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.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.
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."
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.
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.
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.”