Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Philip Hammond

“I worked on the US drone program”: What the public should know…

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them  a few questions:

1. “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And

2. “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly:

3. “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have any real clue of what actually goes on.

I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first

Hermes 450 drone

An Elbit Systems Hermes 450 drone. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

The US and British military insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs.

These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us.

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light.

This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure.

One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?

I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

It’s also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analyzing intelligence these UAVs.

I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone.

UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end.

I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it.

And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience.

UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions.

I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one year leaving the military, to suicide.

I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

Who are the Arms Dealers?  And London’s Excel Conference and Exhibition Centre…

 posted this September 12, 2013 on LRB Blog

Among the Arms Dealers

Currently on display at London’s Excel Conference and Exhibition Centre are more ways to kill people than you can imagine: tactical sniper rifles from the United Arab Emirates’ Tawazun Advanced Defense Systems, medium-calibre mortars from India’s Ordnance Factories Board, optical sights for grenade launchers from Bulgaria’s Opticoelectron Group. And there’s the less lethal, too, like the CS gas made by Non Lethal Technologies of Pennsylvania.

‘Sure it’ll make you tear up,’ a company representative said.  But usually it won’t kill you?

The Defence and Security Equipment International trade show, which began on Tuesday and finished tomorrow, bills itself as the largest in the world.

It brings in some 30,000 visitors from arms manufacturers, governments, militaries, police forces and coast guards around the world.

Contingents of high-ranking Botswanan soldiers mingle with South Korean defense ministry officials; Barbadian coast guard captains rub shoulders with Americans from Lockheed Martin.

Russia’s participation has attracted particular attention because of its continued exports to Assad’s government in Syria. There was no sign at the Russian pavilion of the Grad rockets familiar to the people of Hama and Homs, just brochures for robotics and radio components.

Pairs of men disappear behind frosted glass doors into temporary meeting rooms to close deals. Very little actual buying happens on the floor.

Most of it is prearranged, but DSEI is somewhere for business partners to get together and industry members to network. Bulgarians talk to Israelis; a German military technology magazine hands out Pilsner and pretzels.

But the star of the show is meant to be the UK.

The British pavilion is massive, decked out in Union Jacks and featuring everything from BAE Systems’ amphibious vehicles to Rolls-Royce jet engines to the wares of Varivane Industries, a Wiltshire-based producer of furniture for submarines and aircraft carriers. AEI Systems of Ascot makes 84mm recoilless rifles, 30mm ‘gas operated, electrically primed revolver type cannons’, and a variety of other guns that can be mounted on aircraft, boats, vehicles or fired from the ground.

Most are sold as parts to BAE Systems, but, according to Paul Knott, AEI’s technical and operations director, they can just as easily be sold separately and their products are perfect for countries in the Middle East and East Asia.

‘We’re a cheap solution, compared to the big boys.’

With an atrophied manufacturing sector and widening trade deficit, the UK government has been keen to promote defense exports.

In recent years, the prime minister has taken trips to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Burma and elsewhere to push BAE Systems and other British arms firms. The UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation is a major sponsor of DSEI.

Foreign delegations are escorted through the convention centre by members of the Armed Forces. Sergeant Paul Tarpey of the Royal Artillery, on loan to UKTI, stood at Raytheon’s pavilion patiently explaining the value of the Boomerang III, a ‘state-of-the-art shooter detection’ device.

On Tuesday, the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, walked the halls, examining missiles and munitions before he delivered a speech to a crowd of men in suits and camouflage.

Hammond said: ‘This exhibition is an excellent example of the opportunities that we create when government and industry work together, hand-in-hand,’  He flanked by German armored personnel carriers.

The countries UKTI invited this year include Bahrain, which has killed more than 100 people putting down the ongoing uprising there, Kazakhstan, where police killed 12 striking oil workers in 2011, and India, which regularly imposes military curfews in Kashmir.

We are not ashamed of promoting responsible defense exports,’ Hammond said.

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June 2022

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