Drones: National Bird of USA

National Bird is a documentary about the effects of drone warfare conducted by the US in Afghanistan as part of its war against terrorism. It also incidentally became a documentary on whistleblowing.

Drone pilots Lisa, Heather and Daniel reveal how drone warfare, presented as efficacious and selective, is much more liable to error than US officials are ready to admit. The “safe distance” at which it is conducted has very real and damaging effects both for civilians and drone operators.

The primordial act of killing is dehumanized and sanitized, and leaves Heather with post traumatic stress disorders, Daniel with suicidal thoughts and a looming charge for espionage, and compels Lisa to travel to Kabul to seek pardon from the communities she contributed to grief.

As shown in the Ed Snowden case, the US government is quick to punish dissenters: a different war on terror is waged on whistleblowers breaching the secrecy of US military and speaking out against lies and abuses relating to the drone war.

In the discussion that followed, director Sonia Kennebeck highlighted how whistleblowing has become increasingly dangerous and all the more important to investigative journalism in today’s information society. She highlighted how the Intelligence Support Activity, a surveillance system classified as a weapon in itself, is able to watch everyone everywhere without us even knowing.

British barrister and former intelligence official Frank Ledwidge explains that humanitarian law is not fit deal with the relatively unrestricted warfare of drones, and the issue is likely to aggravate as more countries (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and increasingly China) develop drone capabilities.

Findings by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism seem to corroborate the argument that drone warfare emboldens decision makers and hide the scale of harm away from public scrutiny: reporter Jack Serle logged US air strikes on Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan demonstrating much higher casualties compared to US official figures.

Drones have numerous civilian applications. One of them, filming, was skilfully used by Kenneback to demonstrate just how intrusive the National Bird’s “unblinking stare” is.

But like any new technology it demands open societal debate. The harmful consequences of secrecy and censorship are boldly portrayed by Kennebeck, whose documentary powerfully  advocates for more transparency both at home and abroad.