POLITICS
06/06/2013 06:09 pm ET Updated Jun 07, 2013

Brandon Bryant, Former Drone Operator, Recalls What It's Like To Watch Target 'Bleed Out' On Screen

For more than five years, Brandon Bryant worked for the Air Force, helping to operate some of the most controversial vehicles in the world. In an interview on NBC News' "Today" show on Thursday, he described the psychological trauma that he suffers after hanging up the controls on a drone operator career that he said tallied more than 1,600 kills.

In one particularly graphic account, Bryant gave a description of the gruesome scene that can play out in the time between weapons striking their targets and the mission being deemed a success.

“The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,” he recalled. “And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.” As the man died his body grew cold, said Bryant, and his thermal image changed until he became the same color as the ground.

“I can see every little pixel,” said Bryant, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, “if I just close my eyes.”

Bryant said scenes like that one eventually made him feel like a "sociopath" who had "lost respect for life." He would later quit the Air Force.

(Click over to NBC News for their entire interview with Bryant, or watch the video above.)

In December, Bryant gave an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, explaining that he was sure one of his strikes had accidentally killed a child. His superiors insisted it was a dog.

It's unclear exactly how frequently unintended victims are killed in these drone strikes. Richard Engel and Robert Windrem of NBC News reported Wednesday that classified intelligence reports from the CIA had shown it did not always know who it was targeting and killing in drone strikes in Pakistan over a 14-month period.

HuffPost's David Wood reported in May on the emotional strain many drone pilots feel as a result of their work:

Much of the stress "comes from the helplessness they can feel," said Air Force Maj. Shauna Sperry, the psychologist who has worked inside this facility since November. "They are so young," Sperry told The Huffington Post. "They do what they have to do, but there is a toll that is taken."

Asked about "moral injury," the violation of one's moral principles, she said: "That's a pretty accurate description of what some of the individuals here experience. Things are happening, they see it happening and there's nothing they can do to change it."

Despite the complexity and controversy surrounding drone use, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday found that 66 percent of Americans are in favor of the targeted strikes. Only 16 percent said they were opposed.

For more on the life of drone pilots, read Wood's interview with Bill "Sweet" Tart, one of the nation's top drone pilots.

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