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Drones make war too easy, too remote, faith leaders say

A predator drone takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq.
Rev. Richard Killmer, project director for for the nation’s first Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, who held at Princeton Theological Seminary January 23-25, 2015, addresses conference participants. Photo courtesy of Peace Action Education Fund

The Rev. Richard Killmer, project director for the nation’s first Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, held  Jan. 23-25, 2015, at Princeton Theological Seminary, addresses conference participants. Photo courtesy of Peace Action Education Fund

WASHINGTON (RNS) For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.

But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.

These religious critics — 150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders who gathered at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton Theological Seminary in late January — have spent the weeks since drafting a statement that calls on the U.S. to halt targeted lethal drone strikes.

“There are enough problems with the current drone policy and the use of drones that we need a break,” said the Rev. Richard Killmer, director of the conference. “Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war.”

The statement also raises the group’s concern that most drone attacks target individuals who are Muslims. As the U.S. seeks to quell Islamist extremism in the Middle East, attendees argued, drones undermine the effort by inciting hatred toward the U.S., often viewed as a deadly presence in the skies over Muslim lands.

“It creates more radicalization and anti-Americanism,” said Sarah Sayeed, a conference attendee and director of community partnerships at the Interfaith Center of New York. “Killing leads to more killing.”

A predator drone takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq.

Photo courtesy of Everett Historical via Shutterstock

A predator drone takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq.

In addition to a halt on drone strikes, the statement calls for:

  • Disclosing the details of past strikes: who was hit, why, the criteria for choosing targets.
  • Repealing the federal law that has provided the legal justification for the drone program.
  • Pushing the Obama administration to press for a global ban on drone strikes.

Many of the same interfaith leaders who signed on to the drone statement gained attention in 2006 when they convened at Princeton to launch a campaign against American use of torture against suspected terrorists. Killmer is the former director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Benjamin H. Friedman, a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., spoke at the Princeton conference — which he called “not my normal crowd.”

While he disagrees with the call for a total ban on targeted drone strikes, he sympathizes with many of the conference group’s concerns. The U.S. is using drone strikes too frequently in too many countries, with all the ill effects the interfaith leaders point out, Friedman said.

“If I had my druthers, the president would have to get Congress’ permission for drone strikes against particular countries or groups,” Friedman said. “The way we go to war is too casual.”


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • “Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war.”

    I don’t think these clerics have thought this through carefully.

    Drones are horrible. But if we had them before WW2 we probably could have destroyed Hitler much more easily and much sooner.

    Had we done so, an entire Holocaust might have been avoided as well as 50 million other lives.

    War is awful.
    But If you want to help prevent war, quit religion and take up Secular Humanism and advocate for protection of blasphemy laws and the Separation of Church and State.

  • Drones also reduce the total numbers of casualties to ALL sides. Far fewer indiscriminate attacks where civilians are killed or injured.

    No pilots to be shot down, captured or killed. Drones don’t perform carpet bombings nor carry weapons of indiscriminate slaughter like incendiaries and WMD’s.

    The hypocrisy of the discussion is while many would decry drone strikes, they would not raise such objections to manned airstrikes on the same targets. They don’t criticize far more indiscriminate and Geneva Convention unfriendly methods such as Tomahawk strikes from 100’s of miles away.

  • These religious folks want the U. S. enemies to have an equal chance, or not get taken out at all? Are they really on our side? The use of drones minimizes overall combat fatalities and injuries. Do these people want use to have our troops make sure that our opponents are well armed, ready for action and aware of our presence before we address their longevity? That’s silly and more than a little our troops. We had people like this trying to tie our hands down before and during every military actionin which we’ve participated. These faith leaders are hypocrits and simply don’t think well.

  • I do not understand the moral reasoning of these particular critics of drone strikes. It reads like gibberish.

    The premise behind their statements is that drone strikes kill a particularly high number of civilians even as they’re aimed at enemy combatants.

    But compared to what?

    They never say.

    They never say because there’s nothing to say.

    Is B-52 carpet bombing better? No, it’s infinitely worse.

    Unless these people are literal pacifists, they have a duty to tell us what they would do in place of drones if they wanted to eliminate individuals who were known to be deadly terrorists.

    And if they are pacifists, there would still be no reason to single out drones…..Being a pacifist means you’re against all war and hence every form of warfare.