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How Drone Pilots Talk

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For the past eight years millions of people have expended billions of words speculating about exactly how the United States kills people with missiles from drones (and missiles from other sources, such as manned aircraft, targeting people identified with drones). There is good reason to believe that for each such attack there exists a video and audio record of what the drone pilots saw and what they and their colleagues said to each other as they decided to launch a missile and as they observed its results.

This is a level of documentation we rarely have with killings by domestic police officers, who are typically filmed by observers with phones, a method of documentation that excludes the leadup and the aftermath.

It's also a level of documentation that is almost entirely denied to the public, meaning that it doesn't actually do us much good. As far as I know we have not seen a single video or heard a single audio recording of a drone murder. The "Collateral Murder" video is a powerful record of a non-drone attack.

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With drones, however, we do have one (incomplete) transcript of what was said during the hours leading up and the minutes following one particular attack. This was an attack in Afghanistan in February 2010 that killed zero fighters but numerous innocent civilians. According to survivors, 23 men, women, and children were killed. According to the U.S. military 15 or 16 were killed and 12 wounded. The U.S. military apologized and paid some $4000 to the family of each acknowledged victim.

The ACLU obtained the transcript in 2011, and it was published by the Los Angeles Times, which wrote an account of the incident, but I didn't pay much attention until the new film, National Bird, dramatized part of it. I think it deserves a bit longer excerpt than either the Times or National Bird provided. So, here is my selection plus commentary. Feel free to read the whole thing at the links above and make of it what you may.

00:38 (JAG25): We are going to hold on containment fires and try to attempt PID, we would really like to take out those trucks.

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PID means positive identification. This individual is eager to send missiles into trucks on the ground in Afghanistan but is aware of the need to identify somebody in one or more of them as an armed fighter. In fictional fantasies like Eye in the Sky or presidential speeches, targets must exclude any possibility of killing civilians and the targeted people must be known, specifically identified, be beyond any possibility of arrest, and be "immediate and continuing" threats to the United States of America. None of those criteria or anything like them are even discussed in this actual drone attack. Instead, the question of whether to launch hellfire missiles at automobiles is whether the targeted people are males over 10 years old and whether at least one of them has a gun. As we'll see, even those standards are not met, but they are discussed.

00:38 (Slasher03): Copy that. Break, break, Slasher, we passed you coords for the vehicle on the west side of the river again you have multiple dismounts in the open break. On the east side of the river there's an additional vehicle majority of the dismounts are inside a compound located just to the north of that vehicle if you get eyes on that compound. Compound has multiple movers as well as one pickup truck hot.

00:38 (Slasher03): Kirk97, Slasher in addition if you're able to pick up illumination it appears the two vehicles are flashing lights signaling between.

Before anyone was murdered on this day, everyone was discussed for hours with words like "vehicle," "compound," "dismounts," and "movers" -- which simply has to have a different impact than "cars," "houses," "pedestrians," and "people walking around."

...

00:41 (Pilot): Does he have a weapon?"

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00:41 (Sensor): Can't tell yet

00:41 (MC): Can't tell

CLASSIFIED

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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