Eye in the Sky highlights the ethics of modern warfare

Eye in the Sky highlights the ethics of modern warfare

By Antonia Filmer | 23 April, 2016
A still from the film “Eye in the Sky.”

The graphics on the opening title of the newly released “Eye in the Sky” film say it all, the target expands to show Eastleigh suburb in Nairobi, the location of the 2013 al-Shabab terrorist attack. The film is an imaginative simulation by Guy Hibbert (script-writer) and Gavin Hood (director) of what may have happened before the Westgate shopping mall massacre. Helen Mirren as Colonel Powellhas been tracking British citizen turned terrorist, Susan Danford, for 6 years, at last thanks to reliable intelligence Danford has appeared at a Somali residence. The live intel comes via transmission from a beetle camera drone, expertly operated by actor Jama Farah, whose performance as a Somali western sympathiser is excellent. The beetle’s eye reveals two suicide bombers donning their explosive vests ready for action.  Neighbouring the terrorist’s retreat is a sweet unsuspecting family, the father mends bicycles, the mother bakes bread for sale while the innocent child Alia hula hoops in the yard, before selling the bread on a makeshift stall bang outside the terrorist house walls. Hence the dilemma begins, should Colonel Powell shoot the Hellfire missile from the Reaper positioned above and eliminate Danford and the vested martyrs? The film cuts between tense conversations in a Westminster Cabinet office, a Nairobi command centre, a military specialist in Hawaii, the Nevada military operations, the Somali residence in a Nairobi suburb and its innocent neighbour. Whose is the decision, a General, a Minister, a political adviser and the Attorney Generalin Westminster cannot reach a unanimous consensus and keep referring the decision up the international political hierarchy. Democracy, legality, morality, emotion, objectives and self-interest all present in the varying personalities; the drone pilots’ question their orders until the collateral damage has been re-calculated within “acceptable limits”. The time to strike is running out and Alia is selling her bread within the target area, will Colonel Powell get the go-ahead or save Alia and allow the martyrs to fulfil their mission to kill and injure possibly hundreds? It is anedgy and thought provoking film.

The film cuts between tense conversations in a Westminster Cabinet office, a Nairobi command centre, a military specialist in Hawaii, the Nevada military operations, the Somali residence in a Nairobi suburb and its innocent neighbour.

Clive Stafford-Smith, founder of Reprieve, an organisation of human rights defenders, had a modest consultancy role during the script writing of Eye in the Sky. He draws attention to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by some drone pilots that is alluded to in the film. This month Reprieve have launched their report into “Britain’s Kill List”, which considers David Cameron’s claim (7.9.2015 viz the drone strike killing of Reyaad Khanin Syria) that the UK has just come up with the idea of a terrorist Kill List, the report claims that Britain has conspired in a US-inspired Kill List since soon after 9/11. The report questions the reason why some are even on the list of the 600 monthly changing names; Reprieve’s point is execution without trial by countries that do not have the death penalty is unacceptable without clear policy; the report claims every drone attack kills an average of nine children. Furthermore it suggests the naming process of the “targets” on the List dehumanises the process, puerile nomenclatures from the celebrity, cartoon and porn worlds are used as code names for targets. Reprieve is not after the last word about assassination projects but they are demanding more transparency.

Eye in the Sky conveniently highlights the moral maze and complex density of the ethics of modern warfare. Reprieve organised a showing in Westminster which has stirred up debate and been useful for Parliamentarians and Members of Parliament.

By 15 April 2016 Eye in the Sky had grossed $17,473,141 internationally. Before the final credits the film remembers Alan Rickman, one of Britain best loved and admired actors, who played his last part on earth as Lieutenant General Frank Benson before dying of pancreatic cancer earlier this year.

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