Screenshot from the trailer of national bird
In the documentary "national bird" three whistleblowers talk about the u.S. Drone program and its horror, which is otherwise unnoticed
The drone looks down on a desert. From several thousand meters high, it records six small, black dots crossing the small section of landscape in a goose chase. Heather linebaugh speaks from the off: "there’s at least two possible children." then everything disappears in the black cloud of an explosion. Before the black cloud of smoke, riddled with pixels, clears the view again, the video ends.
Linebaugh, who participated in the drone program for the air force, explains what happens next. The mission is not over until the target can be confirmed. So the drone stays in place, waits for the crater to cool and the smoke to clear. Then the targets are identified. They are people who have been torn to pieces.
Sometimes they crawl away from the crater of the explosion without legs, sometimes only their body parts remain, scattered over the place of impact. To confirm the mission as completed, severed legs, arms or the remains of a torso are documented. At the same time, the families of the victims collect the parts of their loved ones and carry them away in blankets.
The home front of drone warfare
Heather linebaugh carried in two years as drone intelligence analyst contribute to the clarification and analysis of thousands of such targets. As early as december 2013, she revealed in an article for the guardian what she is now reaffirming for sonia kennebeck’s film national bird: the reality of the global drone program has nothing in common with a precisely applied scalpel "precisely applied scalpel" scalpel that "geschwure" as john o. Brennan, head of the. Brennan, cia chief during the obama administration, would have the public believe.
Linebaugh is one of three whistleblowers interviewed by kennebeck for her film. She, like others involved with the program, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. A sequence of live images of killings that drone analysts and operators see in front of them every day. Unlike regular troops, however, those involved in nsa operations are prohibited from speaking with therapists because they generally do not have the required security clearance. Of linebaugh’s former comrades alone, three committed suicide as a result of their involvement in the day’s button-pushing deaths.
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The consequences for the operators are only a small part of the perspective the film opens up in the conversations with the whistleblowers. The formerly known as private contractor daniel was indicted by the nsa while still filming for his statements about the drone program. Lisa, who served as a technical sergeant in the u.S. Air force, tries to deal with her guilt by becoming involved with victims of drone strikes in afghanistan.
An omnipresent, deadly look
"National bird" is more than a film about the post-traumatic stress of mechanized war or the u.S. Government’s treatment of whistleblowers. Kennebeck deftly uses insiders’ perspectives to describe an opaque, mechanized form of warfare in its aftermath, while also relating to the people whose deaths are decided on the basis of shaky live footage and carried out at the push of a button.
In afghanistan, a mother recounts a drone strike that killed 23 members of her family, including two of her children, and silenced her son. A helicopter flying over the city interrupts her story. The fear is clearly visible in the faces of the children and relatives sitting next to the woman.
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Again and again the film seeks an expression for this invisible, omnipresent horror. Thus, the anxious gaze that the afghan family directs toward the sky finds its ominous counterpart in the images that kennebeck makes of the u.S.A. Drone footage shows american cities from the air, slowly flying over streets, houses, cars and passersby as an unnoticed presence.
With these pictures the film directs the view of the drone from the arab world back to the homeland. A glimpse that encapsulates the global horror of a program that needs nothing more than a blurry aerial shot to kill a human being. A look at what joysticks, keyboards and screens are turning into the abstract war that the u.S. Is waging without fronts and, perhaps soon, without direct human involvement.