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Francisco C. Banguis Jr.

DLSU 11589450

Eye in the Sky

Col. Katherine Powell, a UK-based military officer in command of a top secret drone operation to
capture a group of al-Shabab terrorists, tracked them to a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. It was being
watched inside and out by camera-equipped drones and was surrounded by civilians. Through remote
surveillance and on-the-ground intel, she discovered that the targets were planning a suicide bombing
and the mission immediately escalated from "capture" to "kill." But as American pilot Steve Watts was
about to drop the missile, a nine-year old girl entered the kill zone triggering an international dispute,
reaching the highest levels of US and British government, over the moral, political, and personal
implications of modern warfare. 1 And in such case, one would painstakingly ask, what would you do if you
were in this kind of situation? As such, an emotional shoot-dont-shoot dilemma was depicted in the
movie. Primarily, their task involved weighing the issues of humanity, politics and military strategy, which
must be done as soon as possible.2 Hence, in this paper, collateral damage and IHL rules governing
hostilities will be discussed.

Collateral or incidental damage occurs when attacks targeted at military objectives cause civilian
casualties and damage to civilian objects. It often occurs if military objectives such as military equipment
or soldiers are situated in cities or villages or close to civilians. Attacks that are expected to cause
collateral damage are not prohibited per se, but the laws of armed conflict restrict indiscriminate attacks.
Article 57 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that, in an international
conflict, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians, and civilian objects. 3 In
most cases, there is a question of the acceptability of collateral damage against terrorism. In a scenario of
"kill one to save 100", it may probably be acceptable especially if it could prevent a serious terrorist action
in the future, thus saving thousands of innocent lives, by the bombing of certain terrorists leaders.
However, it may overlook certain salient features of international humanitarian law- the precedent it may
set or the messages it can send. If you kill one to save a hundred, but that person hasn't been given a fair
trial for instance, you have sent a message to the world that fair trials are not necessary. The
repercussions of that message are huge. 4 Moreover, in actuality, there is no yes or no answer to most
questions like this. It's far less about being acceptable than it is about being justified, and determining if
something is justified is almost always subjective. The only person who has to justify it, and thus
determine if it's acceptable, is the person who orders the bomb dropped. 5 That is why in 2012, The New
York Times, in an article about a new Secret Kill List, pointed out: Mr. Obama has placed himself at
the helm of a top secret nominations process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the
capture part has become largely theoretical. Acknowledging that such attacks unfortunately also kill
civilians, President Obama expressed in a speech at the National Defense University, These deaths will
1 Street, Bleecker. (2015). Eye in the Sky Plot Summary. Retrieved from

2 Davis, Kristin. (2016, March 9). MOVIE REVIEW: Eye in the Sky. Retrieved from

3 Fischer, Horst. (2011). Collateral Damage. Retrieved from

4 Horsman, Ann. (2014, July 22). Is collateral damage acceptable in the fight against terrorism? Retrieved from

5 Id.
haunt us. But as commander-in-chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternative.
To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties." In time, a kill
chain emerged both for identifying potential terrorist targets and for authorizing drone attacks against
them.6 Hence, in the case at bar, it is a matter of political will and discretion against the war on terrorism
for the benefit of the general public.

International Humanitarian Law provides three basic rules that regulate the way in which a party to an
armed conflict may carry out military operations or in conducting hostilities. They are the rules on
distinction, proportionality and precautions. And lastly, they are also prohibited from using means and
methods of warfare that are indiscriminate or that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
First, the rule on distinction provides that in the conduct of hostilities during an armed conflict, parties to
the conflict must target only lawful military objectives and never civilians or civilian objects. An attack
that does not target one or more lawful military objectives is an indiscriminate attack. This includes the
use of an inherently indiscriminate weapon. If conducted intentionally it may constitute a war crime. 7
Second, the proportionality rule provides that in the conduct of hostilities during an armed conflict parties
to the conflict must not launch an attack against lawful military objectives if the attack 'may be expected'
to result in excessive civilian harm (deaths, injuries, or damage to civilian objects, or a combination
thereof) compared to the 'concrete and direct military advantage anticipated'. If conducted intentionally a
disproportionate attack may constitute a war crime. 8 Third, the precautionary rule provides that in the
conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and
civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental
loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. 9 Lastly, the use of means and
methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is

Based on the foregoing definitions, the law is very clear, violation of such provisions would constitute a
war crime. The protection of civilians especially children is of the paramount consideration in this case. It
must be noted that there is a specific protection for women and children. Such category have specific
needs and they should receive a special kind of care and aid. All feasible measures must be taken to
prevent them from taking a direct part in hostilities especially if they are below the age of 15. However,
this is not a hard and fast rule. In the case at bar, the circumstance is very crucial. That is why Col. Powell
sought authorization to execute the strike. She also ordered her risk-assessment officer to find parameters
that will let him quote a lower 45% risk of civilian deaths. She made him confirm only the lower figure,
and then reports this up the chain of command. 11 Moreover, although fictional, there was a strong air of
verisimilitude to the entire production that will resonate with anyone who is familiar with the laws of

6 Bowen, Peter. (2015). The Kill Chain: FROM TERRORIST TO TARGETED DRONE ATTACK. Retrieved from

7 Weapons Law Encyclopedia. (2013, November 30). Distinction in attacks (under IHL). Retrieved from

8 Weapons Law Encyclopedia. (2013, November 30). Proportionality in attacks (under IHL). Retrieved from

9 International Committee of the Red Cross. (2017). Rule 15. Precautions in attack. Retrieved from https://ihl-

10 International Committee of the Red Cross. (2017). Rule 70. Weapons of a Nature to Cause Superfluous Injury or Unnecessary
Suffering. Retrieved from
armed conflict and modern military operations. Any movie in which a character actually says in an
accurate assessment that the requirements of military necessity and proportionality are likely met was one
that had a strong cord of reality and demonstrated the degree to which questions of legality have become a
hallmark of modern warfare.12 Indeed, the situation was not an easy decision to make. All of them were
concerned and actually waited for a miracle to happen. However, the strike was eventually authorized,
and Watts fired a missile. The building was destroyed, with casualties in and around it. The child, Alia, got
injured and unconscious. However, Danford, the person supposed to be killed, also survived. Watts was
ordered to fire a second missile, which striked the site just as Alia's parents reach her. Both suffered minor
injuries and rushed Alia to a hospital, where she died.

The movie taught us that collateral damage is inevitable in war and to begin a war is to accept there will be
collateral damage. That is why General Benson said, "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of
war." At most, it is them who have close relations with war and have first-hand experience.

11 Wikipedia. (2017, April 1). Eye in the Sky (2015). Retrieved from

12 Rosenzwelg, Paul. (2016, March 28). Eye in the Sky- A Movie Review. Retrieved from