Up in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northern Pakistan, a giant image of an orphan girl is now laid out next to the mud houses of the locals.
She is nameless, but according to her photographer, Noor Behram, she lost her parents in a drone strike in 2010 in the village of Dande Darpa Khel. Her picture, the size of a soccer playing field, is a product of Akbar’s planning with the help of JR, a French street artist, and Clive Stafford-Smith, the founder of Reprieve, a British human rights organisation.
Their intent: to create images of the victims of Washington’s drone wars that could be seen from the sky. Smaller images have, in fact, been placed on rooftops in Waziristan. Their target audience: drone pilots like Bryant, Haas, and Lopez who, searching for targets to kill, might just see the face of the child of one of their previous victims.
(The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which keeps a tally of drone victims in Pakistan, offers a provisional figure of up to 957 civilians, including as many as 202 children, killed between 2004 and the present day.)
For the last five years, Akbar and Smith have worked tirelessly on similar projects. One of their first efforts was to reveal the name of the CIA station chief in Pakistan: Jonathan Banks. In December 2010, they brought a $500 million lawsuit against him in that country, causing him to flee. The next summer they put together a collection of Noor Behram’s photographs of the dead, as well as their relatives and neighbours, that was exhibited in London.
Last year, Akbar even made plans to take the relatives of drone victims to testify before the U.S. Congress. Though he himself was denied entry to the country, he succeeded. Rafiq-ur-Rehman and his two children, nine-year-old Nabila-ur-Rehman and 13-year-old Zubair-ur-Rehman, did speak at a special hearing arranged by Representative Alan Grayson.
Now, with the unexpected support of a small but growing group of former drone pilots, a campaign against “targeted killings” might well take on a new life in the US. At least six other drone pilots have already spoken anonymously to Woods, largely confirming what Bryant and Haas have said publicly.
There is evidence that other drone pilots are also beginning to crack under the pressure of drone war. Two recent studies by the Air Force strongly suggest that Bryant’s PTSD diagnosis is no anomaly, that no matter how far you may be from the battlefield, you never quite leave it.
Published in June 2011, the first study by Wayne Chappelle, Joseph Ouma, and Amber Salinas of the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio concluded that nearly half of the drone pilots studied had “high operational stress.”
A number also had “clinical distress” – that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives. The study attributed this to long “flying” hours and erratic shifts, but did not compare drone pilots to those in combat aircraft fighting above the battlefield.
A second study by Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, published in March 2013, compared drone pilots to those performing standard military missions. The level of stress, it found, was almost the same, a surprising conclusion for those who assumed that drone pilots were essentially video gamers.
“Remotely piloted aircraft pilots may stare at the same piece of ground for days,” Otto told the New York Times. “They witness the carnage. Manned aircraft pilots don’t do that. They get out of there as soon as possible.”
Some believe that drone stress is significantly related to a major shortage of pilots for such planes. A Government Accountability Office report released in April tersely notes that “high work demands on RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] pilots limit the time they have available for training and development and negatively affects their work-life balance.”
Excerpt from: ‘The Three Faces of Drone War: Speaking Truth From the Robotic Heavens’, courtesy Commondreams.orgPratap Chatterjee, "The faces of drone war," The News. 2014-05-13.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social aspects , Human rights , Drone attacks , Target killing , Journalism , Alan Grayson , Noor Behram , Rafiq ur Rehman , United States , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Washington , Pakistan , London , CIA