It is terrifying even in the quiet moments; it is most terrifying in the quietest moments.
National Bird, a new documentary by filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck, co-produced with Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, is a deep, multilayered, look into America’s drone wars, a tactic which became a strategy which became a post-9/11 policy. To many in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world, America’s new national symbol is not the bald eagle, but a gray shadow overhead armed with Hellfire missiles.
Scattered throughout the documentary are silent images from drones and aerial cameras, sweeping, hypnotic vistas taken from above both Afghan villages and American suburbs. The message could not be more clear: the tools used over there can just as easily be used over here, not merely for surveillance (as is already happening in America) but perhaps one day soon to send violence down from the sky. Violence sudden, sharp, complete and anonymous.
The anonymity of that violence comes at a price, in this case in the minds of the Americans who decide who lives and dies. National Bird presents three brave whistleblowers, two former uniformed Air Force veterans (Lisa Ling, Heather Linebaugh) and a former civilian intelligence analyst (Dan), people who have broken cover to tell the world what happens behind the scenes of the drone war. There are elements of “old hat” here, chilling in that we have grown used to hearing that drone strikes kill more innocents than terrorists, that the people who make war justify their actions by calling their victims hajjis and ragheads, that America draws often naive young people into its national security state on the false promises of hollow patriotism and turns them into assassins.
Heather suffers from crippling PTSD. Lisa is compelled to travel to Afghanistan with a humanitarian group to reclaim part of her soul. Dan is in hiding as an Espionage Act investigation unfolds around him. A sobering side to this all is the presence of the whistleblowers’ attorney, Jesselyn Radack, who currently also helps defend Edward Snowden. Radack ties the actions of the drone whistleblowers into the larger post-9/11 narrative of retributive prosecutions and government attempts to hide the truth of America’s War on Terror from everyone but its victims.
The final layer of National Bird is what may be some of the first interviews with innocents who have suffered directly from drone attacks. The film interviews at length members of an Afghan extended family attacked from the air in a case of mistaken targeting even the Department of Defense now acknowledges.
The family members speak six years after the fact as if still in shock. Here’s a boy who shows off his leg stump. Here’s a woman who lost her husband, the boy’s father, in the same attack. Here is another father discussing the loss of his own child. In a critical piece of storytelling, National Bird does not seek to trivialize the deaths in Afghanistan by weighing them against the psychological trauma suffered by the Americans, but rather shows the loss to everyone done in our names.
National Bird is in limited film festival release, most recently at Tribeca in New York, before moving wider theatrical release in the U.S. this fall.
(Full disclosure: Jesselyn Radack helped represent me in my own whistleblower fight against the U.S. Department of State in 2012)
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.
FLIP The National BIRD Barack to the eagle; and that’s No BS (Bush Shadow) Buffalo CHIP!
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How many theaters will show this and who will see it? Other than those of us who already have a gut understanding of the horror…we live near a military airport and when I see the planes and helicopters I think how it would be if you did not know whether they were about to drop bombs on you or not…
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” Dan is in hiding as an Espionage Act investigation unfolds around him. ” God I feel for him..but I bet this guy is worried too…
“Scattered throughout the documentary are silent images from drones and aerial cameras, sweeping, hypnotic vistas taken from above both Afghan villages and American suburbs.”
Most people in this country are fucking clueless to the horror being perpetrated in their name. But what’s worse is..they don’t fucking care. If anything, I believe half this nation would press the “kill button” them self given a chance. And yes..they are the same people who support Trump. Unfortunately, their stupidity will come back to bite them in the ass one day….. :
“The message could not be more clear: the tools used over there can just as easily be used over here, not merely for surveillance (as is already happening in America) but perhaps one day soon to send violence down from the sky. Violence sudden, sharp, complete and anonymous.”
Can? I’m sorry, but it’s already happening..big time. At least for surveillance…
However.. the day WILL come when domestic law enforcement uses a weaponized drone to kill a “suspect”. Unfortunately..we are ALL suspects now. And given the NSA now has the legal impetus to “share” data with law enforcement, even if it’s not related to “national security”, the web of the Surveillance State is almost complete.
The last bastion of privacy..your home.. is on the verge of being absorbed into the all seeing 24/7 surveillance “eye of Sauron”. For those who think the latest and greatest “smart TV” is the greatest thing since smartphones..I got news for them. They are a fucking idiot. Little do they know their conversations are being sent to the Cloud. Even video under certain circumstances. However..I bet they’ll be the first ones to allow a camera installed in the shower too.
Meanwhile, over in tinfoil hat land, things that even Orwell couldn’t dream of are being exposed as reality…
God I’m glad I won’t be around to see what this world becomes like by the time my grandchildren are grown. I only hope they forgive us, and have the courage to actually do something about it..vs the cowards of my generation. However… seeing Trump get as far as he has says volumes about our current citizenry. Exactly what isn’t clear, but I do have an idea. Braindead.