minutes goes by, and two Hellfires come in, and they kill three people. And there was one wounded guy left. I was given clearance to—we were given clearance to fire the missile. And that guy just—he just wasn’t there anymore.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is—you were given clearance to fire at the wounded guy on the ground.
STEPHEN LEWIS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do next?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Seriously re-evaluated my life. Shortly after that, I ended up writing a very, very convincing letter to my leadership and told them that I didn’t belong there, I didn’t want to do it anymore, and I wanted out.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was their response?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Six months later, I was out of the Air Force.
AMY GOODMAN: How are you chosen as a drone operator?
STEPHEN LEWIS: I was chosen basically at random. I went to imagery analysis school, which I—I wanted to look at satellite photos. That’s what I wanted to do. And about halfway through it, they come up and they say, “You’re going to Las Vegas. You’re going to go to sensor operator school, and you’re going to do this.” There’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Did they say why?
STEPHEN LEWIS: They don’t have to. There is no argument there. It’s “Yes, sir, yes, ma’am, I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”
AMY GOODMAN: And now that you’re out of the Air Force, how has what you did in the Air Force, being a drone operator, engaging in that kill, affected you?
STEPHEN LEWIS: It makes any kind of relationship difficult. I can’t—I can’t communicate properly with my friends. I have to preface it with “I’m sorry, guys. I can’t hang out with you tonight. There’s too much going on right now.” It’s, in effect, killed every single relationship that I’ve had afterwards. I can’t—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue that you raise in your letter, how the drone program is actually helping to fuel or create more terrorism?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Well, it’s been noted in the film, Drone, that kids are afraid to go outside and play, or go to school during the day, whenever the sun is out, whenever the sun is shining, because they’re afraid that they’re going to get struck by a drone.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we go to that—why don’t we go to that clip from the film? This is from the film Drone. In 2012, a 67-year-old Pakistani woman was killed by an alleged U.S. drone while picking okra in a field with her grandchildren. In 2013, we spoke to her grandchildren, Nabila and Zubair, who were then nine and 13. Both of them were injured in the strike that killed their grandmother. This begins with Zubair.
ZUBAIR UR REHMAN: [translated] I had gone to school that day, and when I came back, I had a snack, and I offered my prayers. And my grandma asked me to come outside and help her pick the vegetables.
AMY GOODMAN: You were hit by this drone that killed your grandmother?
ZUBAIR UR REHMAN: [translated] Yes, I had seen a drone, and two missiles hit down where my grandmother was standing in front of me. And she was blown into pieces, and I was injured to my left leg.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nabila, you’re nine years old. How have things changed for you since the attack? How’s your—going out again, out into the fields alone, do you fear again other possible attacks?
NABILA UR REHMAN: [translated] Ever since the strike, I’m just scared. I’m always scared. All of us little kids, we’re just scared to go outside.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nabila and, before that, Zubair, her brother, the Rehmans, talking about the drone strike that killed their grandma in Pakistan. They also testified with their dad, who wasn’t there when they were picking okra with their grandmother. They testified in the U.S. Congress. Now, that happened in Pakistan. Your target was in Afghanistan.
STEPHEN LEWIS: I don’t think a matter of 500 miles makes a difference. The culture is very, very similar. And you’re creating an atmosphere of fear. And there’s an old saying in Texas: You don’t back a scared animal up against the wall. And if you do that, he’s going to come out fighting. And that’s exactly, I think, what’s happening now.
AMY GOODMAN: Has the VA provided mental help to you as you suffer?
STEPHEN LEWIS: I’ve been to the VA, but it seems useless. It seems useless for me. It’s been six months. They’ve said, “Hey, you need an MRI.” It’s been six months without an MRI. It’s “Hey, you need medication to manage this pain.” It’s been six months without medication to manage pain. If they’re not going to take care of you, then why should you even go?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Cian, I wanted to ask you—you were a technician in the drone program. Could you talk about what specifically you did and how your duties differed from the operators?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Right, so we built a site that was used as a relay station while we were there. The—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: While you were in Afghanistan?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: While I was in Afghanistan, yes, at Kandahar. And we were taking in signals from all over Afghanistan, 250,000 square miles, like, essentially. And we were relaying it and sending it long haul, so from there to the Combined Air Operations Center. And, you know—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Which is located where?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: In Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, and then to Ramstein. And pretty much, we had been building, you know, the site, and one day my boss came to me and everybody else, and he handed us a headset, and we were listening to, you know, an airplane talking to—it was an A-10 talking to a battle manager. And they—he smiled, and he said, “We’re killing bad guys now, boys.”
And I think—I think why it was so significant for me was my father was actually working at a headquarters in Kuwait during 9/11, and he was ordering the missile parts, too, for the initial bombing. And he was telling me some of the culture that was there and the people making command decisions. They would go after certain targets, and then they would have missiles left over, and they would find targets, which was essentially anybody who was wearing white. That was my first thought whenever he said, “We’re killing bad guys now, boys.”
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by anyone wearing white.
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Anyone wearing white.
AMY GOODMAN: Why white?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Because of the stigma that people who wore white were Taliban. So, those were the thoughts that were running through my head while I was there. I started having nightmares about what I did, hurting children, and me trying to help them and not being able to.
AMY GOODMAN: What year was this?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: It was in 2009. And whenever—whenever we got back, we got a piece of paper. It was the enlisted performance report. And it said on it that we had supported 2,400 close air support missions and assisted in 200-plus enemy kills, which I knew was wrong, because anybody in the Air Force knows that an airstrike has collateral damage, you know, a significant amount of the time.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying you knew it was much more.
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Well, I’m saying that it wasn’t all enemies. It was civilians, as well. And when I looked at the UNAMA report that came out early the next year, it was saying somewhere upward of 350 civilian kills. So, it’s kind of—it’s made me sort of re-evaluate what I was doing there, and try and figure out, you know, exactly how we—we got that on our piece of paper.
And we—well, I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that, you know, these are the people that were actually administering the strikes. You had pilots that pulled the trigger, you had imagery analysts that picked the targets, and the—you know, the decision maker. And all within the system, it’s—the responsibility for killing the person is divided, so nobody feels the full responsibility of what they’re doing. And I think that we’re moving towards a world where—in aerial warfare, where increasingly there’s going to be more technicians and less decision makers. And I think we should open up a new paradigm of, you know, ethics and what it means to do your duty as a technician. And I think one of the more influential voices for me was Oppenheimer, the—
AMY GOODMAN: J. Robert Oppenheimer.
CIAN WESTMORELAND: J. Robert Oppenheimer, yeah, exactly, who developed the atomic bomb. And, I mean, to see the effects of that must have been devastating. He must have felt like a destroyer of worlds. And I think, for me, that’s kind of how I feel, because all the signals were coming through there, and everybody who was making that system work was responsible. And I think how this applies to Germany is that the air base in Ramstein housing that data relay station, the people there are responsible for whatever signals that are going through there. And the German government, not communicating to the public or not knowing what we were doing, it was a big disrespect on America’s part and potentially the German government’s part. I’m not saying that they knew.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, OK.
AMY GOODMAN: —but then we’re going to come back to your question, Juan. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s quote—I think he was quoting the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the—he was the leading scientist that created the atomic bomb in New Mexico. And you live in New Mexico, right, Cian?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Cian Westmoreland, Stephen Lewis, Brandon Bryant and Michael Haas, four young men who are speaking out—between them, more than 20 years of experience operating military drones. They have all written a letter to President Obama. We urge you to stay with us as we continue this discussion. Back in a minute.
Learn more at DEMOCRACY NOW!
[Last modified 20 NOV 2015 12:43 PDT]