Apparently We Have to Start Worrying About Killer Robots Now

I’m pretty sure I just got an email from the future. It’s from Human Rights Watch, and it warns of a potential deadly scourge: killer robots.

According to a new HRW report, several of the world’s most advanced militaries are on their way to developing weapons that “would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention.” HRW is calling for a pre-emptive ban on fully autonomous weapons, presumably because they know that if we wait until killer robots actually exist, this type of advocacy will only make them mad.

I guess it’s time to redirect some of my zombie apocalypse preparations towards the coming killbot menace.

WTF Friday, 9/9/11 (Actually 9/10/11)

So the racially motivated attacks by the Libyan rebels have been (sort of) well reported, but this is troubling to say the least.

You really shouldn’t be surprised when you name a place “Christmas Island” and a bunch of kids show up.

New York Fashion Week cancels the show of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov, giving a HRW researcher the opportunity to point out that “Enslaving children and torturing dissidents is never chic.” Thank you for that one.

Pop Quiz for the Irony-Impaired

So, let’s say you’re a government that has been widely criticized for being intolerant of dissent. Let’s also stipulate that your enforcement agencies are implicated in a number of suspicious deaths of opposition leaders and dissident journalists. And, why the hell not, let’s say a very prominent international human rights organization has just released a blistering report accusing you of obstructing the work of not-for-profit organizations through unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks.

Now, let’s say the New York-based head of that Prominent International Human Rights Organization is heading to your capital city (we’ll call it “Shmoscow”) to present this report, and to hold discussions with governmental officials about harassment of human rights workers.

Do you:

  1. Yell “Hey! It’s the Goodyear Blimp!” and slink off while everyone looks for it;
  2. Welcome him with open arms and do everything you can to appear receptive to his message before quietly returning to business as usual once he leaves;
  3. Refuse him a visa to enter the country.

It turns out, if you’re Russia, the answer is a resounding “we’ll take visa refusal for $200, Alex” followed up two days later by an announcement that the Human Rights Watch delegation (including Director Ken Roth) lied on their visa applications. Cause that’s totally plausible and doesn’t look like harassment of NGO workers at all. Right.

So, If She Weighs the Same as a Duck…

Earlier this week the Bush administration announced that it would be pursuing the death penalty in the cases of 6 Guantanamo detainees before the so-far-unbesmirched-by-actual-litigation military commissions system. This was met with a lot of resistance, and a lot of questions like “hey, what about due process?” and “wait a minute, you’re not sure whether evidence gained from torture will be admissible or not???”

But check out the competition: In Saudi Arabia, a woman named Fawza Falih has been found guilty of witchcraft (which is, incidentally, not defined under Saudi law) and will be beheaded just as soon as the King gets around to approving the execution order. In the course of convicting her, the court declined to establish any elements of the crime of witchcraft, preferring to rely on a coerced confession and the accounts of witnesses who may or may not have been turned into newts.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the King today, gently suggesting that perhaps allowing verdicts that rely on confessions obtained through torture following trials in which the accused is not permitted to offer evidence in his or her own defense is not the best way to get other countries to take your legal system seriously. Given that Saudi Arabia is already handicapped in their quest for legal credibility by the lack of a written penal code, they really can’t afford to flout their few codified fair trial guarantees.

In Fawza Falih’s case, she was not permitted to attend every session of her trial, to cross-examine witness against her, or to have access to an attorney; all rights guaranteed by the Law of Criminal Procedure (which, unlike the penal code, someone took the time to write down). She was also detained for 35 days by the religious police, in violation of a royal decree. Now, admittedly, that’s not five and a half years in Camp Delta, but I’m thinking the sentence of death by beheading for a nonexistent crime more or less evens the score.

Human Rights Watch Points Out the Blindingly Obvious; US Government Says "Nuh-Uh!"

Last week Human Rights Watch released its 2008 World Report, taking stock of all the new and exciting (and tried and true) ways in which human rights were trampled in 2007.

The report was particularly critical of the U.S. HRW’s press release accompanying the report called out the Bush administration both for deciding that human rights don’t so much apply to the prosecution of the war on terror, and for failing to use its clique leader status to compel human rights compliance on the part of all the wannabe popular kids. (No, Pakistan. Your nuclear arsenal is not “so fetch.”)

Among the “OMG, no way” highlights:

  1. Apparently western democracies like the U.S. are in the habit of looking the other way with regard to flawed elections in strategically important countries. It’s almost like those countries have something they want…
  2. Despite the Bush administration’s frequent invocation of its “commitment to democracy abroad” it has “often kept silent about the need for all governments to respect human rights.” That sort of hypocrisy seems totally out of character, doesn’t it?
  3. Remember those guys in Guantanamo? Yeah, we heard they were Muslim or something. No habeas corpus for them yet…
  4. And would you believe it? The U.S. is STILL using secret prisons.

The U.S. hasn’t actually responded to the report, unless you count its epic neg of HRW in its Khadr case filing, which went something like: “Hey, Human Rights Watch, remember when you said it was okay for us to try child soldiers in a military commission? Thanks!” HRW is pretty sure they didn’t say that. However, they do feel a strange compulsion to make out with Dick Cheney now.