Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Are Pilots Deserting Washington's Remote-Control War?

A New Form of War May Be Producing a New Form of Mental Disturbance
By Pratap Chatterjee
from TomDispatch.com    March 5, 2015

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress -- significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to work like any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conducting deadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war -- by remote control -- is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward's war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?



Killing Up Close and Personal From Afar
There can be no question that drone pilots resent the way other Air Force pilots see them as second-class citizens. "It's tough working night shifts watching your buddies do great things in the field while you're turning circles in the sky," a drone instructor named Ryan told Mother Jones magazine. His colleagues, he says, call themselves the “lost generation.”

“Everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we're Nintendo warriors,” Brandon Bryant, a former drone camera operator who worked at Nellis Air Force Base, told Democracy Now.

Certainly, there is nothing second-class about the work tempo of drone life. Pilots log 900-1,800 hours a year compared to a maximum of 300 hours annually for regular Air Force pilots. And the pace is unrelenting. “A typical person doing this mission over the last seven or eight years has worked either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” General Welsh told NPR recently. “And that one- or two-day break at the end of it is really not enough time to take care of that family and the rest of your life.”

The pilots wholeheartedly agree. "It's like when your engine temperature gauge is running just below the red area on your car’s dashboard, but instead of slowing down and relieving the stress on the engine, you put the pedal to the floor," one drone pilot told Air Force Times. "You are sacrificing the engine to get a short burst of speed with no real consideration to the damage being caused."

The Air Force has come up with a pallid interim “solution.” It is planning to offer experienced drone pilots a daily raise of about $50. There's one problem, though: since so many pilots leave the service early, only a handful have enough years of experience to qualify for this bonus. Indeed, the Air Force concedes that just 10 of them will be able to claim the extra bounty this year, striking testimony to the startling levels of job turnover among such pilots.

Most 18Xs say that their jobs are tougher and significantly more upfront and personal than those of the far more glamorous jet pilots. “[A] Predator operator is so much more involved in what is going on than your average fast-moving jetfighter pilot, or your B-52, B-1, B-2 pilots, who will never even see their target,” Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Black, a former Air Force drone pilot says. “A Predator pilot has been watching his target[s], knows them intimately, knows where they are, and knows what’s around them."

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

Many drone pilots, however, defend their role in targeted killings. “We’re not killing people for the fun of it. It would be the same if we were the guys on the ground,” mission controller Janet Atkins told Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice. “You have to get to [the enemy] somehow or all of you will die.”

Others like Bruce Black are proud of their work. “I was shooting two weeks after I got there and saved hundreds of people, including Iraqis and Afghanis," he told his hometown newspaper in New Mexico. "We'd go down to Buffalo Wild Wings, drink beer and debrief. It was surreal. It didn't take long for you to realize how important the work is. The value that the weapon system brings to the fight is not apparent till you're there. People have a hard time sometimes seeing that."



Measuring Pilot Stress
So whom does one believe? Janet Atkins and Bruce Black, who claim that drone pilots are overworked heroes? Or Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh, who claim that remotely directed targeted killings caused them mental health crises?

Military psychologists have been asked to investigate the phenomenon. A team of psychologists at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has published a series of studies on drone pilot stress. One 2011 study concluded that nearly half of them had "high operational stress." A number also exhibited "clinical distress" -- that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives.

Wayne Chappelle, a lead author in a number of these studies, nonetheless concludes that the problem is mostly a matter of overwork caused by the chronic shortage of pilots. His studies appear to show that post-traumatic stress levels are actually lower among drone pilots than in the general population. Others, however, question these numbers. Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, caution that the lack of stress reports may only “reflect artificial underreporting of the concerns of pilots due to the career-threatening effects of [mental health] diagnoses, [which] include removal from flying status, loss of flight pay, and diminished competitiveness for promotion.”

Seeing Everything, Missing the Obvious
One thing is clear: the pilots are not just killing “bad guys” and they know it because, as Black points out, they see everything that happens before, during, and after a drone strike.

Indeed, the only detailed transcript of an actual Air Force drone surveillance mission and targeted killing to be publicly released illustrates this all too well. The logs recorded idle chatter on February 21, 2010, between drone operators at Creech Air Force base in Nevada coordinating with video analysts at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Florida, and with Air Force pilots in a rural part of Daikondi province in central Afghanistan. On that day, three vehicles were seen traveling in a pre-dawn convoy carrying about a dozen people each. Laboring under the mistaken belief that the group were “insurgents” out to kill some nearby U.S. soldiers on a mission, the drone team decided to attack.

Controller: “We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander.”


Camera operator: “Yeah, they called a possible weapon on the military-age male mounted in the back of the truck.”

Intelligence coordinator: “Screener said at least one child near SUV.”

Controller: “Bullshit! Where? I don’t think they have kids out this hour. I know they’re shady, but come on!”

Camera operator “A sweet [expletive]! Geez! Lead vehicle on the run and bring the helos in!”

Moments later, Kiowa helicopter pilots descended and fired Hellfire missiles at the vehicle.

Controller: “Take a look at this one. It was hit pretty good. It’s a little toasty! That truck is so dead!”

Within 20 minutes, after the survivors of the attack had surrendered, the transcript recorded the sinking feelings of the drone pilots as they spotted women and children in the convoy and could not find any visual evidence of weapons.

A subsequent on-the-ground investigation established that not one of the people killed was anything other than an ordinary villager. "Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything," Air Force Major General James Poss, who oversaw an investigation into the incident, later told the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Obama administration officials claim that such incidents are rare. In June 2011, when CIA Director John Brennan was still the White House counterterrorism adviser, he addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes and made this bold claim: “Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”

His claim and similar official ones like it are, politely put, hyperbolic. “You Never Die Twice,” a new report by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization, settles the question quickly by showing that some men on the White House “kill list” of terror suspects to be taken out have “'died' as many as seven times."

Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.

Deserting the Cubicle
Back in the United States, a combination of lower-class status in the military, overwork, and psychological trauma appears to be taking its mental toll on drone pilots. During the Vietnam War, soldiers would desert, flee to Canada, or even “frag” -- kill -- their officers. But what do you do when you’ve had it with your war, but your battle station is a cubicle in Nevada and your weapon is a keyboard?

Is it possible that, like their victims in Pakistan and Yemen who say that they are going mad from the constant buzz of drones overhead and the fear of sudden death without warning, drone pilots, too, are fleeing into the night as soon as they can? Since the Civil War in the U.S., war of every modern sort has produced mental disturbances that have been given a variety of labels, including what we today call PTSD. In a way, it would be surprising if a completely new form of warfare didn’t produce a new form of disturbance.

We don’t yet know just what this might turn out to be, but it bodes ill for the form of battle that the White House and Washington are most proud of -- the well-advertised, sleek, new, robotic, no-casualty, precision conflict that now dominates the war on terror. Indeed if the pilots themselves are dropping out of desktop killing, can this new way of war survive?


Pratap Chatterjee is executive director of CorpWatch. He is the author of Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War and Iraq, Inc. His next book, Verax, a graphic novel about whistleblowers and mass surveillance co-authored by Khalil Bendib, will be published by Metropolitan Books in 2016.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Pratap Chatterjee






Thursday, January 8, 2015

Drone Rules in Afghanistan Go Unchanged, And Other Reasons the War Isn't Really Over

Despite the official end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, our involvement goes on

By | in RollingStone

Though many Americans may not have realized it, December 28th marked what the U.S. government called the official end of the war in Afghanistan. That war has been the longest in U.S. history – but despite the new announcement that the formal conflict is over, America's war there is far from finished. In fact, the Obama administration still considers the Afghan theater an area of active hostilities, according to an email from a senior administration official – and therefore exempts it from the stricter drone and targeted killing guidelines the president announced at a major speech at the National Defense University in 2013.

Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty
A civilian contractor checks a U.S. Army surveillance
drone in Logar Province, Afghanistan in 2013.


"Afghanistan will continue to be considered an 'area of active hostilities' in 2015," the official tells RS. "The PPG does not apply to areas of active hostilities." (PPG stands for Presidential Policy Guidelines, the formal name for the heightened drone rules.)

That perplexing distinction – that formal combat operations are over but that the U.S. still remains in an armed conflict – in many ways exemplifies the lasting legacy of Obama's foreign policy. From Yemen to Pakistan to Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, the administration has consistently downplayed its actions – some acknowledged and some covert – saying that the wars are (almost) over while retaining virtually all the powers of a country at war. Or, as the Kabul-based journalist and RS contributor Matt Aikins put it, referring to Afghanistan: "a 'formal' end to the war means the beginning of an 'informal' war, without aim or end, founded on the lie that we are no longer at war."

No change to the drone war

The announcement from the White House that despite the formal end to the war the stricter drone rules won't apply in Afghanistan – which hasn't been previously reported – isn't entirely unexpected. In October, I reported that the Obama administration wasn't planning on announcing any changes to the policy, but, regardless, the news that the administration will continue to take a wide aperture for selecting targets to kill runs counter to the spirit of their rhetoric that the war is over.

Drone strikes in Afghanistan have been a major part of the US occupation, though they receive less media attention than strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. In July of 2014, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report attempting to track drone and other airstrike in Afghanistan, and claimed that "the country has seen more than 1,000 drone strikes, carried out by U.S. and U.K. forces." A recent suspected drone strike in Afghanistan killed 9 alleged members of the Pakistani Taliban.

The White House announcement also means the semi-covert, CIA-run drone war in Pakistan will likely continue unchanged as well. The drone strikes in Pakistan are closely linked with the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, as part of the legal rationale behind the drone strikes is "force protection." That is, using drones to kill suspected militants in Pakistan before they have an opportunity to kill U.S. troops. Drone strikes in Pakistan continued at a steady pace in the final months of 2014, and there has already been at least one suspected U.S. air strike in 2015.

More than 10,000 US troops – and countless more contractors – will remain in country

This is perhaps the clearest and most obvious signal that the U.S. will continue its war. As part of a bilateral security agreement signed between the new Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul and the Obama administration, roughly 10,600 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for at least the coming months. U.S. troops are currently scheduled to leave the Afghanistan entirely by 2016, but the agreement authorizes troops to remain until 2024 if conditions change.

Originally, the U.S. and coalition forces were only going to stay in the country to train Afghan security forces. But as The New York Times reported in November, Obama widened the military's authority from a training-only mission to include counterterrorism operations. That decision "ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year," the Times reported.

Beyond the remaining troops, as of October the Pentagon had over 45,000 contractors in Afghanistan on its payroll (as the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko has noted). Slightly over 2,000 of that total are private security contractors, both armed and unarmed, a number that's likely to increase as U.S. troops gradually depart.

The U.S. government's decision to privatize the military over the last decade – from contractors who feed and house troops to mercenaries who provide security – has been widely commented on. Regular reports issued from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, however, raise serious concerns about the job many of those contractors – and the U.S. officials in charge of them – are doing. Responses from DoD, USAID, and the State Department to SIGAR's findings have been less than inspiring and suggest insufficient oversight and opportunities for massive amounts of corruption will continue for the foreseeable future.

Extremism and militancy in Pakistan's tribal regions have yet to be fully addressed

The Pakistani military has been engaged in a massive operation since last June to dislodge extremists in North Waziristan. One result of the operation is that over one million people have been displaced – either internally or fleeing to Afghanistan or elsewhere – and few, if any, have been able to return. According to sources in the area and numerous media reports, the Pakistani military alerted several of the extremist groups, including groups the U.S. says it is at war with, prior to the siege, allowing them to flee to Afghanistan. There are some reports now that Pakistan is planning on going after all the groups, not just those who terrorize Pakistan, and a recent airstrike that killed 31 alleged militants may signal a new approach. But Pakistan has made promises like this before, and many critics remain skeptical.

As the horrific attack on the school in Peshawar in December showed, terrorism is a major concern within Pakistan's own borders. But as long as the primary tool for both the U.S. and Pakistani governments remains military force, the problem will persist. Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, told me in late 2014 that he remains skeptical of the U.S. approach to eradicating extremism through drones. "Drones may be a more accurate weapons platform than other aircraft," he said. "But the targets can move somewhere else, and it's simply not possible to eliminate every single suspected militant, let alone carry out these killings without also killing civilians. It just shows you that it's a vicious cycle."

Continuing allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's election

A recent European Union report found that last year's runoff election in Afghanistan was marred by widespread fraud that went underreported at the time. Many Western outlets initially reported that the first round of the election was largely free from ballot tampering, though one major exception was a Harpers story from RS contributor Aikins and journalist Anand Gopal. Those two found polling stations almost completely abandoned and interviewed locals who witnessed occurrences of large-scale ballot stuffing.

That level of fraud could signal the central government in Kabul's limited power beyond the capital, and suggests the Taliban will continue to be able to make gains in the coming months and years. The last year saw record numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, as well as territorial advances by Taliban forces in the south. Even in Kabul, security continues to deteriorate.

Comparisons between the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2012 and the ensuing chaos in that country are inevitable, if incomplete. But as conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., solidifies around the idea that the U.S. military left Iraq too soon, all these factors could mean that the informal war will continue even if all U.S. troops do leave by 2016.




Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Watchdog: Agency drones expensive to fly, urges cancellation of $443 million in new spending

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department's border drones program costs far more than the government estimates, helps in the arrests of just a fraction of the number of people trying to cross the border illegally and flies far fewer hours than the government claims, an internal watchdog asserted in a report released Tuesday.

Inspector General John Roth said in his report that the Predator B drones flown along the border by Customs and Border Protection are "dubious achievers."

Customs and Border Protection doesn't have any performance measures, so the agency can't prove that the program is effective, it said.

CBP planned to operate four 16-hour drone patrols a day, for about 23,290 total flight hours during the 2013 budget year that ended Sept. 30, 2013. But Roth's audit found that the planes were actually in the air for about 5,100 hours, or roughly 22 percent of the planned flight time.

Drones have also led to relatively few apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally. In the two busiest Border Patrol sectors, Tucson, Arizona, and Texas' Rio Grande Valley, drones accounted for only about 2,270 of the more than 275,000 apprehensions in 2013.


CBP spokesman Carlos Lazo said the agency disagrees with the report's findings and said auditors don't appear to fully understand the program, including future expansion plans. He said while CBP is authorized to add drones to the fleet, there are no immediate plans to do so.

CBP has nine drones flying along the Mexican and Canadian borders as well as coast lines in Florida, Texas and Southern California. A 10th drone was downed over the Pacific Ocean last year after suffering technical problems. Roth said while the agency hopes to add about 14 aircraft in the coming years the $443 million the agency plans to spend on expanding the fleet could be better spent on manned aircraft and ground surveillance.

The drone fleet also doesn't patrol the entire Southwest border, as Homeland Security has previously reported, Roth found. Instead, drone operations are focused along about 100 miles of border in Arizona and about 70 of border in Texas.

Roth's review of the program also found significant disparities in cost estimates. Auditors concluded that the drone program cost roughly $62.5 million, or about $12,255 an hour, in 2013. CBP estimated a cost of $2,468 per flight hour, but that price didn't include operating costs including pilots, equipment and overhead.

Roth recommended, among other things, that the department reconsider expanding the drone program.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target, new Reprieve report reveals

To view full report. 
To access web page to download file of report click here. 

PRESS RELEASE:  Monday November 24, 2014

US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for every intended target, new Reprieve report reveals

US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named individuals, a report by human rights charity Reprieve has found.

The report looks at deaths resulting from US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan between November 2002 and November 2014. It identifies 41 men who appeared to have been killed multiple times – drawing into question the Obama administration’s repeated claims that the covert drone programme is ‘precise.’

While the US drone programme is shrouded in secrecy, security sources regularly brief the media on the names of those suspected militants targeted or killed in the strikes. Frequently, those individuals are reported to have been targeted or killed on multiple occasions.

Reprieve’s assessment is the first to provide an estimate of the number of people – including in some cases children – who are killed each time the US apparently attempts to assassinate a ‘high value target.’ Due to the US Government’s refusal to publish any information relating to the programme, or the ‘Kill List’ said to determine its targets, the analysis is limited to existing, publicly-available data from media reports and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Key findings of the report include:
  • In Pakistan, 24 men were reported as killed or targeted multiple times. Missed strikes on these men killed 874 people, including 142 children.
  • In Yemen, 17 men were reported killed or targeted multiple times. Missile strikes on these men killed 273 others and accounted for almost half of all confirmed civilian casualties and 100% of all recorded child deaths.
  • In targeting Ayman al Zawahiri, the CIA killed 76 children and 29 adults. They failed twice, and Ayman al Zawahiri is reportedly still alive.
  • It took the US six attempts to kill Qari Hussain, a Pakistani target. During these attempts, 128 people were killed, including 13 children.
  • Each assassination target on the US government’s so-called Kill List ‘died’ on average more than three times before their actual death.

The US government’s drone programme has come under increasing scrutiny after a number of strikes that hit large numbers of civilians by mistake. It was recently revealed – as a result of investigations by Reprieve – that the US government compensates civilian victims of drone strikes in Yemen.

Jennifer Gibson, Staff Attorney at Reprieve who compiled the report, said: “These ‘high value targets’ appear to be doing the impossible – dying not once, not twice, but as many as six times. At the same time, hundreds of unknown men, women and children are also caught in the crosshairs. President Obama continues to insist drone strikes are ‘precise’, but when targeting one person instead kills as many as 128 others, there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn – there’s nothing targeted about the US drone programme.”

ENDS

For more information, please contact Reprieve’s Press Office on (00 44) 207 553 8166/61 / alice.gillham@reprieve.og.uk / clemency.wells@reprieve.og.uk  or in the US – (001) 917 855 8064 / Katherine.oshea@reprieve.org
FULL REPORT
To view full report. 
To access web page to download file of report click here. 

The Moral Trauma of "21st Century Warriors"

  By Edward Tick, from Truthout | Op-Ed  on  Saturday, 22 November 2014

Many changes and transformations are occurring that introduce new challenges into military service and new costs and consequences to those who serve.

Service in the US military is being reshaped into the profession of arms. This means that fewer people are serving and more is being asked of them. We know that their trauma is more severe due, among other factors, to multiple deployments, the extent of civilian casualties and the despair of unending global war. We must also awaken to the technological changes in military practice and their impact foisted upon those who serve.

Though stationed far behind the front lines, drone operators are among those on the front lines of these changes. These are the women and men who sit at electronic consoles stateside and operate unmanned drones from safe havens in the United States to monitor, spy on, attack and slay antagonists on the far side of the planet. They must sit at the controls during their entire workday, perform difficult assessments and technical operations, and when ordered, kill without being in danger themselves. After all that, they go home to dinner.

President Obama has used drones extensively during his tenure. The Air Force refers to drone operators as "21st century warriors."


Political public relations make much of the fact that these people are not "in harm's way." No "boots on the ground," so they are supposedly safe. But US drone operators are reported to have severe difficulties in their service, are in deep pain and break down with post-traumatic stress disorder to significant degrees. I can attest to this from my direct therapeutic and educational work with our military over the last several years.  

Though physically not in danger, they are not safe and are in harm's way. The damage is to their psychological, social, professional and spiritual well-being and to the well-being of their families.


Why? There are numerous ways our creation and use of 21st century warriors redefines the entire tradition of warriorhood and in fact renders them more vulnerable to harm from the invisible wounds of war.

The traditional warrior's contract is to meet armed enemy combatants in fair face-to-face battle. They agree to enter the kill-or-be-killed situation. Modern combatants testify that though killing hurts, it hurts the least and does the least long-term harm when it occurs in the context of a fair fight. When the fight is unfair or unequal, when civilians are caught in the crossfire, when extreme "collateral damage" is caused to get the target, there is inevitably more trauma.

Drone operators are removed from this ultimate situation. They may track their targets for months, know who they are, what their families are like, how many children they have and where they work. They might be ordered to strike and kill at any time, even when the family is present, even with all the reported safeguards against causing civilian deaths. These modern techno-warriors often know their targets who don't know them, are charged with taking life at a long distance without their own lives being in danger, and may be ordered to cause the deaths of civilians with absolutely no choice in the matter.

What do veterans say about long distance killing and its impact on them? Bill, a 19-year-old bombardier during World War II, asked for therapy last year because he said, "I know I dropped my bombs on civilian targets over Europe. I have felt like a mass murderer my entire life. I want to find some peace before I meet my Maker and am sent to hell for it." John, a forward artillery observer in Vietnam, said, "The drone pilots are doing what I had to do. There is little difference in me pulling the lanyard on my howitzer and killing people many miles away and them killing from the other side of the world." And Don, gunner's mate on a destroyer during the First Gulf War said, "Every time I climbed into my gun turret I had to cross a line and be willing to kill strangers I would never see scores of miles away."
 

These men suffered invisible wounds from long distance killing and attest to its long-term psychological impact on their adult lives.

Civilian casualty rates in World War I were 10 percent; in World War II, 50 percent; by Vietnam, they were 70 percent - and in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 90 percent. Long distance killing has increased exponentially in the modern era due to advanced weapons technology. This has changed the nature of warfare and the demands on warriors. These changes will only increase the degree of invisible wounding even as it protects the physical safety of the new warriors. We may have fewer visible wounds, but we should expect significantly increased invisible wounding as fewer and fewer 21st century warriors cause more death and destruction without the warriors' concomitant threat. The kinds of veterans we will have to honor, tend and heal will change. Not only will the veterans be affected, but all of us who sent them, and whom they notionally serve, will have to go home to dinner and find ways to live with it.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.
Read whole article on Truthout and see related articles. 

Edward Tick, PhD, is the founding director of Soldier's Heart. He is the author of the award-winning War and the Soul, and his new book, Warrior's Return: Restoring the Soul After War (Sounds True, November 2014).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground

From an article found in The Guardian 

‘Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise.’ But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them.'
Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Monday 24 November 2014

New analysis of data conducted by human rights group Reprieve shared with the Guardian, raises questions about accuracy of intelligence guiding ‘precise’ strikes.

The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.
Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.

However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.

Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.

A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.

Reprieve, sifting through reports compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, examined cases in which specific people were targeted by drones multiple times. Their data, shared with the Guardian, raises questions about the accuracy of US intelligence guiding strikes that US officials describe using words like “clinical” and “precise.”

The analysis is a partial estimate of the damage wrought by Obama’s favored weapon of war, a tool he and his administration describe as far more precise than more familiar instruments of land or air power.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.

The data cohort is only a fraction of those killed by US drones overall. Reprieve did not focus on named targets struck only once. Neither Reprieve nor the Guardian examined the subset of drone strikes that do not target specific people: the so-called “signature strikes” that attack people based on a pattern of behavior considered suspicious, rather than intelligence tying their targets to terrorist activity. An analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.

As well, the data is agnostic on the validity of the named targets struck on multiple occasions being marked for death in the first place.

Like all weapons, drones will inevitably miss their targets given enough chances. But the secrecy surrounding them obscures how often misses occur and the reasons for them. Even for the 33 named targets whom the drones eventually killed – successes, by the logic of the drone strikes – another 947 people died in the process.

There are myriad problems with analyzing data from US drone strikes. Those strikes occur under a blanket of official secrecy, which means analysts must rely on local media reporting about their aftermath, with all the attendant problems besetting journalism in dangerous or denied places. Anonymous leaks to media organizations, typically citing an unnamed American, Yemeni or Pakistani official, are the only acknowledgements that the strikes actually occur, or target a particular individual.

Without the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command declassifying more information on the strikes, unofficial and imprecise information is all that is available, complicating efforts to independently verify or refute administration assurances about the impact of the drones.

What little US officials say about the strikes typically boils down to assurances that they apply “targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us,” as John Brennan, now the CIA director, said in a 2011 speech.

“The only people that we fire a drone at [sic] are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don’t just fire a drone at somebody and think they’re a terrorist,” the secretary of state, John Kerry, said at a BBC forum in 2013.

A Reprieve team investigating on the ground in Pakistan turned up what it believes to be a confirmed case of mistaken identity. Someone with the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s “kill list” was killed on the third attempt by US drones. His brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to “tell the Americans what they want to hear”: that they had in fact killed the right person. Reprieve has withheld identifying details of the family in question, making the story impossible to independently verify.

“President Obama needs to be straight with the American people about the human cost of this programme. If even his government doesn’t know who is filling the body bags every time a strike goes wrong, his claims that this is a precise programme look like nonsense, and the risk that it is in fact making us less safe looks all too real,” Gibson said.

Click to see graphics included in original article. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't ground this one!

Warning! 

This post is not one that will make you angry or motivate you to organize a protest. 

Just enjoy.