Do drones violate human rights?

Watch an exclusive cilp of a new documentary that exposes the terrors of the covert CIA drone war

Drone – a new documentary from award-winning Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei – shapes an interesting discussion about the rights and wrongs of drone warfare. Through intimate interviews with those who make and operate drones as well as those on the receiving end of the deadly pre-programmed strikes, the film lays out the facts with powerful pragmatism, raising viable questions about human rights, law and humanities unquestionable need to constantly push boundaries. Here we speak to Hessen Schei about how gamers are getting snatched up as drone pilots and why killing with joysticks breaks international law.

What inspired you to make Drone?

Tonje Hessen Schei: I first got the idea to make Drone when I came across the story of a gamer who had dropped out of high school to play video games. He quickly signed up for the military and was hand-picked to be a drone pilot due to the skills he’d acquired. The thought of young kids going from getting points per kill to killing people on the other side of the world was fascinating to me.

How did you manage to persuade so many people associated with drone warfare – from the makers to the operatives – to tell their stories?

Tonje Hessen Schei: It was difficult. It took around nine months before Brandon (Bryant), a former US Air Force drone operator, trusted us. He experienced a witch hunt when he first spoke out, so he wanted to make sure we would tell his whole story. I was interested in hearing the many different perspectives and to see how important it is for the drone technology to be regulated.   

Do you believe the use of drones violates human rights?

Tonje Hessen Schei: In the making of this film, we have – through our production – definitely found information that shows drone warfare breaks international law when it comes to human rights. It’s important to look at the CIA’s targeting methods, where a civilian is maybe killed because they exhibited similar patterns as a terrorist. Everything is becoming more and more autonomous. Robots that decide who, where and when to kill. But how to program ethics into a robot? Human nature seems to want to push boundaries all the time, and it’s scary. Science fiction is now on the drawing table.

Was it always your intention to big up the correlation between the entertainment industry and the military?

Tonje Hessen Schei: I wanted to look at the very thin line between virtual war as a game and real war. I was surprised by how the world can be so quiet when it came to assassinating thousands of people compared to all the criticisms torture and Guantanamo attract. Killing a suspect, a family, a neighbour got no criticism from Europe and the rest of the world.

Drone is out in cinemas Friday 10 April