A Former US Drone Pilot on The Effects of Killing Kids by Remote Control

September 24th, 2013 - by admin

Kelly McEvers / The London Daily Mail & National Public Radio – 2013-09-24 01:18:44

Former US Drone Pilot On The Effects Of Killing By Remote Control

Former US Drone Pilot On The Effects Of Killing By Remote Control
Kelly McEvers / The London Daily Mail

Inside the Air Force’s Unmanned
Drone Control Center

Kelly McEvers / The Daily Mail

(June 5, 2013) — Brandon Bryant speaks with NPR’s, Kelly McEvers, about the psychological effects of firing missiles into Afghanistan from a Las Vegas control room. Now, homeless and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at just 27-years old, Bryant delves into the far-reaching effects of executing people with the push of a button.

“The missile hits, and after the smoke clears there’s a crater there and you can see body parts from the people,” Bryant says. “[A] guy that was running from the rear to front, his left leg had been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out.”

Although the drones that carry out these targeted killings are called “unmanned vehicles,” there’s always someone at the controls.

As a former sensor operator for the US Air Force Predator program, 27-year-old Brandon Bryant was one of the people sitting in the pilot’s seat.

Bryant originally joined the military to pay off college debt. In 2006 he found himself wearing a flight suit, sitting in a kind of trailer in Las Vegas. He was surrounded by monitors and the low hum of computers and servers.

On his very first sortie as a pilot, Bryant watched from the drone’s camera as American soldiers got blown up in Afghanistan. There was nothing he could do.

Bryant’s “first shot” came later, as he watched a group of insurgents who had been firing on US troops. He was ordered to fire a missile at a second group of armed men standing away from the others.

“The missile hits, and after the smoke clears there’s a crater there and you can see body parts from the people,” Bryant says. “[A] guy that was running from the rear to front, his left leg had been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out.”

Bryant, who was watching on an infrared camera, says he watched the man’s blood rapidly cool to become the same color as the ground. Then, he watched the man he just fired a missile at become the color as the ground he died on.

Though the men he fired on were armed, they weren’t using their weapons at the time, Bryant says.

“These guys had no hostile intent,” he says. “In Montana, everyone has a gun. These guys could have been local people that had to protect themselves. I think we jumped the gun.”

The follow-up report simply stated that there were enemy combatants with confirmed weapons, Bryant says.

Bryant’s second shot is another he won’t soon forget. On a routine mission, he was ordered to fire a missile at a house with three suspected militants inside. Moments before the missile hit, Bryant says he saw something run around the corner of the building.

“It looked like a small person,” he says. “[There] is no doubt in my mind that that was not an adult.”

The missile hit, and afterward there was no sign of the person. It was the end of Bryant’s shift, and as he walked out into the early morning sun in Nevada, he says he didn’t feel distraught like he did after his first shot. He felt numb.

“This was the reality of war,” he says. “Good guys can die, bad guys can die and innocents can die.”

One day in 2010, Bryant was looking at a wall of top al-Qaida leaders and said he asked himself: “Which one of these guys is going to die today?”

“I stopped myself, and I said that’s not me,” he says. “I was taught to respect life, even if in the realities of war we have to take it, it should be done with respect. And I wanted this guy to die.”

Bryant says he tried to talk to a couple of people about it, but people in the drone community don’t talk about the things they’ve done. So, he remained silent, and then he quit.

“I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says.

Bryant is now going to school, and receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. But like other veterans, to kick in.

Brandon Bryant: Drone Operator Followed Orders to Shoot a Child… and Decided He Had to Quit
Helen Pow / MailOnline

‘Did we just kill a kid?’: The moment drone operator who assassinated Afghans with the push of a button on a computer in the US realized he had vaporized a child… and could not go on.

(December 16, 2012) — A former US drone operator has opened up about the toll of killing scores of innocent people by pressing a button from a control room in New Mexico.

Brandon Bryant, 27, from Missoula, Montana, spent six years in the Air Force operating Predator drones from inside a dark container.

But, after following orders to shoot and kill a child in Afghanistan, he knew he couldn’t keep doing what he was doing and quit the military.

‘I saw men, women and children die during that time,’ he told Spiegel Online. ‘I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.’

Bryant joined the military by accident when he accompanied a friend who was enlisting in the army and heard that he could go to university for free if he signed up to the Air Force.

He excelled in his course and was assigned to an intelligence collection unit where he soon learned how to control the cameras and lasers on a drone, to analyse ground images, maps and weather data.

He was made a sensor operator, the equivalent of co-pilot, and at just 20 flew his first mission over Iraq — seated in the safety of a control room in Nevada.

But it began to take its toll immediately.

The first time he fired a missile, he killed two men instantly and cried on his way home.

‘I felt disconnected from humanity for almost a week,’ he said.

But it was an incident when a Predator drone was circling above a flat-roofed house made of mud in Afghanistan, more than 6,250 miles away, that really sticks in his mind.

The hut had a shed used to hold goats and when he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser.

The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact.

‘These moments are like in slow motion,’ he told the website. As the countdown reached seven seconds, there was no sign of anyone on the ground.

Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. But when it was down to three seconds, a child suddenly walked around the corner.

The next thing he saw was a flash on the screen — the explosion. The building collapsed, and the child disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach, he told the website.

‘Did we just kill a kid?’ he asked the pilot next to him.

‘Yeah, I guess that was a kid,’ the man replied.

Thoughts jotted in his diary on uneventful days clearly show the heavy burden his job was placing on him.

‘On the battlefield there are no sides, just bloodshed. Total war. Every horror witnessed. I wish my eyes would rot,’ he wrote on one occasion.

He began to shut himself off from his friends, and his girlfriend complained about his bad moods. ‘I can’t just switch and go back to normal life,’ he said to her. He stopped sleeping and began to exercise instead.

One day he collapsed at work, doubling over and spitting blood. The doctor ordered him to stay home, and not to return to work until he could sleep more than four hours a night for two weeks in a row.

‘Half a year later, I was back in the cockpit, flying drones,’ Bryant told Spiegel Online. But he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now Bryant has left the military and is living back at home in Montana where he feels he is slowly recuperating.

‘I haven’t been dreaming in infrared for four months,’ he said with a smile.

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