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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

U.N. officials question use of unmanned weapons

Ready. Aim. Fire.

You are sitting in front of a computer, controlling an aircraft as it flies through the air. You are watching through a viewpoint that lets you imagine you are sitting in that aircraft; and you possess controls that give you the best accuracy. Your target is approaching and you ready yourself. You aim, waiting for the right moment — then you fire.

This is the latest video game, right? Wrong. This is the control station of an armed military drone.

According to Telegraph News, drones are able to carry out missions without risking the lives of those who control them. They can obtain and report information from a battlefield many miles away.

Drones are able to gather information, deliver supplies, and carry out armed attacks. There are many people who do not question the use of these unmanned aircrafts.

Philip Alston was the first United Nations official to question the legality of the use of drones.

“Because (drone) operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a ‘PlayStation’ mentality to killing,” Alston said.

There are many arguable benefits of using drones, but Alston and his successor, Christof Heyns, have been vocal in their doubts regarding the ethics of the use of the aircrafts.

At the center of their argument lies the risk of killing innocent civilians.

Newsweek reports that 31 percent of drone-related casualties in Pakistan have been civilians.

“Airstrikes accounted for about 60 percent of the nearly 600 civilians killed by NATO and allied Afghan forces in 2009,” MSNBC reports.

Earlier this year, six American officers were reprimanded for their actions during an airstrike that killed 23 civilians, reported Al Jazeera.

“Information that the convoy was anything other than an attacking force was ignored or downplayed by the Predator (drone) crew,” a military report by Army Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale stated. The officers also failed to report the civilian causalities until 12 hours after the airstrike.

Heyns and Alston believe that the past use of drones should have only occurred when “it was impossible to capture insurgents alive,” Telegraph News reports.

“The international community urgently needs to address the legal, political, and moral implications of the development of lethal robotic technologies,” Heyns stated in an interview with the Washington Post.

Heyns has called for more in depth discussion of the civilian victims and the consequences of using drones. According to The Washington Post, he identified several important topics, including “the fundamental question of whether lethal force should ever be permitted to be fully automated.”

A CNN count announced that the drone strike on Oct. 28 was one of 83 this year — compared to 52 in 2009. In just two days — Oct. 27 and 28 — 13 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. CNN reports that they were suspected militants. There was no mention of any civilian casualties.

“The whole point of all this is to disrupt terrorist plots at whatever stage and wherever these plots may be focused,” said an anonymous CIA official in an interview with CNN.

The use of drones is a topic that continues to grow in the political light.

Though it remains to be a touchy topic with many CIA officials, Alston and Heyns continue to question the use of the unmanned weapons, drawing more and more attention to the hushed matter.


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