Former members of the United States Air Force are continuing to criticize the use of drones by the military. Many have stated that America’s drone program is “morally outrageous” and that it represents a driving force of terrorism and worldwide destabilization.
Now, at least four former drone operators want President Barack Obama to fix the issue before he steps down from his position.
Former drone operator and instructor Michael Haas said, “We were very callous about any real collateral damage. Whenever that possibility came up, most of the time it was a 'guilt by association' or sometimes we didn't even consider other people that were on screen."
Haas, along with three other critics of the drone program, has written a letter to President Obama, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and CIA Director John Brennan. In the letter, the use of drones was linked to the rise of the Islamic State and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
Haas has said that drone attacks are used by terrorists as a fundamental recruiting tool. Despite this, the Air Force has defended their usage of drones. The Air Force said in a statement, “Our remotely piloted aircraft operators perform a critically important mission that contributes significantly to national defense and global security.”
The number of American drone strikes has greatly increased since President Obama came into office. However, this can largely be attributed to increases in military technology. That being said, somewhere between 2,736 and 4,169 militants in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have been killed by American drone strikes that were conducted during Obama’s tenure as president. Furthermore, somewhere between 488 and 1,071 innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks.
The letter from the four former drone operators read in part, “We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country's leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program.”
Attorney Kathleen McClellan, who is representing the four men said, “This is the first time this many people who served in the drone program are speaking out.”
The former drone operators have said that they experienced tremendous amounts of guilt for the pain and suffering they were instructed to inflict upon innocent people. One of the former drone operators who wrote the letter, Stephen Lewis, said that he drank himself to sleep every night.
Lewis said, “It was the culture there. Everybody did something to take the edge off to reform reality so you didn't have to think about what you did."
Another ex-operator, Cian Westmoreland, said that he had nightmares about the people he saw die. Westmoreland said, “I would just feel helpless. And I knew it was partially my fault.”
Similar statements have also been echoed by the fourth former drone operator who added to the letter, Brandon Bryant.
All four of these men were honorably discharged from the Air Force, and they have all stated that they suffer from PTSD. With their painful memories fresh in mind, they want changes to be made both to save the lives of thousands of innocent people and to prevent others from having to go through what they have experienced.
Reports have indicated that the Air Force has been having a hard time retaining drone pilots. It seems that most operators cannot bear the burden of the damage they are instructed to inflict.