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A Drone Warrior's Torment: Ex-Air Force Pilot Brandon Bryant on His Trauma From Remote Killing

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Why has former U.S. Air Force pilot and drone operator Brandon Bryant decided to speak out?

Bryant served as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011, manning the camera on the unmanned aerial vehicles that carried out attacks overseas. After he left the active duty in the Air Force, he was presented with a certificate that credited his squadron for 1,626 kills. In total, Bryant says he was involved in seven missions in which his Predator fired a missile at a human target, and about 13 people died in those strikes.

"I tried to get out multiple times and do a different job, and I was consistently told that it's the needs of the Air Force come first, and so I did it. I buckled down, and I did it. I did the job. I did it as best as I could, because I was scared that someone would come in, and they wouldn't do it very well," Bryant said on Democracy Now! ahead of the U.N General Assembly meeting about the U.S. drone program. "I paid a spiritual and mental price for that. And I think that's something that people really discount, because I didn't take any physical injury through it."

"The clinical definition of PTSD is an anxiety disorder associated with witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event," he says.

"My deal is more moral injury -- how you would feel if you were part of something that you felt violated the Constitution? I swore an oath, you know? I swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Bryant said. "Tou can't use 'I obeyed orders' as an excuse. It's 'I obeyed the Constitution, regardless of lawful or unlawful orders.' And lawful orders follow the Constitution. And that, that's the hardest part."

When asked why he has decided to speak out, Bryant said: "The United States government hasn't really done a good job of humanizing the people that do [this job]. And everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we're Nintendo warriors. And that's really not the case. And the people that do the job are just as legit and just as combat-oriented as anyone else. And I'm not like their official spokesperson. In fact, I'm probably the most hated person in the entire community right now ... because I have spoken out, and they're--they're hurt. They feel like I'm trying to hurt them, and that's not the case. I'm trying to give them credence, you know? But the problem is, like, again, we're going back to like the Constitution and what is viable and what is not inside and outside of war zones, what permission the people of America have given us."