Anti-drone groups are airing cable television commercials near Beale Air Force Base, California, urging remotely piloted aircraft pilots to refuse to carry out missions.
"The reason that we felt we had to start running these ads is the president and the Congress have been irresponsible and – we believe – operating illegally and immorally to let these drone attacks continue," said Nick Mottern, of the group KnowDrones, the lead group behind the effort. "We felt that we had to speak directly to the people who were being ordered to do the killing because, at this point, it seems they're the only ones who can put a stop to this."
The commercials aired near Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in March and they have aired near Beale for the past week, Mottern told Air Force Times.
Beale is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which includes RQ-4 Global Hawks – surveillance drones that fly at high altitudes but are not armed.
Two versions of the commercials are currently airing, both 15 seconds long, the Sacramento Bee first reported on Thursday. In one version, a narrator says, "U.S. drones have murdered thousands, including women and children."
Both commercials end with the narrator saying, "Drone pilots: Please refuse to fly," along with the words "No one has to obey an immoral law" printed on the screen.
KnowDrones plans to raise money to air the commercials around other active-duty and Air National Guard bases, including Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York; and Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania.
Mottern is a Navy veteran who was stationed in in Saigon in 1962 and 1963, but he never saw combat, he said. He left the Navy as a lieutenant, junior grade.
One reason why his group opposes drone strikes is that unlike manned aircraft, drones have unmatched power to put targets under constant surveillance, he said.
"When you're using that kind of a weapon that relies on surveillance, it means that, first of all, you're violating the privacy of many people – a village, a whole region," Mottern said. "That kind of violation is totally against international law. It's against the universal declaration of human rights that was approved by the United Nations. Even before the killing occurs, you have a situation people's rights have been profoundly violated."
Another issue is that the people drones put under surveillance are often "targeted for assassination" without due process, he said.
"These, I would say, executions, without the benefit of any inquiry in a legal way or a court proceeding," Mottern said.
When asked about the commercials on Thursday, Air Combat Command issued a terse statement: "This organization is entitled to express their opinion."
One drone pilot, who asked not to be identified, told Air Force Times that drone strikes represent a tremendous advance in air warfare since World War II and Vietnam, when U.S. bombers would have to drop tons of ordnance to take out one target.
"We literally can surgically and precisely take out individual people, or small groups of people, among the civilian population," the pilot said on Thursday.
The pilot says he is very comfortable with the work that he does.
"I guarantee that my family and your family are much safer for the work we've done [rather] than allowing the terrorists to operate freely in their little safe havens," the pilot said. "The work that we have provided has been very, very detrimental to their ability to operate and attack us on our homeland."
When the U.S. has not taken the fight to the enemy in the past, it has only invited aggression, he said.
There are two alternatives to using drones, the pilot said: The U.S. can either start using less precise weapons that will inadvertently kill a lot of people, or the U.S. can fight the terrorists in the homeland.
"Pick your poison, people," he said.