Between the Paris attacks and Thanksgiving, this major piece of news seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Four former U.S. Air Force service members (with more than 20 years of experience between them operating military drones) wrote a letter to President Obama warning that his drone program “has become a major driving force for ISIS and other terrorist groups.”
We previously reported on Obama’s foreign policy of assassination and how the drone program doesn’t actually guarantee precise kills as the government claims it does. Rather, the drone program winds up killing innocent civilians more often than the intended targets. For more on this, watch the below video:
In their letter, the four Air Force drone pilots explain that the killing of innocent civilians in drone airstrikes in countries like Yemen become the catalyst for the most “devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.” Essentially the survivors of those innocent civilians are inclined to join ISIS to avenge their loved ones, thus the United States military is growing the very group it is attempting to combat through drone strikes.
You can read their letter here.
The four whistleblowers are all Millennials: Michael Haas, 29, Brandon Bryant, 30, Cian Westmoreland, 28, and Stephen Lewis, 28.
“This is the first time we’ve had so many people speaking out together about the drone program,” said Jesselyn Radack, their lawyer and the director of national security and human rights at the nonprofit ExposeFacts. Radack claims to be representing Haas, Bryant, Westmoreland, and Lewis for free.
According to a recent tweet by Radack, the four whistleblowers are experiencing the consequences of speaking out against the government. All four have had their credit cards and bank accounts frozen:
However, the four whistleblowers do seem to have silent supporters amongst their peers. Reports are that Air Force drone pilots are quitting in record numbers. Within a 12-month period, the Air Force has lost 240 trained pilots.
To make up for the difference in staff, the Air Force has recently hired civilian defense contractors to fly “combat air patrols” with the MQ-9 Reaper drones.
We also know that the Air Force will be boosting the pay for drone pilots as an incentive to attract more civilians; however, government documents black out the full cost of the Reaper droid program, as well as most of the details of the missions and sensors involved.
Many critics – including military lawyers – find this concerning as civilians are now part of what is referred to as the “kill chain” for drone strikes. The process starts with surveillance (what the Air Force claims the civilians will be doing) and ends with a missile launch (at someone). Currently, there are laws against civilians taking part in armed conflict (the drone flights are considered “combat air patrols”), but the government is moving ahead with civilian contractors anyway, stating the civilians will only be gathering intelligence about the targets, not firing missiles at targets. In a court of law, perhaps "intelligence gathering" would be considered accessory to murder? But what do I know...
It appears that our government is looking for drone pilots who will do what they are told, no matter the consequences, without spilling the beans about what they are doing, or who they are killing.
Brandon Bryant, one of the four drone operators who signed the letter to Obama, was part of the team that tracked Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim scholar and cleric who acted as a spokesperson for al Qaeda in Yemen. Bryant tracked al-Awlaki by drone for the 10 months leading up to Obama's order to kill al-Awlaki by drone strike.
If you’re unfamiliar with Anwar al-Awlaki, he was an influence on the two Tsarnaev brothers (Boston Marathon bombers) as well as Carlos Bledsoe (who shot up an Army recruiting center in Little Rock in 2009), Major Nidal Hasan (who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009), and the “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. One of the Kouachi brothers (responsible for the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris) also cited al-Awlaki as the man who financed his trip to and trained him in Yemen.
Even though al-Awlaki was constantly plotting new ways to kill innocent people and inspiring others to do the same, Brandon Bryant felt he had been made to violate his military oath by being assigned to a mission that killed a fellow American.
“We were told that al-Awlaki deserved to die, he deserved to be killed as a traitor, but article 3 of section 2 of the US Constitution states that even a traitor deserves a fair trial in front of a jury of his peers,” Bryant explained. “In its current form the [drone] program is being abused, there’s no transparency, and we need to be open to other solutions.”
Unfortunately, killing al-Awlaki by drone strike did not kill his ideas or his influence. It actually seemed to magnify his popularity among Islamist militants living in the United States. Militants indicted in the U.S. since al-Awlaki's death reportedly continue to cite his influence or possess his propaganda.
What’s your take? Do you agree with the four drone whistleblowers? Sound off below!
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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