Humanity, Pixels in a Shrinking Kill Chain

By Zaakir Ahmed Mayet

In late 2002 an article entitled ‘The Changing World of Electronic Games’ appeared in a popular publication. The article proceeded to outline the disastrous effects of gaming. However it was the side effect of a break down between the realm of fiction and reality that caught my attention. The article postulated that gamers run the risk of translating that which occurs in the digital world to reality. I relegated these warnings assuming that the effects would only be experienced by hardened gamers.

Enter 2001 when global combat operations reached a turning point. The advent of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked a watershed in history whereby the destruction of human life on a mass scale could be achieved whilst in the same attack destroy the genetic code for generations to come. But the developments in 2001 ushered in a far more sinister and destructive reality. The development of the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) revolutionized warfare and the terms on which modern war would be fought. It reduced losses of personnel to a few mechanical parts and sensors while providing the ability to utilize modern weapons systems and payloads. As with every massive leap in warfare, there are side effects. The side effect of these UCAVs has been the lack of accountability.

When the United States invaded Iraq under the false pretext of nuclear weapons they entered with a handful of UCAVS. In 2009, the US had close to 5300 units operating in Iraqi airspace. As the war continued to rage on and morphed from a war to a one-sided massacre against the Iraqi people the use of these UCAVs became more pronounced. The ability to kill remotely was gaining favour in the Bush regime. Under G.W. Bush combat drone strike were launched every 47 days.

In 2009 Barak Obama entered the White House carrying with him much hope as the man that will steer the world away from war, senseless murder and torture, yet the opposite prevailed. The Obama regime began to rely heavily on UCAVs. Where Bush launched a combat drone every 47 days, Obama launches a combat drone every 4 days. The lack of accountability has been a prominent feature of Obama’s tenure. The lack of accountability regarding the drone strikes has been clearly demonstrated by the expansion into Pakistan. In January 2012 is was said that strikes had killed between 2,383 and 3,109 people, yet to date no drone pilot, no instructing generals nor any element of the command structure had been prosecuted for war crimes.

The impunity with which these drones are being dispatched and used was evidenced by the assassination of the US citizen, Anwar al Awlaki. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill reported that Awlaki had never been formally charged for any crime nor could any substantive link be established to any attacks directed against the US. Anwar al Awlaki was killed not in a designated war zone such as Iraq or Afghanistan but rural Yemen. Shortly after the assassination of Anwar al Awlaki his 16 year old son Abdulrahman Awlaki was murdered at a family barbecue via drone strike. Once again there has been no shred of accountability nor has there be any legal recourse for those affected by this form of remote murder.

The lack of accountability in this new form was highlighted in 2009 by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He said “Otherwise you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is running a programme that is killing a significant number of people, and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international law.”

As the CIA requests more drone strikes in countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, the USA continues to directly contravene the tenets of international principles of State sovereignty.  Furthermore the hosting of conventions such as the Full-Motion Video where drone warfare policy and the expansion of their use will be decided, indicates that the lack of accountability appears to be the status quo as well as the future.

As the world moves away from the foundational elements of democracy namely due process, we begin to question issues of stability and justice. The realization dawns that the world has become a place in which torture, remote murder and assassination with zero accountability is acceptable. A reality in which human rights and the protection thereof is three steps behind the reality and were human life is reduced to pixels on a computer screen. The2002 article’s feared of what would happen if the gaming world translates into reality was incorrect. Little did we know that reality would be translated into a computer game were murder truly is as simple as playing Call of Duty.

As the kill chain gets shorter the question truly is, have we advanced at all when the killing human beings has become nothing more than pressing a button with no consequences?

– Zaakir Ahmed Mayet Chairperson of South Africa-based Media Review Network. This article was contributed to

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