At a recent Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare held at Princeton Theology Seminary, Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of Chicago Theological Seminary highlighted the immediate moral crisis posed by U.S. use of drones, saying: “Drones contribute to the endless wars in which the world is now engulfed. It is imperative that the U.S. reassess its drone policy from a moral and strategic perspective.”
A policy of targeted extrajudicial assassination is by its very nature immoral. To know this, one needs only to consider the innocent people whose lives have been cut short in drone attacks, people who were no threat to their neighbors or the United States. An analysis from the Brookings Institution of drone attacks in Afghanistan has shown that for every militant leader killed, 10 noncombatants have died. Add to that the terror of those living under the buzz of drones that may at any time send a hell-fire missile into their home or a home nearby. A Pakistani child testified in Congress that the beautiful blue sky he once enjoyed now causes fear of drone attacks.
From a strategic point of view, drone assassinations are self-defeating because they create more enemies of the U.S. than they destroy. This is illustrated by the recent collapse of the Yemen government that had tolerated targeted killings in its territory. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been between 73 and 120 targeted drone strikes in Yemen since 2002, killing hundreds of suspected militants. Yet the people of Yemen may now face a future far worse than they did in 2002.
The Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare developed a document that calls on the Obama administration to immediately halt targeted lethal drone strikes and to be transparent and accountable on the past use of such strikes. This includes acknowledging strikes conducted, accounting for victims, explaining official criteria for selection of persons targeted, disclosing all legal justification for authorization of strikes, detailing the methods of investigating deaths and disclosing the standards for compensating victims. Finally, there is a call for Congress to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that has been used as the legal justification for the lethal drone program.
Once extrajudicial killing was policy reserved for rogue nations like Nazi Germany and communist Russia. Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF, said in her dissenting vote, “Let us not become the evil we deplore.” We now know that drone warfare, no matter how it is managed, is in fact a deplorable evil.
Joe Burton of Raleigh is a director of NC Peace Action.