Archive | Targeted Killing

“Guilty” Battlefield Robots

One of my favorite issues of the New York Times Magazine is its “year in ideas” issue, which comes annually in December.  It has a short item this year related to battlefield robotics and law and ethics, by Dara Kerr, “Guilty Robots.” (If you go over the Opinio Juris version of this post, you can pick up the “robots” tag to get all the blogging there on international law of war and ethics and battlefield robots.)

[I]magine robots that obey injunctions like Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative — acting rationally and with a sense of moral duty. This July, the roboticist Ronald Arkin of Georgia Tech finished a three-year project with the U.S. Army designing prototype software for autonomous ethical robots. He maintains that in limited situations, like countersniper operations or storming buildings, the software will actually allow robots to outperform humans from an ethical perspective.

“I believe these systems will have more information available to them than any human soldier could possibly process and manage at a given point in time and thus be able to make better informed decisions,” he says.

The software consists of what Arkin calls “ethical architecture,” which is based on international laws of war and rules of engagement.

The “guilty” part comes from a feature of Professor Arkin’s ethical architecture, in which certain parameters cause the robot to become more “worried” about the rising calculations of collateral damage and other such factors.

After considering several moral emotions like remorse, compassion and shame, Arkin decided to focus on modeling guilt because it can be used to condemn specific behavior and generate constructive change. While fighting, his robots assess battlefield damage and then use algorithms to calculate the appropriate level of guilt. If the damage includes noncombatant casualties or harm to civilian property, for instance, their guilt

[…]

Continue Reading 30

Targeted Killing, Safe Havens, and the President’s West Point Speech

Several times in his West Point speech on Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama declared that the US would not permit Al Qaeda or “violent extremists” the use of safe havens.  He specifically noted Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The President unsurprisingly never overtly mentioned Predator or drone missile strikes, or the CIA as the operational agents in many instances of these far-from-covert actions.  But there is little doubt that both in the speech and in actual doctrine, targeted killing through drone strikes has been endorsed and indeed extended.

It was a tactic initiated by the Bush administration, but it was embraced and championed by the Obama administration, expanded and made a centerpiece of operations by it, as news stories before and after this speech in the NYT and Washington Post have repeatedly reported.  But an important question remains as to whether the administration is preserving through use and ‘opinio juris’ the legal authority and doctrines that support these sensible tactics.

Not the only tool of US will, of course – the President went to great lengths to discuss diplomacy, values, and many “soft power” options.  Targeted killing is a means, and a limited one; moreover it is not a strategic end in itself.  And it is also quite true that although speeches of this kind are often constructed so as to make oblique references to be understood as such, it is also a mistake to interpret a large policy pronouncement by reference to particular phrases and oblique references in isolation from the larger whole.  But reading the whole speech, there is little doubt that targeted killing is included among the vital tools for the projection of US power – not just in Afghanistan, not just in Pakistan (and the speech several times referred to Afghanistan and Pakistan together, for obvious […]

Continue Reading 23

Attack of the Drones

The NYT reports that the Administration will increase the use of unmanned drones for targeted killings in Pakistan.

The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.

By increasing covert pressure on Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, while ground forces push back the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan, American officials hope to eliminate any haven for militants in the region.

One of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, the drone program is quietly hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success, eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. But despite close cooperation from Pakistani intelligence, the program has generated public anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it does more harm than good. . . .

[…]

Continue Reading 64

Reading While Traveling, Hard Copy and No Internet

I’ve been traveling recently, and so have been away from posting.  One of the enforced virtues of traveling – one of the few virtues of traveling for me these days – is the plane flight with no internet.  And if the big guy in front of me reclines his seat, as he always does, I can’t even get to my computer.  So I read  on flights.  I should have some reading gadget, Kindle or whatever, but I’m not that far along yet, and for that matter I should get an economy class friendly little word-processor to use on flights, but I’m cheap.  Here’s a selection across the varied reading on my flights.  No particular theme or order, I’m afraid (on account of the mixed-up topics here, I think I won’t open to comments; too jumbled to be productive). […]

Continue Reading

UN Special Rapporteur Criticizes US Predator Program in UN Speech

Reuter’s reports on a speech given by Philip Alston at the UN, criticizing the US for its drone attacks or, at a minimum, for not being forthcoming on its drone attacks.  Professor Alston (a friend of mine and well known to many VC professor-readers as an NYU law professor) is the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial execution.  (I would be curious to see video of the speech if anyone knew of a link; I found the Reuter’s description a little breathless.)

The United States must demonstrate that it is not randomly killing people in violation of international law through its use of unmanned drones on the Afghan border, a U.N. rights investigator said on Tuesday.

Philip Alston, a U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, also said the U.S. refusal to respond to U.N. concerns that the use of pilotless drones might result in illegal executions was an “untenable” position.

Alston, who is appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, said his concern over drones, or predators, had grown in the past few months as the U.S. military prominently used the weapons in the rugged border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan where fighting against insurgents has been heavy.

“What we need is for the United States to be more up front and say, ‘OK we’re prepared to discuss some aspects of this program,’” the Australian law professor told reporters.

“Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws,” he said.

As regular readers know, I think the Predator targeted killing program is perfectly legal; on the other hand, the unwillingness of either the Bush or, now, […]

Continue Reading 110