A United Nations investigator is warning that CIA-controlled remote drone assassinations of suspected Islamic terrorists could lead to a "PlayStation mentality" towards killing.
Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, has issued a 29-page report calling for an end to the CIA's use of unmanned Predator or Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan against al Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
Stationed hundreds to thousands of miles away from the battlefield, CIA operatives control the drones using a combination of remote video and audio, taking out targets using drone-mounted missiles. Missiles that Alston says have been responsible for the deaths of "many hundreds", innocent civilians included.
"Intelligence agencies, which by definition are determined to remain unaccountable except to their own paymasters, have no place in running programs that kill people in other countries," Alston said.
Alston's report also cites the fact that the world remains unaware of how the CIA picks its targets, where the CIA is authorised to kill, and how the organisation deals with innocent civilians killed in the drone attacks.
But it isn't just the innocent victims Alston is worried about. It's the drone operators as well.
"Because 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," he said, referring to the popular Sony video game console.
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that controlling a remote drone via video screen is a great deal like playing a video game. We ran a story last year about a 19-year-old drone pilot who attributed his success to his days playing the Xbox. Perhaps one day we'll see young people remotely controlling military vehicles without even knowing they are doing so, ala Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel Ender's Game.
Alston's report raises a lot of questions. Does the fact that you are so far removed from actual combat make the killing easier? Should any government have the power to kill a person or group of people from the other side of the planet?
Those questions and more will be pondered by the UN Human Rights Council today, where Alston will be presenting his report.
U.N. investigator calls for halt to CIA drone killings [Yahoo! News]