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'You Have a Choice': Veterans Call On Drone Operators to Refuse Orders

Joint statement signed by 45 US military veterans urges drone operators to follow their consciences and say 'no' to surveillance and assassination missions

Drone operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, August 2007. (Photo: Air Force/public domain)

Drone operators at Balad Camp Anaconda, Iraq, August 2007. (Photo: Air Force/public domain)

Dozens of U.S. military veterans released an open letter this week urging drone operators to "refuse to fly missions" or support them in any way—and letting them know that if they say "no" to surveillance and assassination orders, there is a whole community rooting for them.

"At least 6,000 peoples' lives have been unjustly taken by United States drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria," states the letter, which was organized by the education and advocacy organization KnowDrones.com.

"Those involved in United States drone operations who refuse to participate in drone missions will be acting within accordance of Principle IV of the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Judgment of the Tribunal, The United Nations 1950," states the letter. "So, yes, you do have a choice—and liability under the law. Choose the moral one. Choose the legal one."

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The letter's 45 signatories include retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright, who stepped down from her State Department position in 2003 to protest the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Numerous veterans of the so-called "War on Terror" also signed the letter, including Aaron Hughes, Iraq veteran and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Hughes told Common Dreams that he backed the initiative because he thinks it is "extremely important for those who are flying those vehicles or doing logistics to know that there is a whole community out there that supports them in saying no."

Nick Mottern, coordinator of KnowDrones.org, echoed this point in a press statement released this week: "The people signing this letter know that they are asking drone operators to take a heavy step, but we feel it is perfectly legitimate to advise military people to stop taking part in illegal activity that has killed thousands without due process, is terrorizing thousands more and is wracking their own ranks with moral injury and PTSD."

"When our country unjustly inflicts violence on civilian populations it is our duty to resist."
—Maggie Martin, Iraq Veterans Against the War
The Air Force recently revealed that, due to "stressors" of the job, the military is losing drone pilots and being forced to cut back flights. And in a Government Accountability Office report (pdf) released in April 2014, the agency warned that drone pilots are quitting far more quickly than they are being recruited.

In an article published this March in TomDispatch, writer Pratap Chatterjee asked, "Are pilots deserting Washington's Remote-Control War?" He continued, "Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?"

Former drone operators, including Heather Linebaugh, have testified to the horrors inflicted by the remotely operated lethal weapons. This reality is confirmed by civilians and reporters, including the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the high number of civilian drone killings in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

"When our country unjustly inflicts violence on civilian populations it is our duty to resist," Maggie Martin, Iraq veteran and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told Common Dreams. "Whether at home or abroad we have to take action to stand in solidarity with those facing state violence."

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