Skip to main content

U.S. drone operators show signs of exhaustion

About one in three airmen who operate cameras on high-altitude, remotely controlled spy planes and 30% of those who fly attack drones used to kill terrorists have emotional exhaustion from long hours of work, according to Air Force research recently released.

The airmen who operate drones from bases in Nevada and California complain of frequent shift changes, "mind-numbing" monotony, strains on families and ever-increasing workloads.

"There's just not enough people," says Wayne Chappelle, an Air Force psychologist who helped conduct a six-month study of drone operators from 2010 to 2011. "You have to constantly sustain a high level of vigilance, both visual and auditory information, and that would be really tough to do when there's a lot of monotony."

As the airforce frets about drone operator burnout due to not having enough personnel trained to handle the joysticks of these unmanned killing machines from remote locations in the US (so many assassination targets, so few assassins!), human rights activists, such as Noor Behram, are bravely documenting the maiming and killing of innocent children, women, and men, at great danger to themselves on the ground.

US drone strikes in Pakistan claiming many civilian victims, says campaigner.  One man in Waziristan is documenting casualties – and says destruction has been radicalising locals.

Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit. The world's media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike. But reporters don't go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan. And he's in no doubt.

"For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant," he said. "I don't go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed."

Even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast is such that neighbours' houses, often made of baked mud, are also demolished, crushing those inside, said Noor Behram. One of the photographs shows a tangle of debris he said were the remains of five houses blitzed together.

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy's body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother's last loving touch.

Washington Post, December 19, 2011: Secrecy defines Obama’s drone war

Since September, at least 60 people have died in 14 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The Obama administration has named only one of the dead, hailing the elimination of Janbaz Zadran, a top official in the Haqqani insurgent network, as a counterterrorism victory.

The identities of the rest remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself. Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years — resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan — it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

In outlining its legal reasoning, the administration has cited broad congressional authorizations and presidential approvals, the international laws of war and the right to self-defense. But it has not offered the American public, uneasy allies or international authorities any specifics that would make it possible to judge how it is applying those laws.

The rapid expansion in the size and scope of the drone campaign as the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been winding down has led to increased criticism from human rights and international law experts, many of whom dispute the legal justification for the program.

Drone War Exposed – the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan

CIA drone strikes have led to far more deaths in Pakistan than previously understood, according to extensive new research published by the Bureau. Some 175 children are among at least 2,347 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least 392 civilians among the

In the December 16, 2011 Human Rights Watch Letter to President Obama: Targeted Killings by the US Government, Kenneth Roth, the executive director, questions the CIA's legal authority to conduct drone attacks in war and demands accountability and compensation for civilian casualties.  He requests that the targeted assassinations be under the command of the US armed forces, not the secretive CIA, in order to comply with international law.

The CIA, like all US government agencies, is bound by international human rights and humanitarian law. Unlike the US armed forces, the CIA provides little or no information regarding the training and composition of its drone teams, or the procedures and rules it follows in conducting targeted killings. Nor has the government provided information as to whether the CIA has conducted any investigations into possible international law violations and their outcomes.  As a result there is no basis for determining whether the US government is actually meeting its international legal obligations with respect to its targeting operations or providing redress for victims of unlawful attacks.  Repeated assertions by senior officials within your administration that all US agencies are operating in compliance with international law – without providing information that would corroborate such claims – are wholly inadequate.

Human Rights Watch believes that so long as the US government cannot demonstrate a readiness to hold the CIA to international legal requirements for accountability and redress, the use of drones in targeted killings should be exclusively within the command responsibility of the US armed forces. This would be consistent with the findings of the independent 9/11 Commission, which in 2004 specifically recommended that “[l]ead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department.”

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site