Obama's drone warfare, Ashcroft on Cameron and the mystery of GQ's absent editors

Originally appeared in The New Statesman by Jason Cowley

What does it do to a man’s soul to be a warrior in Barack Obama’s game of drone warfare, being holed up at a remote military base in the Nevada desert as you go about your business eliminating, at a mere touch of a button, the “enemy” in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Yemen, as if you’re doing no more than playing the latest iteration of Call of Duty?

In Robert Greenwald’s documentary film Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars, Brandon Bryant, a young US air force veteran, speaks with searing honesty about his experiences as a drones operator. He was trained to carry out attacks but was never prepared for how he might react to or feel about what he was doing – all that remote-controlled precision killing. He talks about one day watching on his console as a man, injured in a drone attack he initiated, bleeds to death: “He’s just, like, rolling around, but you can see, like, where his leg is missing and the blood is spurting out and landing on the ground and it’s cooling . . .”

Bryant is a patriot and he believes in God – or, at least, did. “Doing this, I had to really think . . . why was I here? Why am I doing this? I was pretty religious at the time and I went to talk to the chaplain . . . under the orders of my commander, actually, and I got nothing out of it. He was just basically, like, ‘It’s God’s plan.’ It’s God’s fucking plan for people to die? Like, I don’t want to hear that shit. I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything good or wholesome or healthy or contributing to the greater good. I felt like I was destroying myself. I was taking who I pictured myself to be in my head and chopping it down and breaking it down, taking a sledgehammer to it. And it crumbled.”

Unmanned is a work of ruthless propaganda – in the best sense. It makes no attempt to contextualise or create space for opposing views. It’s not balanced or deliberative. It wants only to build a prosecutor’s case against Obama and America’s drone war and it does so with immense power and anger. Do watch it at: unmanned.warcosts.com.

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