Tune in Tuesday, October 25th as KXLU Los Angeles proudly presents Center Stage with Mark Gordon, featuring special guest filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck. She will be talking about her latest film NATIONAL BIRD. The film follows the harrowing journey of three U.S. military veteran whistleblowers determined to break the silence surrounding America’s secret drone war. Tortured by guilt for their participation in the killing of faceless terror suspects, and despite the threat of being prosecuted, these three veterans offer an unprecedented look inside this secret program to reveal the haunting cost of America’s global drone strikes.
Center Stage with Mark Gordon airs Tuesdays at 7PM (PST) on KXLU Los Angeles, 88.9 FM and streaming at kxlu.com
Aerial combat drones have transformed modern warfare. They have become America’s weapons of choice in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These unmanned aerial vehicles are often considered weapons of the future. They are the tip of the spear in a secret war waged remotely by thousands of service members, men and women, who are bound to silence. Many missions are highly classified, and the official tally of civilian (“non-combatant”) deaths, first reported in July 2016, has been criticized by many NGOs as misleadingly low. But U.S. government officials, including President Obama, are adamant in their assurances that combat drones are precise and effective weapons that kill verified enemies and minimize military casualties, while preventing unnecessary civilian deaths.
Heavily armed Reaper or Predator drones fly miles above the ground and use their cameras to track human targets for days or even weeks, like invisible stalkers. This image is heavily promoted by the military. One U.S. Air Force recruitment commercial begins with what looks like a combat scene from a video game: U.S. soldiers march through a desert, anticipating an enemy attack. A military drone, operated by pilots in a control room somewhere in the U.S., is supporting the ground troops from the air, and targets hostile snipers. The slogan “It’s not science fiction,” punctuates the scene.
The United States is currently the world’s leader in lethal drone use, but other countries are also deploying their own combat drones, making global consequences unpredictable. Meanwhile, the U.S. has expanded the use of combat drones to all branches of the military, substantially increasing the need for operators and intelligence analysts. Yet, the experiences and perspectives of drone operators have been largely neglected, because they are thousands of miles away from the battlefield and don’t come home in body bags or on gurneys. While they don’t sustain physical injuries, their psychological scars can be substantial.
Pilots and analysts not only observe air strikes live and in detail, but also witness how victims’ families come to pick up body parts and bury them. When drone strikes go wrong and civilians are killed, doubts are raised about the accuracy of the overall system, which has great psychological impact on the operators. Due to the secrecy of their positions, they can’t discuss details of these upsetting experiences with anyone — not even their psychiatrists. For some of them these restrictions are too much to bear.
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