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Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I've heard about drones--unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft that drop bombs--but never thought much about them because I assumed they were being scrupulously aimed at the right targets, i.e. known terrorists.  But according to the documentary UNMANNED: AMERICA'S DRONE WARS (2013) that assumption is as off-target as, apparently, many of the drones themselves.

Director Robert Greenwald (WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE, KOCH BROTHERS EXPOSED, IRAQ FOR SALE: THE WAR PROFITEERS) has assembled a compelling argument against the current administration's reckless use of drones in the war against terror, with vivid testimony from Pakistanis whose families and friends have died violently. 

One of these is primary school teacher Rafiq ur Rehman,  who was injured along with several of his children and whose mother was killed.  We also hear from another Pakistani man who has made it his mission to photograph the results of such attacks for the world to see.  Many of the photographs are of children, hundreds of whom are said to have been among the collateral damage of drone strikes. 

Particularly effective are the words of former U.S.A.F. drone targeter Brandon Bryant,  who tells of how his original hopes of doing something worthwhile in his job were dashed when he began to realize the true damage he was helping to cause.  Various psychiatrists add their own perspective on how people who live in the path of these drones have begun to suffer the psychological effects of a constant threat of sudden death from overhead.

Greenwald's cinematic skills are brought to bear in subtle but effective ways as he allows the impact of his interviewee's words and the accompanying images, which are often quite powerful, to deliver the film's message without bombast or strident sensationalism.

His low-key, reasoned approach is persuasive and ultimately convincing.  Adding to his argument in addition to those directly affected by drone strikes are the words of several experts on the subject including national security correspondents and law professors.

The DVD from Brave New Foundation is widescreen with 2.0 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a thoughtful commentary track by Greenwald along with extended interviews, short films, and a discussion by legal experts of President Obama's drone policy.

The message of UNMANNED: AMERICA'S DRONE WARS is straightforward and well-presented.  Its goal is to both enlighten and disturb the viewer, and in doing so Greenwald saves a particularly troubling assertion for last--that due to resentment toward the U.S. as a result of  these indiscriminate drone strikes, they are creating far more terrorists than they are eliminating.


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