Catholic World News

USCCB questions Obama administration’s use of drones

May 22, 2013

The chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has invoked just-war criteria to question the moral legitimacy of the Obama administration’s use of drones in counterterrorism killings.

“Even when viewed through the prism of just war principles, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killings raises serious moral questions,” said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines in separate letters to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon and members of Congress. “The Administration seems to have focused narrowly on the just cause of protecting citizens, but other elements of the tradition pose significant questions, including discrimination, imminence of the threat, proportionality and probability of success.”

“Targeted killing should, by definition, be highly discriminatory,” stated Bishop Pates, adding:

The Administration's policy appears to extend the use of deadly force to alleged "signature" attacks and reportedly classifies all males of a certain age as combatants. Are these policies morally defensible? They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law, and moral norms. Since imminence is more attenuated in counterterrorism than in war, should not discrimination in counter-terrorism meet a higher standard? And shouldn’t the fact that targeted drone killings take place outside any “war” zone 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 questioned a statement in a Department of Justice White Paper that the “condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

“Engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions,” responded Bishop Pates, quoting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. “By analogy, the use of deadly force without specific evidence of an individual's involvement in planning or implementing a specific act of terror poses ethical problems.”

Bishop Pates also questioned the Obama administration’s secrecy on the issue:

We understand the necessity for operational secrecy in counter-terrorism, but isn’t it critical to have a public discussion of the terms of the Administration’s policy of employing drones for targeted killings? Don’t the moral and strategic issues involved require broader discussion? Shouldn’t a policy with such wide potential consequences be subject to public scrutiny, at a minimum by representative institutions in a democratic society?

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - May. 22, 2013 7:21 PM ET USA

    Save your breath Bishops! The Obama Administration only likes to hear from you on "social justice" issues.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 22, 2013 11:59 AM ET USA

    This is a legitimate line of query for the Catholic Bishops of this country. It's too bad they have squandered their credibility over issues like global warming or amnesty for illegal aliens.