COMMENT - Individuals with a conscience eventually stop cooperating with orders forcing them to kill civilians. Bryant, the drone operator in the linked video, tells his story.
A former US assassination drone pilot says he quit the force after feeling “numb” about seeing a child and other civilians blown away in his remote bombing of targets in Afghanistan and realizing he has unconsciously developed a desire to kill.
Since leaving the controversial US targeted-killing program over two years ago, the young ex-terror drone operator, who was recruited by the military after graduating at the top of his class, has become homeless and detected with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is commonly associated with US soldiers in warfronts, according to US-based National Public Radio (NPR).
In a recent NPR interview, the former drone pilot, identified as 27-year-old Brandon Bryant, offered some graphic details about feeling troubled after witnessing the immediate outcome of his bombings in Afghanistan on video screens beside his control buttons inside a windowless trailer ‘somewhere in a western US state,’ from where he fired off the missiles mounted on the assassination drones flying some 10,000 miles (16,000 km) away.
Describing his “first shot” out in Afghanistan, Bryant said he was specifically “ordered” to target a group of suspected militants that where (idly) sitting on a hill, rather than another group of militants that were “firing at US soldiers” nearby.
“We fired the missile, and 1.2 seconds after the missile fires, it sonic booms. And so the sonic boom gets there before the missile does… and then the missile hits. And after the smoke clears, there’s a crater there. You can see body parts of the people,” he explained. “I watched him (one of the men) bleed out. The blood rapidly cooled to become the same color as the ground, because we were watching this in infrared.”
Bryant then remembered thinking regretfully about the bombing, believing that that the targeted men were just local folks “that had to protect themselves… and I think we jumped the gun.”
The ex-drone pilot then went on to describe his next bombing in Afghanistan in which, he says, he bombed a home of suspected militants but noticed a child running around the house (on his video monitor) just before the missile hit the target.
“We just aim at the corner of the building,” Bryant explained. “We’re going to fire, and we do. And there’s about six seconds left before the missile impacts, and something runs around the corner of the building. And it looked like a small person… It was a small, two-legged person. And the missile hits. There’s no sign of this person.”
Further elaborating on the aftermath of that bombing, he added, “So we lock our camera on there, and I ask the screener, who disseminates the video feed,… who was that thing that ran on the screen?... and comes back and says, oh, that was a dog.”
But Bryant insists, “It was a person. It was a small person. Like, there was no doubt in my mind that that was not a - an adult.”
“I felt really numb,” he further emphasized, recalling his thoughts after realizing he had blown away a small child with a missile he fired off of a US assassination drone flying over Afghanistan. “I didn’t feel distraught, like I felt my first shot. I felt numb because this was the reality of war… and innocence can die as well.”
According to the NPR reporter that interviewed Bryant, shortly after that bombing, he decided to leave the [targeted-killing] program, boasted by the Obama administration as its prime mean to root out suspected anti-US militants in Muslim nations.
Bryant also explained that back in late 2010 he found himself really disturbed about his thought of which militant he is going to kill today, after looking at a poster in his work area of “five top al-Qaeda leaders,” but then having second thoughts of “that’s just not who I am. I don’t think like that… I was taught to respect life” and that if human life was to be taken in a war, “it should be done with respect.”
He then underlined that he “tried to talk” to people about his feelings but “one of the weird things about the whole [assassination] drone community is that you don’t talk about anything that you’ve done. You just don’t. So I just shut up and didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling or how I was doing.”
According to the NPR report, Bryant eventually quit the targeted-killing program and has become homeless and “staying with friends” while attending college in northwestern US state of Montana.
While noting that Bryant has also been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the NPR reported pointed to the growing realization that PTSD can also affect terror-drone pilots, even though they “haven’t’ been on the battlefield.”
The development comes while despite the rising controversy over the legality of the secret assassination drone strikes and the high number of civilian casualties caused by aerial bombings, as part of the US targeted killing program, the Obama administration insists on continuing the lethal effort to take out what it regards as anti-US “terror suspect” in Muslim nations.