“Why did the Catholic bishops get interested in the drone issue? The short answer is because human lives are at stake. Our Church, like many other religious traditions, teaches that human beings have a basic dignity that must be respected…. To take a human life is a grave thing: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” – Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace
On November 13th, 2015, attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers hit the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris, leaving at least 129 people dead and hundreds wounded. Just a day before, suicide bombings near an open-air market in southern Beirut also left 43 people dead and 239 wounded.
Solidarity is shared across borders and extended overseas, and governments increase their determination to fight against ISIS. However, does war on terror or counterterrorism policy justify the use of drones?
I learned about the issue from faith traditions and military perspectives when I attended a Congressional briefing organized by the Interfaith Drone Network on November 16th, 2015. Despite different backgrounds, the panelists all pointed out the questioning legacy over drone strikes. Drones make the whole world a battlefield without public announcement and acknowledgement in addition to causing a large number of civilian casualties. Stuck in the myth of lost costs and continued perception of threats, the U.S. seems not able to pull itself out of the drone “war.”
Firstly, insufficient intelligence gathering suffered from limited resources that can cover wide spans of territories and long distances often leads to reckless drone strikes. For example, the drone strikes as part of the Haymaker operation in Afghanistan in 2012 killed a total of 155 people but only 19 of them were direct targets.
Secondly, there is often a lack of transparency and accountability. For example, when 12 Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières)’s staff members and seven patients were killed in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the U.S. government failed to provide explanations and to be held accountable.
The 2013 Drone Inquiry conducted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights (UN SRCT) also finds disparity between the claim of high-precision attacks and the reality of disproportionate levels of civilian casualties.
For example, on March 16th, 2011, villagers from Datta Khel, North Waziristan, Pakistan joined a traditional Jirga meeting to settle disputes in an open field near a bazaar. As the men sat in two circles in heated debates, a drone bomb was dropped and 43 men were killed.
As long as the roots of terrorism and sources of conflicts linger and persist, more innocent people will be sacrificed until we try to alleviate hatred and misunderstanding.
The anti-sentiment generated by the aftermath of drone strikes also aids in new waves of incentives to commit violence. In this vicious cycle, we would not be able to leave the constant state of war and enter the stage of peace and reconstruction. As a result, we need a new understanding of what “success” entails that takes into consideration all possible moral, political, and societal grounds and the real impacts of drone strikes on civilians, families and communities.
Bishop Richard E. Pates, Chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, raised these same questions at the founding meeting of the Interfaith Drone Network in January 2015:
“The Church teaches that peace is more than the absence of war; it is built on a foundation of human rights and justice…. Is our nation over investing in drones while underinvesting in human rights and justice? Could we become so enamored with drone technology and its promise that we fail to make adequate investments in diplomacy and development, and that we fail to get at the root causes of conflict? Will a reliance on armed drones outside combat zones, and the terror and anger they cause in other nations, undermine respect for due process and human rights?”
 Daniel Davis, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (retired), Wendy Patten, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations (OSF), Naureen Shah, Director, Security with Human Rights, Amnesty International USA and Yasmine Taeb, Legislative Representative for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
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