Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Easier From 20,000 Feet

If you're going to kill someone close up, it requires you to participate. If you're far enough away though, you don't even have to know it happened

If you sitting in a cockpit at 20,000 feet and you push a button that opens the bomb bay and releases a string of 500 pound bombs, you are not engaged, you're just part of a system. Someone else decided, the aircraft and the payload was provided, you're removed from the decision and as much as possible, from the consequences.

Make a robot to fly the plane and release the bombs, and even that minimal responsibility is gone, now it is all death by committee and programming. Give that robot the right programming and no one even has to know what happens.

This time it was a pound of C4 attached to a bomb squad robot.

A man, very likely guilty of murder, but a man nonetheless, was executed by police using C4 and remote control. They could have waited, he was not in a position to be any further threat, they had him isolated and pinned down, but they chose to act.

It's not a slippery slope as some pundits have suggested. It's a cliff.


Sean D Sorrentino said...

I fail to see the problem. I wouldn't risk a life to capture him. He had his chance to surrender peaceably but refused. He claimed to have bombs. There was a credible belief that there were other shooters. How long should they have stayed in place waiting for him? Until another shooter happened along to start the whole process again?

David aka True Blue Sam said...

He was a rabid dog. The Chief is Atticus Finch. In Fred Gipaon's book Old Yeller, the dog fights a rabid wolf and Ma tells Travis what he must do. He argues, but realizes Ma is right. He loads his rifle and calls his dog. Disney changed that in the movie to the detriment of the story and the young people who watched it. Adults have to make tough decisions.

Andrew Wetzel said...

The police used a drone. There was an operator at the remote end, and the drone served as the extension of his or her hand.

This was not an autonomous terminator, it was not a bomb sniffing Dalek screaming "Exterminate, Exterminate."

The drone was a tool. The bomb was an EOD explosive charge. The threat was credible. Bad guy with a bomb, threatening to blow himself up. He had already shot 12 people, killing 5. He had holed himself up in a tight corner where police would have to really expose themselves to get close to him. No clear shot from a sniper was available. The downtown area was in chaos. Three people were arrested at the time.

So, put yourself in the place of the police. Near riot, unknown number of shooters, three in custody so far, by that time 4-5 known dead, 7 or more injured, bombs suspected (from the dirtbag's mouth), said dirtbag is still verbally escalating. So, Borepatch. What would you do?

Me, I'd use whatever means possible to ensure the safety of the city and its citizens. Drone? Sure. They could have blasted him apart with water cannons, but that might not ensure deactivation of any device on his body. So, C-4.

Don't think that the armed drone operator doesn't feel emotion. I have talked to some, and they feel about the same at what they do as the snipers that I have talked to. They all sound like the cops I have talked to who have had to shoot to kill (1 active shooter, 2 suicide by cop).

Using a remote drone to deliver a bomb is new, but police have used them to deliver phones, food, medicines and gas bombs in other hostage situations. The remote drone is just a tool. It is just an extension of a cop's arm. Just like the sidearm is. Is the cop safer using the drone? Yes. Does this safety factor make it more morally ambiguous? Not to me. It does to some people out there.

As to the 'execution', what do you want police to do? Do you want police to not shoot to kill? If so, police might as well turn in their guns, their badges and go home.

Let's do this. Let the investigation go a little longer. Let more information on the shooter and the situation develop. Let us find out more about why they chose to use the drone. And then revisit this question.

ASM826 said...

I expected to be disagreed with. Thanks to all for being thoughtful and we'll spoken.

David aka True Blue Sam said...

The men dropping the bombs do know what it means:

aczarnowski said...

You're not the only one worried about this ASM826.

There's a discussion that should be had here. In our current climate? I'm not optimistic we'll even have it or it has any hope of balancing the multitude of issues.

burt said...

The larger question is this: what are we, as a society, expected to do in these situations? When Alan Dershowitz used the "ticking bomb" scenario to justify torture, this liberal/progressive Harvard academic acknowledged that some situations are so extreme and immediate that they require tactics that are out of the ordinary - and which we would find horrifying in any other circumstance.

Extreme measures were taken in Dallas because the threat was believed to be real. The gunman had already killed others, hence the *proof* existed that he meant what he said. And he claimed to have planted bombs.

The authorities had no choice: they didn't know whether those bombs existed. They could wait for him to give himself up peacefully, which he had no intention to do. They didn't know whether he had remote activation capability for his bombs (IEDs can be set off by a cell phone ringer).

A human being had to give the order to set off the explosives. A human being had to push a button to trigger the explosion. No AI was used: this was a human decision all the way down the chain of command.

I feel no sorrow for what the DPD did. They eliminated the threat without the loss of an additional officer, and did it by using a remotely-controlled robot operated by a human being.

Comrade Misfit said...

Why not evacuate the building, set demo charges and then bring down the entire building, killing him?

There's no difference.

Remote-control killing is an act of war.

They had the guy contained. Time was on their side. This was as lazy a use-of-force as the FBI's immolation of the Branch Davidians. And about as righteous.

SiGraybeard said...

For reasons that aren't clear to me, this kill evokes more of a sense of "creepiness" than seems to make sense. As others have noted, this was an "execution" all the way down. No AI; no autonomous robots, just one guy pushing a switch to perform an execution. No different from any other police use of force.

Nobody seems to question the use of a sniper to take the guy out from 500 yards away, or the use of a SWAT team to execute folks at closer range. What's the difference? Either way, the police act as "judge jury and executioner". A round of .308 costs under a buck, that robot and its payload cost thousands of times that.

Although the use of the robot is novel, I don't see anything else about it that is. The police were in one of their usual "Hobson's Choice" moments, with no really good choices. As Comrade Misfit implies (and pardon me if I misinterpret you), should they spend the days or weeks required to do a controlled demolition of the building? So they drastically increase the costs of the operation but kill the guy anyway?

I do see limited usability of this technique, though. If the suspect thinks the robot is just a comm link to talk with the police, he might put up with it. If he sees the robot has the potential of dropping C4 in his lap, his incentive to shoot out the comm and control systems in the robot just went up a few thousand fold.

Mike said...

I also don't see any difference between this and a police sniper taking the shot. It seems that a lot of people are reacting to this on an emotional level vs. a rational level. At the time they killed him, they didn't know if he was acting alone, and they did know that he threatened to have bombs, and there's a decent chance any such bombs could be remotely detonated thus making him an active threat even if he was under cover and unable to directly fire on them. Shooting him would have been justified, and thus lethal force employed through a drone was also justified.