Just when you think it couldn’t get much worse in the military commissions at Guantánamo, something happens to prove you wrong. It all began in late January when, during pretrial hearings in the case against five men accused in the 9/11 attacks, the audio feed — which runs on a 40-second delay to prevent leaks of classified information — was abruptly cut off. The media and observers, who sit behind a soundproof glass wall at the back of the court, noted the silence. But the cut surprised even the military judge, who believed he was the only one with authority to press the button and who did not consider the information being discussed at that moment classified.
The audio cutoff was initiated “not by me,” the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said angrily at the time, and “I’m curious as to why.” He added, “If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be … then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”
Read who cut the audio and how the how attorney-client meeting rooms were bugged »
Photo: Flags fly above the sign for Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay.
© 2009 Reuters
In a web-extended version of his broadcast essay, Bill Moyers gives examples of how indiscriminate killing by our military forces not only cuts down innocent bystanders, but drives “their enraged families and friends straight into the arms of the very terrorists we’re trying to eradicate.” Bill says the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and President Obama’s prolific use of drones all share a “blind faith in technology, combined with a sense of infallible righteousness.”
An assumption of human free will is fundamental for any system of legal accountability. Unfortunately, the more the cognitive sciences develop, the more they suggest that our moral reasoning lies largely outside of our control—and can even be manipulated.
An example is transcranial magnetic stimulation. Experiments with TMS reveal that you canalter somebody’s moral reasoning using a powerful magnet. Unscrupulous military leaders could artificially distort their subordinates’ morality for the worse by attaching a TMS unit to their helmets. Yet if a soldier committed war crimes because somebody else had turned off his morals, it is hard to see how we could hold him responsible for his actions.
From “Who Will Be Accountable for Military Technology?” by Paul Robinson.
“Losing Humanity” is the first major publication about fully autonomous weapons by a nongovernmental organization and is based on extensive research into the law, technology, and ethics of these proposed weapons. It is jointly published by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic.
Human Rights Watch and the International Human Rights Clinic called for an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. They also called on individual nations to pass laws and adopt policies as important measures to prevent development, production, and use of such weapons at the domestic level.
Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield. The United States is a leader in this technological development. Several other countries – including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom – have also been involved. Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years, and some think even sooner.
Read more after the jump.