Faith-based organizations oppose lethal use of drones
April 16, 2013
President Barack Obama
The Office of the President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
As people and communities of faith, we are moved to express our great concern about the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles, known commonly as drones, for targeted killings of alleged members of Al Qaeda, its affiliates and other associated forces around the world.
The use of these lethal weapons within the borders of other sovereign nations, at times without their permission, shrouded in secrecy and without clear legal authority, raises serious moral and ethical questions about the principles and the implications of this practice for U.S. foreign relations and the prospects for a more peaceful world.
A threshold question: Is the U.S. at war?
If targeted killings by drones are justified as acts of war, they must be subject to international law on the use of lethal force within the borders of another sovereign nation. Without a clear showing of permission to use lethal force within another nation, or an imminent threat to the U.S. from that nation, these killings seriously undermine prohibitions in international law against the use of deadly force.
The administration and Congress should end the assertion that the U.S. is involved in a “global war,” allowed by the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF), passed in September of 2001 and renewed in December of 2011, and should comply with international human rights law in all U.S. counter-terrorism operations.
If the U.S. is not at war, then other principles of human and civil rights must govern U.S. actions.
If these acts of targeted killing are police actions, rather than a matter of war, what right does the U.S. have to take these actions in another country? Rather than seeking to “eliminate” individuals from a so-called “kill list” who are suspected of involvement in or planning of violent criminal activity, or bombing sites that appear suspicious to remote drone operators, the administration should uphold U.S. and international admonitions that no one should be deprived of life arbitrarily. The U.S. should extend protections consistent with principles of human and civil rights pertaining to the pursuit and apprehension of a criminal suspect, including fair trial in a court of law. This expectation can and should be achieved in cooperation with other countries in accordance with their international obligations.
Additionally, protections consistent with principles of human and civil rights should be extended to uninvolved civilians, family members, and bystanders who often suffer in drone attacks.
Targeted killings do not address the root causes of conflicts and thus will not end violence against the U.S.
The practice of targeted killings, by drones in particular, provokes high anxiety in communities, as drones patrol neighborhoods. Drone killings destroy trust and lead increasing numbers of people to turn to fear-based responses, which may include acts we often describe as “terrorism.” In addition, as the killings injure and threaten people who were previously uninvolved, drone attacks can boost recruitment for extremist organizations.
A far more effective strategy would be to address the root causes of conflicts by creating conditions that defuse the hostility, including strategies to prevent violent conflict and to promote restorative justice practices, and effective economic development programs.
Oversight and accountability are essential.
The administration appears to be creating a new kind of warlike campaign – a militarized police action – that follows neither the rules of war nor the rule of law. We urge the administration to follow judicial due process and we urge Congress to exercise oversight to guard against continuing or extending the practice of targeted killings, without charges or trial, of individuals suspected of presenting a threat to the U.S.
The natural checks on lethal violence must be maintained.
On an individual level, military trainers know that human nature itself serves as a check on lethal violence. Coming face to face with someone described as an enemy requires a deliberate choice to override a deep human instinct against killing. Remote, technical warfare removes that very human check. As a society we have not adequately considered where this development leads us as a species. The remote nature of this type of deadly violence has the potential to encourage overuse and extension of the policy to more countries and more perceived threats. Furthermore, by increasingly relying on targeted killings, we become increasingly less able and willing to engage various conflicts in humanizing ways that are in accord with human dignity.
Mr. President, we understand these matters are not simple. Nonetheless, we feel obliged as people and communities of faith to raise fundamental moral and ethical questions about the evolving kinds of warfare this nation is now pursuing. We urge you to give these issues more careful reflection and evaluation.
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Diane Randall, Executive Secretary
Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director
Church of the Brethren
Nathan Holser, Coordinator, Office of Public Witness
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
James Winkler, General Secretary
Christian Reformed Church in Northern America
Rev. Joel Boot, Executive Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Eli S. McCarthy, PhD, Justice and Peace Director
Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Washington Office
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, Director
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Sandy Sorenson, Director, Washington Office
Disciples Justice Action Network
Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan, President
American Friends Service Committee
Shan Cretin, General Secretary
Disciples Peace Fellowship
Rev. Dr. Craig Watts, Co-Moderator
American Muslims for Justice
Nauman Shah and Saba Ahmed, Co-Founders
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Dr. Mark C. Johnson, Executive Director
[PDF version of this letter may be downloaded at the bottom of this page.]