WASHINGTON (CNS) — The United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to hunt down suspected terrorists deserves a wide-scale public discussion, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, raised a series of ethical and moral questions regarding the use of drones in places such as Pakistan and Yemen in detailed two-page letters to Thomas E. Donilon, national security adviser, and the chairs of several House and Senate committees dealing with national security, foreign relations, intelligence and government oversight.
In the correspondence, Bishop Pates also called upon the U.S. officials to “exercise leadership in advancing international norms, standards and restrictions” on the use of drones and called for greater scrutiny of their use.
He suggested that American counter-terrorism policy should “employ non-military assets to build peace through respect for human rights and addressing underlying injustices that terrorists unscrupulously exploit.”
Acknowledging that countries have right to use force in self-defense, the bishop cautioned that not every attack by al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations “justifies war as a response and not every use of force in self-defense is war.”
“Counter-terrorism, even against an organization as uniquely dangerous as al-Qaida, is not war when it takes place outside of war zones. Counter-terrorism is primarily a law enforcement activity which at times may require the use of military assets and forces. To name it a war may overemphasize the utility of military force and underappreciate other critical strategies to address terrorism,” Bishop Pates wrote.
“Naming the struggle with terrorism a ‘war’ would seem to enhance the status of terrorists who are non-state actors, operating entirely outside the framework of just war,” he said.
The letter focused on challenges posed by the use of drones by raising the just-war standards of discrimination, imminence of the threat, proportionality and probability of success.
“Targeted killing, should, by definition, be highly discriminatory,” the letter said, pointing to the administration’s apparent policy of targeting “all males of a certain age as combatants.”
“Are these policies morally defensible?” the letter asked. “They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law and moral norms. … Should not discrimination in counter-terrorism meet a higher standard? And shouldn’t the fact that targeted killings take place outside any ‘war’ zones mean that operators should be reasonably certain that no innocents will be endangered? Would we tolerate frequent ‘collateral damage’ in U.S. police actions?”
Bishop Pates also said that the use of deadly force without specific evidence that an individual was involved in planning or carrying out a terror act “poses ethical problems.”
“Success in a counter-terrorism campaign cannot be simply measured in terms of ‘combatants’ killed,” the letter continued. Citing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Bishop Pates said, “Our church rightly teaches that ‘the struggle against terrorists must be carried out with respect for human rights and for the principles of a state ruled by law. … It is essential that the use of force, even when necessary, be accompanied by a ‘courageous and lucid analysis of the reasons behind terrorist attacks.’”
The bishop reiterated the importance of protecting the lives and welfare of U.S. citizens and said that the threat posed by terrorist organizations must not be underestimated.
“We hope that our concerns on the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and targeted killings will contribute to the formulation of a more comprehensive, moral and effective policy to resist terrorism,” the letter concluded.