Bishops query targeted killing by US drones

Invoking just-war criteria, the United States Catholic bishops have questioned the moral legitimacy of the Obama administration’s use of drones in counter-terrorism actions.

“Targeted killing should, by definition, be highly discriminatory,” said letters from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon and members of Congress.

The letters questioning the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were signed by the chairman of the bishops’ committee on international justice and peace, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.

“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,” Bishop Pates said.

“Are these policies morally defensible? They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law, and moral norms.”

Bishop Pates noted that targeted killings by drones raise “serious moral questions”, including concerns related to discrimination, imminence of threat, proportionality and probability of success.

He emphasised the importance of protecting American lives and the danger posed by a terrorist organisation like Al Qaeda, but said the relative low cost and ease of using drones might tempt US leaders to use them to excess, causing them to underutilise “economic, political and diplomatic responses”.

“And doesn’t the prospect of widespread deployment of UAVs by other nations and non-state actors put a spotlight on our nation as the primary developer and user of UAV armed and unarmed technology?” he asked.

Bishop Pates said the US should exercise leadership in advancing international norms, standards and restrictions for the use of drones.

“An effective counterterrorism policy should employ non-military assets to build peace through respect for human rights and addressing underlying injustices that terrorists unscrupulously exploit,” he said.

Bishop Pates said the US should publicly discuss and scrutinise its policy of targeted killings by drones, in order formulate “a more comprehensive, moral and effective policy to resist terrorism”.


United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Full text of letters

Image: The Nation

Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , , , , , ,