back to article Top British judge suggests ban on 'cruel' killer roboplanes

A retired top-ranking British judge has suggested that unmanned aircraft are "so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance", and should be banned. Lord Bingham, retired last year as senior law lord - in other words top judge in Britain's highest court - and made his remarks to the British Institute of International and …

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shut it

this will be a man who no doubt let rapists and killers of with a warning.these numpties need to live in the real world.

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FAIL

Hmm.

An unmanned drone that falls anywhere is probably broken I think you'll find.

The man's an idiot quite blatantly.

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Lewis

"Against this sort of background, it seems more than a little puzzling to hear one of the nation's finest legal minds suggesting that unmanned aircraft are somehow "so cruel as to be beyond human tolerance", whereas manned bombers are presumably OK. Particularly as the unmanned aircraft's use of weapons is completely under the control of human operators anyway."

Oh do come along now Lewis. Let the senile old bastard make his comment then trundle off to the library to smoke his fine cigars, quaff his port, and piss himself to sleep.

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WTF?

Numtpy

Reapers and Predators still have crew which control them, they arent some sort of autonomous Terminator-esque killing machine.

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Stop

If you actually, y'know, read what he said....

"It may be — it may be, I’m not expressing a view - that unmanned drones..."

He says he's not expressing a view on unmanned drone. Sounds like he's just using them as a random example of a recently introduced bit of equipment.

The fact that he says that the last things that should have been banned were "cluster bombs and land mines" kind of backs this up.

Still, actually quoting him in context doesn't make for quite as an exciting story does it?

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Linux

No ban 'eeejut' judges instead

UAV's get the job done without endangering our valuable aircrew.

They must be armed to the teeth with 'Wedding Party Seeking missiles' though! Because every time they're used the 'meeja' always but always says they hit a wedding party. Well if you take an AK and an RPG to a wedding then IMO your asking for it!

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Did he mean with or without human control ?

In the quoted extract, Lord Bingham doesn't say whether he means totally computer controlled drones, or ones which are under the command of another human.

The decision to end another persons life is not one that can, or should, be taken solely be a machine which has just run an algorithm. It should only be taken by another person. (I've never had to make that call, and I hope that I never have to.)

Should machines that make this live or die decision on their own without human input be classed as cruel ? Maybe not cruel, but they shouldn't be allowed. The ultimate authority must be another human.

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Anonymous Coward

Where has the judge been?

I'm not sure what this article has to do with technology, or how the opinions of a retired judge on military issues matter.

One might think if there is a weapon which should be banned, it should be man-carried or vehicle carried portable bomb, either planted and left behind, or carried as part of a suicide bombing.

As I doubt this judge is completely ignorant or looney, I can only assume his comments on roboplanes were carefully considered and weighted against terrorist bombing. As he does not explain why a roboplane is worse, than say, a tube bombing, a bus bombing, a railway bombing, an embassy bombing, the bus stop bombing, the school bombing and so many others, I can only assume he sees no issues with terrorist bombings.

Some other weapons the judge may want to consider for banning include the dull knife used to slowly decapitate people, and acid thrown in the face of girls going to school in Afghanistan. I'm sure someone as wise as a judge deeply contemplated the above alongside roboplanes before he determined roboplanes were far worse.

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Grenade

He is somewhat correct but.....,

this is evoloution of warfare.

Even guns took the honor and glory out of war.

The argument here that is being made is:

If you want to kill someone then why not try to see them face to face or are you so gutless with no spine no honor that you must kill without even the slightest chance of getting hurt?

Almost like david vs goliath.

The pencil neck geeks flying remote planes VS ground troops.

There is no honor in killing anymore. It is all propaganda.

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It's simpler than that

Lord Bingham was about ten years old when the V1 buzz-bombs were falling on England. I think there's some history involved.

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Terminator

@Alastair

...Yet.

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Terminator

Where do we draw the line?

While the remarks of the old man doesn't make a lot of sense when referred to the current weaponry, the underlying question does. Shall we allow machines to autonomously decide to kill human beings? Is a war "acceptable" when one contender fields machines against living beings?

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Hmm

It may be - it may be, I’m not expressing a view - that that man is an idiot.

As Alastair Hardwick (and possibly others) have already pointed out, these machines are not autonomous killing machines, just big radio controlled planes with weapons. They're probably not even robots, depending on your definition.

Even if they *were* autonomous, you can't call a machine cruel - who's to say human beings are objects of moral concern for a machine anyway? They aren't, for us.

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Unmanned vehicle

Nice to know that some people still remember doodlebugs.

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Grenade

@Inachu

I would suggest that you should experience first-hand a medieval field of combat before you wax nostalgic and weepy about the 'honor and glory' of hand-to-hand combat. You can die spitting blood and your mind crackling with pain from a gunshot to the gut, or you can die watching your entrails spurt out from a sword strike - either way, I don't think you'll be thinking about how glorious and honorable it all is.

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hmm

@cirby: Then he was about elevn years old when the RAF and USAAF were burning out Dresden, and the USAAF burning much of urban Japan down to ground level, all with manned bombers.

Paul Fussell quotes Liddell-Hart on weapons to the effect that "mankind tolerates abuses but abhors innoviations."

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Grenade

the drones are a bad example, but the question is valid

Air assualt has evolved over a period of time, and I think we have all possibly been the proverbial frog in the slowly heated pot of water on this matter.

That said, the biggest change in tactics came during the Blitz. Indiscriminate bombing was considered strictly taboo, but when faced with the onslaught of nightly bombings from the Nazis, Winston Churchill made an extremely difficult decision.

To turn the tide of war, Winston changed tactics from precision strikes on purely military targets to all out carpet bombing of entire cities. To be honest, placed in the same situation, I can't imagine making a different choice, but this did set a precident that hasn't been seriously questioned by government or military since.

Yes, this does take our armed forces out of harms way to a greater extent, but at what moral cost? Surely, if we lose the moral high ground in any conflict, then we become no better than the "enemies of freedom" we claim to be defending ourselves from?

Despite the constant improvement in military technology, non-combatant casualties have been increasing, and it is this fact that needs some serious scrutiny.

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Killing at a distance

The whole of the history or industrialised warfare has been a direction towards killing at a distance. Muskets, rifles, artillery, bombs dropped from far above, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles. In the sense that they remove the operators from direct danger, then the remote controlled drone is nothing new. It's unlikely that they are any less indiscriminate than shelling a target. What I suppose they are trying to supplant is that messy house-to-house fighting, but in doing so they will, inevitably, be less discriminating, but no more so than many other weapons.

I suspect the real issue here is going to be seen as one of imbalance of risk between one side and another. Conceivably that could be counter-productive.

One wonders what might happen should robotic armies, ever become technically viable, even if they are essentially remote controlled machines. If they could be more discriminating than drones, would they still have the same objections? I rather suspect they would as the scenario would look much like any number of science-fiction invasion-by-alien plots.

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Pint

@David W.

Back in those days, the only safe thing to drink would be beer or wine. People were probably too p*ssed to notice a few spilled guts.

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Stop

RE: Where has the judge been? (AC 12:24 06/07/09)

Maybe you should carefully consider and weigh your words before publishing them? I think the judge is in enough control of his faculties to recognise that despite what America thinks, the world does not follow our Western laws. However, what your comment essentially reads like is that since it is impossible to ban the terrorist from his asymmetric warfare, where they target groups of innocents in an underhand manner, then it is okay for the allies to do the same with airstrikes – a 500lb bomb from 36,000ft will happily kill the 50 people stood near to the terrorist as easily as the terrorist’s own martyr shroud. And yes, airborne weapons are amazingly accurate now, but they are still area effect weapons like the terrorist bombs, but just a whole lot bigger!

You are espousing the “tit-for-tat” idea which was so prevalent in Ulster in the 80s and early 90s and led to some of the worst terrorism to occur up to that time in the world as both sides escalated their war. In one stretch I remember we were averaging 3 deaths per day in a three week period, which was only reduced when the two sides agreed to step back from the abyss, and then start the whole decommissioning process (which was an abject failure in terms of how much they have stashed away), but this only happens when one side takes the view that random deaths is NOT acceptable, and that just because the other side is doing it, doesn’t mean that your side should do it.

Stop being such a numpty and grow up.

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He actually says he's NOT expressing a view

This is a transcript from a verbal interview, not a considered opinion piece. He was being asked to comment on the "international problem of countering terrorism... corruption and ... how to conduct armed conflict". He even gets topics like pollution int here. He used the flying bomb example, in discussing wider issues of military accounability. In fact, the Fieseler 103 (the V1 bomb). was exactly that: an unmanned drone designed to fall upon a house and kill its occupants. Somehow, I find it more likely that a retired judge would cite an example from World War Two, when looking for an example of an inescriminate weapon, rather than offering an opinion on a specific military practice.

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Anonymous Coward

Video games

The thing that worries me most about these remote controlled things is that they are too similar to video games - the "pilot" sits in from of a screen (somewhere outside Las Vegas IIRC) and "plays" it in a rather similar way to a game, with the same zero risk to themselves.

The danger is that this leads to a moral disconnect from what is actually going on: the "pilot" will probably never have been to Pakistan and can go home in the evening to his happy family life. "What did you do at work today dear?" "Oh, I killed 70 people" - no. This disconnect is already bad enough with conventional air-to-ground warfare but this is one step worse.

Of course, none of this is as bad as the people who design ICBMs and things like that.

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RE: Psymon

Well said!

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Megaphone

So the internet is big pipes

And a predator is like as wwII V1 V2 ?

Numpty gerratric judges.

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Grenade

Re: Where do we draw the line?

Then what about MINES? They're autonomous when deployed and kill indiscriminately...and they've been in existence since who-knows-when.

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WTF?

only 'taboo' for the allies

@Psymon - indiscriminate bombing was never considered taboo by the nazis - think Guernica or Rotterdam. Bomber Command might well have perfected it (although I doubt it did much to assist the war effort in Europe) but it certainly wasn't a British precedent. I don't think it was a particularly strategic decision either - I gather it was more a matter of the RAF's inability to hit anything smaller than a town (without an equivalent of the Nordstrom sight), or protect the bombers on deep daylight missions (without an equivalent of the P-51). The yanks, who certainly weren't squeamish about slaughter in Japan, never bothered with carpet bombing over Europe.

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He's right

As an example, drone bombers are a sick and cowardly weapon of war and have certainly increased the amount of hatred towards the coalition forces, not just by the victims and their families, but by people all over the middle east and the world. Some poster above complaining about tube bombings etc.. has he ever wondered why this happens? perhaps it's the cowardly harvest of innocent people in Afghanistan using long range weapons and unmanned planes?

People generally dont like injustice, in a fight, the two sides should be matched or soon it's counter-productive in terms of moral high ground. What's the point in the war in Afghanistan if we cannot maintain a higher moral ground than those we seek to destroy (oh the irony). In reality we are creating the next wave of suicide bombers/taleban/terror by failing to change the nature of the people of Afghanistan through aid/education/order - each good piece of work done is ruined because some cranked-up ape decided to play space invaders with some people attending a funeral or some such...

There is no reason to be in that theatre at all, our good soldiers are being killed to save the face of our status quo - that will fail anyway, so what is the point? Still not heard a valid reason for being in Afghanistan (unless you work on the board for LM or BAe), and I don't intend to go back.

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Stop

Re: the drones are a bad example, but the question is valid

No, the question is not valid, the method and targets are not anywhere near that simple.

You justify carpet bombing of Dresden because "it turned the tide", maybe because of V2's dropping on the British mainland justifies this too?

Kicking Iraqis out of Kuwait may be justifyable and like the British paying the Americans in WW2 Saudi paid the Americans in 1990 so maybe they were just hired guns, but regardless of the weapon used, who has the "moral high ground" in Iraq? 100,000 Iraqis dead, almost all civilian, it doesn't matter if they were bombed from 30,000 feet or shot from 3 feet, puting an invading soldier at risk doesn't somehow make it more moral.

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Grenade

inoffensive conscripts ??

"inoffensive conscripts " - I don't think they were supposed to be inoffensive...

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to anonymous coward

Re: The danger is that this leads to a moral disconnect from what is actually going on: the "pilot" will probably never have been to Pakistan and can go home in the evening to his happy family life. "What did you do at work today dear?"

You are SO VERY VERY TERRIBLY misinformed my friend I almost fell off my chair.

I actually have knowledge of certain people who fly these things and they are some of the most experienced flight personnel in the RAF today! A certain person has flown in both Gulf Wars and holds the title Wing Commander. Now crawl back under your misinformed stone......

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So what about the poor users?

No an autonomous UAV programmed to shoot at anything human shaped is more like a 500mi diameter minefield.

Naturally they will only be programmed to fire on someone carrying a weapon and could never mistake a shepard boy with a stick for a gun.

If you mass produce them and get the price down to a few $k you can have a million of them swarming over the skies of a country for the price of a B1 able to instantly kill anyone that puts their head outside and it won't be worth having them return to base - when their fuel runs out they can just aim at the nearest 'enemy' building.

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@Inachu

So you believe the tools who murdered unarmed and unsuspecting civilians in the various numerical conspiracies (9/11, 11/7) are cowards.

Why do the terrorists not stand up like men and confront us with REAL weapons such as tanks and aircraft? Is it our concern that they come unprepared to do battle?

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I'm with hizzonner on this one...

I'm with the Judge on this one. But neither he nor the Reg seem to understand why the use of these weapons should be seriously restricted if not banned.

It's nothing to do with additional cruelty. The track record of the so called laser guided weapons delivered by manned aircraft is far worse than anything so far managed by the Hellfires.

The real issue is "reduced cost/risk" to the attacker and the problem which arises from that is that it makes it much easier for them to make a lethal decision. And that makes it far more likely that the weapons will be used in increasingly trivial or dubious circumstances.

The protection offered by manned flight is that, if we run the risk of losing a pilot, we'll take a lot more care in assessing whether the target really does need to be destroyed.

It's really in the same vein as I've hinted elsewhere. I'd like to get back to our "Leaders" taking the lead position into any future military conflicts. It's likely to make them much less likely to start their wars in the first place...

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@ian 22

"So you believe the tools who murdered unarmed and unsuspecting civilians in the various numerical conspiracies (9/11, 11/7) are cowards."

Well if they truly believed that they would become martyrs and go straight to heaven then they could well be cowards. They were faced with a certain and instant and painless death to be replaced by an expected eternal life of pleasure. So I would say that they were deluded, but not heroes. A hero would face up to the consequences of what they did, justify it in person, justify themselves to their relatives and generally deal with issues in this life. Committing suicide as a way out of an impossible personal situation is one thing. Taking with you a huge number of uninvolved people believing that you will live in glory for ever without living with the consequences is the act of a moral coward.

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Boffin

Senile old koot

What he really wants is the culpable deniability that shrapnel and other "dumb" munitions give you.

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I remember...

some religious dignitaries being interviewed on TV, noting that the war in Iraq was violating traditional Christian Just War theology, because the U.S. forces were too well equipped, so the body count was too one sided.

So, naturally, these drones don't give terrorists anyone to kill with their Improvised Explosive Devices, and so that must be bad.

I'm just glad they're not in charge of deciding what equipment the Metropolitan Police should have.

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@Psymon

Pysmon dit:

"Despite the constant improvement in military technology, non-combatant casualties have been increasing, and it is this fact that needs some serious scrutiny."

this is a "fact" from when? .. last week ? .. the week before last ?

fact is .. casualties numbers from major conficts worldwide, both military and non-combatant have been going down, year by year in general since the 700,000+ that died in 1951 .. and in the last 9 years have reached historical lows

there are less "major conficts" too .. there were many more dying during the Clinton years on average, than during GW's term .. I guess when it's a Euro war like Bosnia, Europeans just want to convienently forget over 60,000 combatant deaths and the over 40,000 civilians killed in 3 years ..

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FAIL

what the learned lord means by "unmanned drones that fall on a house full of civilians"

For those who have a bit of trouble spotting a metaphor:

He meant to fall upon, as the wolf on the fold. He did not mean that they bloody drop vertically out of the sky under the force of gravity, you literal-minded numnuts!

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Grenade

100 Bomber Raids

I often tell people my parents met on-line before the Internet existed.

They were both telegraph operators, working for the RAF.

My dad said he sent out the command for 'many' 100 bomber raids.

He also sent out the Dam Buster raid command.

Oh well, the German's are our mates now!

AC for ph**king obvious reasons!

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Big Brother

The game will be called "war"

and the combabtants will be teenagers using 360's and PS3's.

It'll be freely available to download and the graphics will be awe inspiring.

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This post has been deleted by its author

@Inachu

Dude the only way and i mean the only way you could save any face after making such a comment is if you are a front line veteran....

I have this strange feeling that you are not....

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Pint

@Psymon and @cphi

You make an intresting point, But you make a mistake in thinking it was churchills idea, RAF commanders of the day including Harris believed air power can win a war, id also not go as far as comparing what Germany did to The UK to the scale of the destruction of what we did to them. We actively set about creating firestorms which i believe is one of the most terrifying situations we were ever to create, including nuclear blasts. we took it to a whole new level.

cphi, i hope you do not believe that american bombing was in any way as accurate as they like to believe because there is no proof at all that it made any difference, and infact whilst we brits did fight at night we did have remarkable navigation and targeting systems, the best example was the "christmas tree" that the pathfinders would deploy on targets leading up to the target and finally release point.

Both the american and the brittish methods were deeply flawed neither were in any way precision bombing and dont let anyone tell you otherwise. proof of this would be in the D-day landings, both british and american planes where to bomb the beaches and sea defences, all they managed to do was wake up the germans and kill a bunch of french people.

it was a desaster, the fact is, at the time, heavy bomber precision could only become useful in massive numbers meaning large spread damage, americans were in no way "better" than us.

I dont see how comparing WW2 area bombing and UAVs is possible, they are nothing alike in any sence, except for the location of their attack, Morally wrong? i dont think so, no more Morally wrong than the reason for most wars its self, Greed and Religion.

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Confused?

So jabbing someone to death with a fire sharpened spear or slashing bits off them with a blunt sword is ' humane' is it? IIRC the first weapon to be banned were dum-dum bullets about a century ago on the grounds that they inflicted shocking wounds. Far better to be instantly disassembled by HE, delivered by whatever means.

Apers mines (not all land mines) and small (not all) bomblets were banned because they create a 'dirty battlespace' that causes civilian casualties later. Not because they are inherently inhumane (whatever that means).

As for the learned gent's view, it confuses 'targetting' and 'delivery'. Some one somewhere has to decide what to attack with some degree of precision (which might be very broad). Then a weapon is aimed into this space, either at a point on the earth's surface, or at an identifiable target or into an area where it will detect and home onto a target.

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@ Harry Stottle

You are absolutely right, and doubly so in the current combat environment. No personal risk means it's too easy to just drob the bomb and accept the collateral damage, or drop it even if we are not sure of the target.

We cannot justify making our soldiers and pilots more important than 'enemy' civilians, because we make enemies of the civiian population and build the support and recruitment capability of the enemy.

Set up the planes with sniper rifles, take out just the baddies even if they are in a crowd, and we will be heroes instead of pariahs.

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Anonymous Coward

Sentimentally wrongheaded

The man is suffering from a failure of concrete perception. It's increasingly common nowadays, as people make judgments based on comforting abstractions while shielded from the pitiless impact of reality.

What's cruel is being hurt; death itself isn't bad at all, just as long as it's very quick and more or less painless. Being hit on the head by a one-ton bomb isn't very cruel at all, as you're unlikely to know anything about it. One moment you're going about your business, the next there is no you to be doing anything.

The worse the injury, the less susceptible to effective treatment, and the longer before it can heal or be alleviated, the more cruelty. Being stabbed seriously is quite cruel, especially if you can't get to a nice sterile well-equipped hospital with modern anaesthetics. Being shot in the guts is cruel; so is being hit by blast and/or fragments from that one-ton bomb if you are unfortunate enough not to be killed outright.

Worse, IMHO, are being burned by a flamethrower, covered with napalm or white phosphorus, killed by slow-acting poison gas, or being caught by radiation from a nuclear weapon. Not to mention surviving (injured or otherwise) while your parents, children, siblings, etc. are killed or maimed.

A small, low-flying robot drone is perhaps more likely to score a direct hit on its target, thereby killing him/them with a minimum of extra suffering. As the article points out, a manned bomber usually stays good and high to avoid the slightest risk to its precious crew, and - as manned bombers have for the past century - probably misses its targets by anywhere between 50 yards and a few miles.

If we want to reduce cruelty, we should consider giving up the habit of killing people we disapprove of (or trying to kill them and killing others instead). Our glorious leaders should ask themselves, as seriously as they can manage, "whom would Jesus bomb"?

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Cluster bombs and land mines

One hopefully will keep the ability to produce them, as they are incredibly useful in "making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country", as the Great Pacifist put it...

http://toppun.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=42619

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