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Graffiti denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen. (Photo: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Former Drone Pilots to Obama: Civilian Killings Driving 'Terrorism, Instability'

Air Force whistleblowers say US drone program "is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world."

Lauren McCauley

Four former U.S. Air Force drone operators issued a public letter on Wednesday warning that the United States' ongoing targeted killing program "is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world."

The letter (pdf), addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and CIA Chief John Brennan accuses the administration of fueling "tragedies such as the attacks in Paris" while "lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program."

"We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS," the whistleblowers wrote, "while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay."

According to Guardian reporters Ed Pilkington and Ewan MacAskill, who broke the story, the servicemen have "more than 20 years of experience between them operating military drones." In the letter, the men say they all "succumbed to PTSD" and were subsequently "cut loose by the same government we gave so much to—sent out in the world without adequate medical care, reliable public health services, or necessary benefits."

Facing possible persecution for speaking out, the men are being represented by attorney Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights at the nonprofit ExposeFacts. Radack says this letter marks the "first time we’ve had so many people speaking out together about the drone program."

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear President Obama, Secretary Carter and Director Brennan: 

We are former Air Force service members. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives  and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing  only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a  fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors  have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and  destabilization around the world. 

When the guilt of our roles in facilitating this systematic loss of innocent life became too much, all of us succumbed to PTSD. We were cut loose by the same government we gave so much to ­­ sent  out in the world without adequate medical care, reliable public health services, or necessary benefits.  Some of us are now homeless. Others of us barely make it. 

We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country’s leaders lying  publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program. We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies  like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home.  Such silence would violate the very oaths we took to support and defend the Constitution. 

We request that you consider our perspective, though perhaps that request is in vain given the  unprecedented prosecution of truth­tellers who came before us like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange,  and Edward Snowden. For the sake of this country, we hope it is otherwise.

Sincerely,

Brandon Bryant

Staff Sergeant

MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator

SERE Instructor Trainee

USAF Joint Special Operations Command

3rd Special Operations Squadron

Disabled Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

Founder of Project RED HAND

Cian Westmoreland

Senior Airman

RF Transmissions Systems

USAF CENTCOM

73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron

Disabled Afghanistan Veteran

Project RED HAND's Sustainable Technology Director

Stephen Lewis

Senior Airman

MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator

USAF Joint Special Operations Command

3rd Special Operations Squadron

Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

Michael Haas

Senior Airman

MQ­1B Predator Sensor Operator Instructor

USAF Air Combat Command

15th Reconnaissance Squadron

Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran


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