Killing people remotely: the fallout of the US war on terror

National Bird is a disturbing documentary. It isn’t new, having been made in 2016, but it outlines in stark detail the issues that are part and parcel of the drone program which the US has used to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and a number of other countries.

The use of remote killing was even seen recently after a bomb went off at Kabul Airport following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. There were boasts that two people responsible for the blast had been killed by a drone – only for the truth to emerge later.

And that was that the people killed were in no way connected to the blast. Using faulty intelligence and an over-quick finger, America had pulled the trigger again and killed innocents.

The number of people killed by drone strikes shot up by a huge number during the eight years that Barack Obama was in office. The man who spoke a lot about hope and change also killed people left, right and centre, without so much as blinking an eye.

National Bird covers the tales of three drone operators in the US; they are part of the kill chain, with other US officials involved in pulling the trigger. In one case, that of a woman, it has led to post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been officially acknowledged, making her eligible for financial aid. This woman has never set foot in a battlefield; she has been monitoring drone footage at a desk.

A third drone operator, a man, is now on the run at the time the film was made, because he revealed details of the operation which are, as always, supposed to stay secret.

The producer of the documentary, Sonia Kennebeck, is a remarkable woman. In an interview, she tells of the difficulties involved in making National Bird, the precautions she had to take and the legal niceties she had to observe to avoid getting hit with lawsuits. Her story is an inspiring one.

As many countries mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, one must always bear in mind that the fallout of that day has, in many ways, ended up being worse than the day itself.

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