The Moral Case Against Drone Strikes

The Moral Case Against Drone Strikes July 24, 2015

By Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Paul Fleet / Shutterstock
Paul Fleet / Shutterstock

There was a brief and rare moment this year in which people openly discussed the U.S. lethal drones program. For a few days, the Obama administration apologized for a strike, the American people expressed shock, and the media took note. But that moment ended as quickly as it began, and only happened in the first place because a U.S. citizen was inadvertently killed by an American drone strike. For the remainder of the year, hundreds to thousands of non-Americans suffer the same fate but their stories go untold, and the drones program remains relegated to a dark corner at the back of the American public’s consciousness.

That is why I joined nearly thirty faith leaders to write a letter to the U.S. government expressing our joint outrage at the immorality of lethal drones, and calling for the program to be halted. Despite our differing faith perspectives, we spoke with one voice in saying:

 “We believe in the intrinsic value of all humanity and creation, compelling us to work for the common good of all people through the principles of love, mercy, just peace, solidarity, human dignity, restorative justice, and reconciliation. The U.S. practice of utilizing unmanned aircraft for targeted killings is contrary to shared values, which guide us, our faith communities, and most Americans.

We sent this letter because we shared a concern about the thousands of deaths, both intended and unintended, that have resulted from lethal drones technology.  Despite the Obama administration’s insistence that drone strikes only occur when there is “near certainty” that no civilians will be harmed, reports from the ground indicate this is not the case. For example, a recent study documented that, of nine drone strikes examined in Yemen, there was credible evidence that Yemeni civilians were killed or injured in every one of those strikes. Given this evidence of the government’s failures to protect life, my colleagues and I fear drones’ capacity to spread war-like behavior from battlefields into civilian communities.

We also shared a concern about the secrecy of the drone wars.  The “kill lists” are prepared in secret and there is no public disclosure of why targets were selected and no final reports on who was killed or if unintended victims were compensated.   The secrecy surrounding the CIA and the drones program do not allow U.S. citizens to fully understand what is being done in our name.  Further, it prevents the government from facing oversight and accountability that is so necessary when human life is at stake. This secrecy must end, and the American public should be made aware of the destruction of the drones program thus far.

Lastly, the letter expressed our insistence that drone strikes do not make us safer, but instead lead to perpetual destructive conflict and extremism. Rather than simply taking the place of human bodies in a conflict, drones actually expand conflict by taking the U.S. into combat where we otherwise would not go. Lethal drones enable reliance on warfare as the first resort and diminish peace by making violence too easy. Even though we are accustomed to U.S. media remaining largely silent when it comes to drone strikes, it is not the case in other countries where drones actually affect the communities. Media outlets widely publicize drones strikes globally, which serves as a highly effective recruitment tool by extremist groups. Rather than increasing security, drone strikes have increased violence.

We interfaith leaders joined together to call on our government to turn away from drone strikes and endless war, and instead to pursue nonviolent, creative strategies such as sustainable humanitarian and development assistance, and policies and programs that address the political, economic and social exclusion that fuels radicalization. For example, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives have called for a Global and Domestic Marshall plan to once and for all eliminate (not merely ameliorate) poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate healthcare. We believe a strategy of generosity rather than a strategy of domination and violence is the most effective path to homeland security.

We cannot heal and repair the world with drones.  We can only heal and repair the world with justice and peace. This is why we acknowledge that justice is required for peace, and peacemaking is required for justice. We remain hopeful that our letter will be illuminating to the U.S. government and will be part of a solution that acknowledge the failure of drone wars and inspires a new approach.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine  and co-chair with India’s environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives.


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