Combat Without Cognizance – or Murder by Joystick?
April 5, 2009


I have spent no more time on any other cause in my life than I have protesting and vocalizing my opposition to government sponsored death. Be it the death penalty or military engagement, I have never wavered in this
position and that includes Roe v Wade and the ongoing abortion issue. I do not advocate state sponsored death. Therefore I want government out of the issue as well.

I accept and defend the rights of others to disagree. If your notion of capitalism and free markets in today’s environment doesn’t give you pause to consider the effects on our military engagement policies into international territories I suggest you consider it through some investigation.  Some might argue that our military has become nothing more that a collection of Private Defense Agencies [PDA] positioned globally to protect the interests of an Anarcho-Corporatist consortium of private businesses. I tend to agree with that assessment.

In lieu of the limited infomation or biased reporting we must find a position on such matters. Taking your position without the facts or truth is mere philosophical opining and detrimental in the ultimate goal of progress? Well progress itself is defined as;

Miriam Webster

1 a (1): a royal journey marked by pomp and pageant (2): a state procession b: a tour or circuit made by an official (as a judge) c: an expedition, journey, or march through a region
2: a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal) : advance
3: gradual betterment ; especially : the progressive development of humankind

whereas; – 2. a developmental activity in science, technology, etc., esp. with reference to the commercial opportunities created thereby or to the promotion of the material well-being of the public through the goods, techniques, or facilities created.

What? From where did that definition come from? For the sake of this opinion I choose to use it. So please, establish your position in regards to military engagement and the Rules that govern it. Combat is waged by State Military as well as CIA, Mossad, MI6 Intelligence, Blackwater [Xe] type state sponsored and independent mercenary and terrorist organizations which might at some point be called “freedom fighters” or extremists. The designations seem to vary depending on your interpretations. I accept the rules of engagement as defined from what I can find currently.

Air Force Pamphlet 110-31, International Law [AFP 110-31], p. 5-9. These requirements restate almost verbatim the provisions in Protocol I, Article 57.—The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations, instructs that, applying international legal limits to air attacks, planners must take the following precautions:

(a) Do everything feasible to verify that the objectives attacked are neither civilians nor civilian objects…
(b) Take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to
minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects; and
(c) Refrain from deciding to launch any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

So what about Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles? What are the concerns regarding the logistics, legalities and ethics?

Some of the logistic and legal concerns are price. The UAV cost to the Defense budget is considerably less than traditional F series fighter aircraft and range and fuel costs are nearly 90% less but do not require a trained pilot to operate. This is a considerable plus for the global military combines and their financial resources as well as taxpayers, though it potentially puts another pilot out of work.

There are issues regarding FAA and NORAD operations and traffic control related to available airspace and concerns over the the UAV ability to react or respond without human visual capabilities.

The US military’s increasing use UCAV (armed) development, requires the US aviation community to rewrite the rules regarding UAVs and to draft and publish rules and regulations governing the use of UCAVs in national airspace as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization and public concerns.

As with any technology relying on human operation and like aircraft, UCAVs can experience engine problems, loss of communication, and weapon malfunctions. Unlike manned aircraft, UCAVs must be programmed with precise instructions and procedures to follow. These instructions and procedures may include a preplanned orbit point to regain communications and control, a preplanned self-destruct point, or an autonomous recovery-and-landing option. The potential for loss of life increases significantly in the case of armed, pilot-less aircraft.

Since these are chip programmable and involve wireless communications, the enemy could hack into the system and sieze control over or sabbotage the mission.

The United States must consider the rules that govern flight operations in national and international airspace, the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and rules of engagement (ROE) when the use of UCAV to execute combat-attack operations. I have not been able to find the specific laws or rules in respect to UCAV’s and their use in combat but I have considered these issues.

Under the LOAC, if the controller pilot of the UCAV is in Langley, VA and the programmer is in San Jose, CA while the operation or intelligence base is in Kabul the enemy under the same rules would be able to launch an attack a counter strike in Virginia, California as well as Kabul. I’m sure that would be of deep concern to the local residents.

Recently we have come to the knowledge of the US CIA UAV attacks in Pakistan. President Obama can take responsibility for the half dozen attacks and the eighty or so deaths from UCAV missions in the Kurram region of Fata. Though sources say it was successful in taking out the targets, the nearby school was leveled as well and it is uncertain to the number of innocent casualties or injuries. These strikes are carried out by Predator unmanned aircraft and use the hellfire rockets as their weapon of choice.

Similarly, the Israeli attacks with UCAW’s has confirmed massive civilian damage and raises the concerns of the ability to direct investigation as to the reasons. With drone air attacks it brings the question of human, mechanical or intelligence errors.

Please refer to the UK. Guardian Report

Haaretz has reported the possible war crimes and violations during it’s Israel Defense Forces “Operation Cast Lead”

Article one

Article two

In this case the soldiers had direct contact with the targets that ended up being partly women and children included in the casualties. The testimonies and investigations into the possible criminality are in progress.

What needs to be said here is war and conflict regardless of means is tragic, heartbreaking and often criminal. There is a distinction to made between the technique of Operation Cast Lead and the use of Drones. If we must as a species continue to kill each other for any reason under the Military, LOAC and RoE, I think we should continue to operate with face to face annihilation of our supposed enemies. The use of UCAV’s may seem to some as a means to prevent the death of ones forces or manpower, but it leaves the personal intercourse, witnesses, testimonies, human reaction that may avoid a deadly encounter and most important accountability.

Who bears the responsibility for an autonomous attack when things go wrong? Can a computer determine proportional response? Can the computer mimick humanity? Can this technology weigh casualties against advantage anticipated? Can an autonomous system differentiate between unnecessary suffering or injury? Sanitizing and dehumanizing these factors will open the doors to what I believe will be unspeakable disregard for humanity and the necessary processes of distinction.

I apologize to the families who have lost love ones but I stand fast on this point. If you enlist to fight for your country, you enlist to kill for your country and you risk dying for your country as well. How you deal with these in your time of service are what will progress our hopeful enlightenment to an end to war and armed conflict and an avoidance of assured mutual destruction.

It is foolish for the public to be aghast at the tragedies such as Israel’s possible crimes or the matter of Lt. Calley in the Mei Lei massacre in Vietnam. It is the harsh realities and bitter pills that we must swallow until we address the real issues of leadership, our military agendas, the industrial military corporations and the men who wear the star clad shoulder bars and ribbons, for they are the ones who back and support the technology of killing without faces, without feeling and without accountability. This is another slippery slope that if we do not consider the inevitable desensitizing effect of this kind of combat and the long war mentality, then powers behind the creations of these conflicts will be happy to run drone and joystick wars in the backrooms of their stores for years to come while ringing their cash registers.

“Sometimes I think it should be a rule of war that you have to see somebody up close and get to know him before you can shoot him.” ~M*A*S*H, Col. Harry Potter

This statement is not particularly clever or brilliant but it has so much in it for one who understands how war works.