On April 27, at our So Cal Quarterly Meeting, I presented a minute on drones (see below) and shared a post from Facebook related to the Boston Marathon bombing that went viral in Pakistan last week.
The author of the post was Micah Daigle, a resident of San Francisco, who described the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s final moments before his capture in the post.
“On Friday at 7:05 pm Eastern Time, Boston Police received a report that suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding in a boat in Watertown,” he wrote. “At 7:15 pm, the low buzz of a drone was heard overheard. Seconds later, an enormous explosion engulfed the area, destroying the boat and several nearby homes. Sources say 46 Watertown residents were killed in the missile strike, including 12 children.”
OK, this isn’t what happened in Watertown, I explained. But this is what is happening in other parts of the world—in Yemen, Somali, and Pakistan. Which is why this post went viral in Pakistan.
As you read this post, drones are buzzing over hundreds of villages, sowing fear and causing outrage, in Muslim communities in economically deprived areas of the world. You can read moving reports on drones in Friends Journal and the Western Friend. When Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink and leading expert on drones, went to Pakistan to see for herself the effects of drones, Quakers went with her. She said to the Pakistanis, “Your children are just as precious as our children.” The Pakistanis went wild with applause and many were in tears. They never imagined that Americans cared about them.
This is the human reality behind the drone minute. Drones are the latest weapon of choice for Americans. They are cheap and make it easy to kill without risking the lives of American soldiers. Drones can be used for good purposes—such as scientific research and finding lost children—but weaponized drones are evil. And they are also profitable. Two of the major drone manufacturers are located here in So Cal, in San Diego and Monrovia.
I’m pleased to report Friends approved the minute, with an important change: they want the UN not to regulate, but to ban the use of weaponized drones.
One Friend stood aside and I asked him later why. He is a very conscientious man, a former Peace Corps volunteer, who is opposed to all war. Why single out a particular weapon? he asked, perhaps rhetorically. Shouldn’t all weapons be banned?
True, but some weapons raise particular moral questions that need to be addressed. Nuclear weapons, for instance, were unlike any weapon used before because they had the potential to destroy all human life. This is the reason that people of faith joined the nuclear freeze and other movements to curtail or ban nuclear weapons. Fueled by faith and moral outrage, these movements were at least partially successful. We haven’t abolished nuclear weapons, but the stockpile has been much reduced and so has the risk of nuclear war.
Drones raise a different kind of moral question. They aren’t as lethal as nuclear weapons, but they are associated with targeted assassination, which has become a crucial element of US foreign policy. Defenders of drones say that we have the right to use them anywhere in the world, against anyone we deem a threat, without having to declare war, because American lives aren’t at risk. According to this logic, the entire world has becomes a battlefield. Only the usual rules of war don’t apply. Drone warfare is cloaked in secrecy and the President claims he has the right to authorize the killing of anyone, even an American citizen, without due process or judicial review.
One of the moral dangers of done warfare is that it appears to make the need for human contact and diplomacy irrelevant. This approach is not only immoral, but counterproductive. By terrorizing villagers, and killing supporters as well as our enemies, we are sowing seeds of further conflict. This is bad for everyone, except the manufacturers of drones.
I am pleased that the AFSC and FCNL are raising concerns about drones and areurging us to take action:
I am also pleased to learn from FCLN that Congress is finally beginning to have a thoughtful conversation about the ethical and political implications of drone warfare and targeted assassinations. This report by Adam Cohen is well worth reading.
One Step Closer to Meaningful Oversight of International Targeted Killing
By Adam Cohen on 04/30/2013 @ 06:15 PM
On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, Congress publicly discussed the implications of targeted killing abroad for the very first time. Senator Richard Durbin (IL) convened a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, entitled "Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing." Military leaders, experts and first-hand witnesses testified to their perspectives on the U.S. drones program. The conversation was enlightening, but it must be the beginning of a longer discussion and review of the impact of these practices overseas.
The hearing established that the drones issue is not about the rights of American citizens alone but about the rights of people around the world. The testimonies offered, and many of the questions asked, served as poignant reminders that decisions made in Washington are felt around the world. With such global influence, it is critical that U.S. leaders consider the ethics and strategic necessity of its actions abroad.
This conversation made clear that targeted killing is highly problematic. The testimony of Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni activist and journalist, provided a first-hand account of how drone strikes wreak havoc abroad. He described in poignant detail how drone strikes in his home country, in his home town no less, have upended local communities and killed civilians. The United States, of course, neither acknowledges their suffering nor provides compensation. Their use has led the U.S. to, as General James Cartwright testified, "cede[d] the moral high ground."
Not only do targeted strikes present humanitarian and ethical concerns, but they present strategic problems as well. Concern for blowback, the boomerang effect when actions affecting others have unexpected, harmful consequences, was shared by all but one of the witnesses. Several of the examining Senators asked questions about the potential for such reprisals from targeted killings and listened solemnly as al-Muslimi related how destructive drone strikes turn Yemeni public opinion against the United States. There is not only worry that these tactics are fueling the flames of anti-Americanism, but several of the witnesses shared concerns regarding the precedents the U.S. is setting for the use of drones in a world where the proliferation this technology is accelerating.
We also learned from this hearing that there is near-unanimous consent for a constructive review of these policies. From Rosa Brooks, law professor at Georgetown University, fellow at the New America Foundation and former Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to Colonel Martha McSally of the U.S. Air Force, all of the witnesses highlighted their willingness to examine the legal and procedural rules surrounding targeted killing. All of them highlighted their belief that it is critical to increase oversight, to thoroughly vet those being targeted, and to reduce civilian casualties as much as possible. Even those witnesses who supported and spoke to the virtues of drones favored the codification of a better review process, a larger oversight role for Congress and a court for reviewing the legality of conducted attacks and for appropriately compensating the families of victims. While these measures would not end U.S. targeted killings abroad altogether, they could rein in some of the program's worst offenses, more accurately define and protect civilians, and reduce the total number of strikes -- particularly signature strikes based on observed behavior rather than intelligence reviews.
This groundbreaking hearing could be the first step in maturing the national dialogue on drones. In recent months, members of Congress have made public statements, held hearings, introduced and sponsored legislation and written letters to the administration challenging the federal government's right to deploy drones to infringe upon the rights of U.S. citizens at home or abroad. Finally, the scrutiny is shifting to the administration's opaque counterterrorism policies across the world. Congress should use this eye-opening discussion as the starting point to further question the drones program: hold another hearing; introduce legislation; and let the administration (whose decisions to neither provide a witness at the hearing nor make public the remaining Department of Justice memos was well noted) know that it is just as concerned about the ethical and strategic implications of targeted killing. With this hearing we are one step closer to meaningful transparency and accountability. We must move quickly to take the next.
This article previously appeared in The Huffington Post.
Minute of Concern regarding Drone Warfare
(approved by Southern California Quarterly Meeting on April 27, 2013)
As Friends (Quakers) who believe there is "that of God" in everyone and therefore every life is sacred, we are deeply concerned about the proliferation of lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. The United States is leading the way in this new form of warfare where pilots in US bases kill people, by remote control, thousands of miles away. Drones have become the preferred weapons to conduct war due to the lack of direct risk to the lives of U.S. soldiers, but these drone strikes have led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians (including American citizens) in countries where we are not at war, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
We urge our government to put an end to this secretive, remote-controlled killing and instead promote foreign policies that are consistent with the values of a democratic and humane society. We call on the United Nations to ban the international use of lethal drones.
We recommend that the Clerk of our Monthly Meeting send this minute to our elected officials and encourage Friends to do likewise. A copy of this minute will be sent to Quarterly and Yearly Meeting for its consideration.
Friends are also encouraged to read Medea Benjamin book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and to engage in study on how to address this concern.