tv America Tonight Al Jazeera November 18, 2015 9:30pm-10:01pm EST
>> often "america tonight," after paris. can drones do the job of stopping i.s.i.l? we consider the human cost of a fire from the sky. >> i participated in extra judicial actions, via the drone program in killing people i'm pretty sure were innocent. >> the man who had his finger on the trigger, a conversation with al jazeera's lindsay moran. >> thanks for joining us i'm joij. joijoie chen. drone strikes, politician he see them as a trusted force for stopping evil but could they do more harm than good? tonight a rare voice speaks out
from the inside, a former drone operator who tells al jazeera's lindsay moran, why after five year with his finger on the trigger he considers himself a war criminal. >> you've described yourself as a war criminal, do you really mean that? >> i've participated in action that violated human rights. of course i mean that. >> reporter: from twick to 2011 brandon bryant served in america's drone strike program. a sensor operator his job was to guide missiles to their target. according to the air force his unit killed more than 1600 people. i think whether most of us think of a war criminal we think of nazis, tailor criminals, what makes you feel you were a war criminal? >> i participated in extra judicial programs, violated sovereignty of nations.
killed people i'm pretty sure were innocents. >> volunteerary discharged, he is one of the few speaking out. >> do we kill people in these drone strikes? >> we do. >> did you ever participate in the killing of a child? >> not activity but there was a child who ran into a building my second shot, i have no doubt i killed the child, allow or why i couldn't tell you. wrong place wrong time, collateral damage accident yeah it happens. there were terms that people would use to excuse just in case they were in the wrong place wrong time. they'd use the terms terrorist in training or fun size terrorist or the phrase got to mow the grass before it grows, got to pull the weeds before they get out of hand. >> and that basically means? >> basically means whatever means necessary justifies the ends. >> subcontract government documents recently release reley
the investigative website the innocent, of the 219 people killed in northeastern afghanistan, only 35 of them were the intended targets. nonetheless, the military classified all of them as enemies killed in action. let's talk about the technology. so you're in this room, you're watching say the same target maybe for weeks at a time. and then how does it happen? does someone just pop their head in the room and say okay, kill strike, activate kill strike? what happens, how does that occur? >> so yeah, if we're sitting there following someone we'll be told, hey, get ready to spin up your missiles, get ready to strike. so you're watching someone. maybe you'll follow vehicles that leave a house and then they'll say don't follow this vehicle go back to the house you'll follow a couple more
maybe you'll follow one vehicle and they'll say we're striking this vehicle get ready to do so. you don't know when or who is going to make the decision for you. >> do you know who you're striking? >> no, we don't. we just know this person has validated some sort of nefarious activity algorithm. >> 0 is it determined that someone should be killed? is there an overreliance on profiling or intercepts? >> they do kill people by metadata, no doubt. we helped gather that metadata. what metadata is, the geolocations of the cell phone being used, the gee elocation is of the cell phone being -- being communicated with. the sim number of the phone, the length of conversation that's being done between phones the length of text that's being exchanged if not the direct text
itself. but it's all that information being used, to track these people, and they do make kill decisions based off of it. >> it almost is like you're bombing cell phones. and you don't really know who is attached to that cell phone at the time that you commit the kill. >> it's another level of disconnect. if you are not bombing a person you're bombing aterrorist, you're tracking their mobile number, their coorchts, ther co, there's less of a chance of a human being being involved in that. >> in somalia and yemen 57% of targets were identified using things like cell phone numbers. many of those killed are thought to be civilians. the bureau of investigative journalism, a lob london-based organization, has estimated that this organization has killed
1250 civilians. >> you watched that happen on the screen right? what happens afterwards? >> well if you want to take my first hell fire shot as an example of this, i hit three individuals, two of them were blasted to pieces and another man was killed, lost his leg above the knee and we watched him bleed out. we waited for people to come and pick up the body parts. no one came after a while. and they told us, you're cleared off target, we're going to give you a new target. >> what's the mood in the room after a strike? is there -- >> high intensity testosterone. >> like cheering or -- >> there is. there's people high-five each other. they congratulate each other for winning the wore on terror. they -- the war on terror. they say all sorts of slurs. >> what kind of slurs were those? >> the typical raghead. >> racist or -- >> racist ethnic stuff.
i felt i was losing my humanity in this world because i was watching people live out their lives and being human beings while i was sitting there watching them do so. and so it doesn't dehumanize them, it dehumanized me. >> so a lot of time to think about what you're doing? >> a lot of madness yes, you drive yourself mad. >> how did it affect your mental health? >> well i stopped sleeping after my first hell fire strike. i just kept seeing people, the dead people that i had killed around me. and i felt like they were waiting for me. and that was really disturbing and i would go loam and i would dream about -- go home and i would dream about missions. i would dream in infrared. i couldn't escape work. i stayed up all night long. >> did you talk to anyone about what was going on in your head or does the military offer anyone that you can talk to? >> when i was in leave we did not have that availability. we were told if we talked to a psychologist they would take
away our security clearances, they would probably kick us out, give us a din honorable discharge. they made us fear talking. i was given an order by one of my commanders to go see a chaplain. >> what did the chaplain say when you went to see him? >> basically my commander said, you need talk to this chaplain. don't tell him specifics, tell him how you feel. i said, i killed these people and i feel bad, and he said, maybe it was god's will for you to kill these people. >> he took an oath to obey orders he says. but in february of 2011, when his unit began tracking anwar al alwaki, an american citizen, he could no longer ignore another part of that oath to defend the constitution. >> he were told that anwar al alwalaki was a traitor.
>> bad guy so what's the problem with taking him out? >> article 3 section 2 of the united states constitution states that even traitor deserves a fair and free trial in a jury of his pierce. we swore an oath, it doesn't matter who this person is we have to give him the opportunity. they are an american citizen. you look at historically, the nazi war trials, i just followed orders, that's not an excuse. i was still responsible. >> al alwaka was eventually killed buy drone strike in 2011. coming to grips with his experience as odrone operator. >> whether we talk about the killing of a human being is not just a number. >> he shared his concerns with the united nations. he now appears in a new documentary. >> no one else has talked about what they have done, the things that are going on how callously we we're treated or the
mentality of the people in there and -- it just blots my mind. >> there's a glrks blows my mind. >> there are a lot of people who say, given the paris attacks, this is exactly what we should be doing. if anything, we should be ramping up drone strikes even more. what would you say to these people? >> what's to say these things weren't the things that fueled something like that? if we take out someone's uncle or brother or father, why should they love us in any sort of manner? and if their mother or sister or someone innocent that wasn't involved in the organizations over there gets killed, what's stopping them from seeking justice? if they can't get justice, what's stopping them from seeking revenge? >> joining us now al jazeera correspondent lindsay moran. lindsay, i'm vuk b struck by ths
that brandon is telling you in conversations with him. we assume there is really human intilings thaintelligence that d the targets. >> signal intelligence, cell phone, intercepts, anything electronic. if you look at a geolocation watch list for drone strikes, you would assume that has human names, individuals who pose an imminent threat. but it's actually just a list of serial numbers or sim card numbers. the bad guys on the ground are savvy, they know it is their cell phones that are part of the target. they can switch sim cards they can give their phones to someone else thereby negating the certainty that if someone is struck they're the ones that are killed. >> not to receive a list that says john jones, ed brown or
something, it is numbers they are looking for essentially the cell phone. >> there are individuals that they are trying the go after but the way these individuals are identified and tracked is primarily through their cell phones. there's very little human intelligence involved. >> this is also striking because we layer in this country over the last few days particularly in the political environment, the political figures coming forward and saying look we need to use our advance technologies, our drones, we need the hit again and harder. but that doesn't take into consideration a lot of the things that brandon is talking about and not just him. >> it's not just brandon. there's a retired general michael flynn who was head of the defense intelligence agency, senior intelligence officer with jsoc which was responsible for very controversial drone programs in yemen and somalia, who has said this program is a flawed approach, it's taking out
more good guys than bad guys. tremendous collateral damage, you might take out one terrorist but created 100 more. >> that is really a concern that the backlash from something like this, strikes that fail. >> absolutely. there's a tremendous backlash and could you even argue that this policy of using drones and the collateral damage has really radicalized people and created the atmosphere created more terrorists, created the hatred towards the united states. so i think of course right now there's this political dry to you know let's hit them even harder let's get the bad guys. the problem is that we don't do that with precision. and the drone program ultimately could be making things worse. >> al jazeera correspondent lindsay moran, thanks so much. >> thank you. >> by the way, al jazeera did reach out to the pentagon which declined to comment on our report. next here, presumed guilty, "america tonight's" sheila
generations, but the latest crisis has many feeling alienated in a place they consider home. sheila macvicar is there. >> we met mohammed, french born moroccan and muslim. he's married, one child, with another on the way. how long have you been driving a cab here in paris? >> translator: it's only since last january i started driving a cab. >> reporter: as we crawl through heavy traffic on the outskirts of paris we talked especially about what has changed since last friday. >> translator: people are quiet, they're afraid for their lives. they're afraid something else might happen. >> reporter: do you feel that
things have changed here in your country, in your france for you? >> translator: absolutely. trance is frightening now. france is frightening now. people are quiet, they're afraid for their lives, afraid something else might happen. >> reporter: do you think there's islamophobia in france? do you think there's more islamophobia in france? do you feel that yourself? >> what has happened is a catastrophe. to be muslim it's more difficult now in france. people look at us with suspicion. >> reporter: to be muslim in france now is to be afraid? >> translator: it's scary. we feel bad the way people look at us. there's some who put us all in the same basket. they think they're muslim, you have to be careful.
he's from an arab or from north africa. to me, the terrorists are not muslim. i don't know where they come from or what their religion is. muslims cannot do. cannot. any religion if you believe in god can you not kill people! >> reporter: it took a while but we began to speak about friday's attacks. >> and you or friday night where were you? >> translator: i was working. i was nearly a victim too. it was omatter of a few minutes, ona matter of a few minuteswills maximum. >> mohammed had not told us where he had been. we asked him to take us to where he had been. >> i arrived, saw a dead person here, saw another by the tree, saw a woman was bleeding and wounded, her husband was
wounded. the guys with the kalashnikov, i helped the guy hit twice in the arm. i was just there, i was there on foot because it had just happened. there weren't a lot of people here yet. there was a guy who had a huge lake of blood under him. i didn't dare go near him. i was shocked. >> reporter: horrible, horrible. >> translator: i saw the tables on the ground, i saw the chairs on the ground. the dead on the ground. absolute shock. >> reporter: at least five people died here. the french values of liberty, brotherhood, equality, tattered, but not yet completely broken. >> joining us now from paris is "america tonight's" sheila macvicar. not only this cab driver that you spoke to sheila but across the community, there are muslims who have been in france have long histories, north africans
who have long histories in france. >> indeed joie. i spoke to a framp banke frencho also happens to be muslim. there is an amalgam, you get from arab, islamist, or arab muslim terrorist and then you go from arab to terrorist. and that's the way people hear, if you can imagine this man, banker, pretty wealthy guy, dresses very well, his kids go to extremely good schools. if you think that that is how he is feeling that in the eyes of his neighbors he is somehow now suspect, then think about how people of north african origin or from anywhere else who happen to be in their private lives also muslim, feel. they tell you that they feel the looks that people have for them. taxi drivers tell you you know, some fare -- i stop for a fare,
they look at me they understand i'm north african they won't get in my car. >> sheila, i wonder if they then feel that there is something they can, should do, some way they can identify themselves, is there some sort of code-speak they can offer to make their positions better within the community? >> you know, what could they do? what should they do? when you know, thousands of people rallied here in last de la republique, after the charlie hebdo murders, they understood, we have to show that we are not them. and over and over again, we are not them. it is almost like trying to prove a negative. it is stlel difficult. these people are french. they are equally french as
someone who is catholic or someone who is jewish or someone who has no faith. they look at what their government is doing and their government is proposing a series of laws that will specifically target only french muslims. it makes them deeply unquiet, deeply worried and makes them feel they are being separated out and increasingly there is a growing part of the society here that is less tolerant. indeed not tolerant. >> "america tonight's" sheila macvicar is in paris. and next, news from the pacific northwest, a killer force arrives, the calling card of el nino. nino.
>> the worst predictions have already come toou i true in thec northwest where a killer storm has struck. three people died in the pacific northwest, as record winds of 119 miles per hour. but a as "america tonight's" michael okwu found, the monster season might be found far from shore. >> i ended up smashed against a house and then a big beam came and pressed against my throat. i'm thinking okay if my throat breaks it's going to be more merciful than slowly smothering in this stuff. >> reporter: buried in a mudslide and contemplating a painless way to die. that's how dire the situation was for ann quilter back in february 1998. the last time the u.s. was rocked by a powerful el nino
winter. somehow this southern californian escaped death when her canyon home was wiped out by fast moving and massive wall of mud. back then average californian had little understanding of el nino, the warming of the pacific ocean's waters near the equator or how el nino influenced the climate. >> the interesting thing about el fleen yoa, thel nino, the stt necessarily larger, just more of them. back to back to back like a questionnaire belt oconveyor be. >> in 2010, several days of unrelenting rain triggered mudslides yet again and widespread flooding. more than 90 homes and 70 businesses were damaged.
staying dry this winter in california will be a challenge. according to bill patser. a climatologist outside pasadena. >> this el nino is probably larger than the famous godzilla el nino of 1997-1998. this has had devastating impacts already all over the planet. >> this winter's el nino has already arrived. palm trees in mexico twisting and contorting in 160 mile-per-hour wins. that's what happened when hurricane patricia blew ashore in late october. the remnants of patricia also powrndepounded texas and the loa gulf course. scientists say make no mistake about it. this el nino is shaping up to be
a monster. what is your biggest fear about the el nino that everyone is predicting this time around? >> that everybody will be completely overwhelmed in a way that we haven't seen before. i mean i can't imagine it being worse than 98 or 2010 but the possibility is there that it could be. it's just not knowing. >> for those who weathered the last monster el nino in laguna beach they figure it's the calm before the storm. michael okwu, al jazeera, laguna beach, california. >> that's "america tonight." tell us what you think at aljazeera.com/americatonight. talk to us on twitter or facebook and come back, we'll have more of "america tonight" tomorrow. >> our american story is written everyday.
it's not always pretty, but it's real... and we show you like no-one else can. this is our american story. this is america tonight. >> gun fire again in paris. but this time it begins with police engaging suspects in last friday's attacks. i.s.i.l.'s bomb. the group reveals images of the small device it says it used to destroy a russian airliner in egypt last month. competing strategies. >> we're not in this business to kill civilians. we're in this business to stop