The attacks in Paris on November 13 have further inflamed public conversation about the United States’ role in counterterrorism, but the efficacy of drone warfare as a tool in this endeavor is still largely ignored. On Monday November 16, the National Council of Churches and the Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare hosted a congressional briefing on drone warfare in order to spur much needed debate about the moral and practical challenges surrounding the United States’ burgeoning drone warfare program. Over 70 congressional staffers, faith leaders, and concerned citizens attended. Nathan Hosler, Director of the Office of Public Witness, moderated the panel and led a discussion with faith leaders about the use of drones after the event.
As a historic peace church, the Church of the Brethren recognizes that following Jesus’ path requires a radical denial of violence. The Annual Conference of 1988 reaffirmed “the belief and practice of the church in renouncing all war” and raised concerns about covert operations and covert war. Calling them “destructive” to truth, national security, and our relationships with other nations, the Annual Conference urged members of the church and the federal government to abstain from covert operations and covert war. In 2013, the Mission and Ministry Board specifically challenged the use of drones in covert operations.
The panelists on Monday echoed many of the church’s concerns. Panelists Wendy Patten from Open Society Foundations and Naureen Shah from Amnesty International USA highlighted the need for increased transparency and accountability. While the United States’ first targeted drone killing took place in 2002, information about the targets of and justifications for particular drone strikes is largely unavailable, obstructing public debate and limiting government accountability.
Particularly disturbing is that while the “precision” of drones is often touted, civilian death and unintentional structural damage is commonplace. At another drones hearing in 2013, Zubair, a 13-year-old Pakistani boy, said “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” His family were unintended victims in a drone strike. Drones have become a reminder of terrorism – not because they stop it, but because they cause it. The few reports that the United States releases about drone strikes misleadingly categorizes any military-age men as militants rather than civilian, covering up stories like Zubair’s.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis challenged that the primary assertion that the CIA has the right to use drones at all. Citing that drone strikes are preemptive measures against potential threats, Davis challenges the underlying assumption that targets are automatically presumed guilty, even with very little evidence. While he calls this immoral and un-American, he further says this injustice is compounded by the fact that any perceived threat (real or not) is handled with total lethality. Coerced messengers or carriers receive the same end as a violent mastermind – death by drone missiles – often with little evidence and certainly no due process.
Yasmine Taeb, Legislative Representative for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) followed up by describing legislative options available to dismantle the United States’ covert drone program and promote accountability. Yasmine also stayed to discuss with members of the faith community about tackling the issue of drone warfare in relation to promoting just peace. The faith community is committed to changing drone policies, and the Church of the Brethren should be proud for its leadership in this effort.
In Christ’s Peace,
Peacebuilding and Policy Associate
Office of Public Witness