National Catholic Register

Commentary

Drone War vs. Just-War Teaching

BY Mark Shea

December 2-15, 2012 Issue | Posted 11/26/12 at 3:08 PM

 

In September, Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law released a joint study entitled "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan."

Since 2004, the United States has launched hundreds of attacks via unmanned drones within northwest Pakistan, despite Pakistan’s protests. The drones, which are piloted by radio operators here in the United States, are touted as a means of saving the lives of U.S. troops and making warfare more efficient.

Without boots on the ground, we can safely target and kill terrorists half a world away.

The question is: "Safely for whom?" A favorite narrative among Americans is that such warfare is surgical and precise and does little "collateral damage." Collateral damage is the standard euphemism for "killing innocent men, women and children."

According to the study, that "surgical" narrative is false. Its best estimate is that, from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, drone attacks in Pakistan killed 2,593-3,365 people; 474-884 were civilians, including at least 176 children; 1,249-1,389 people were injured.

The remote-control murder of innocent husbands, fathers, wives and children calls into question the ethics of drone warfare. Does drone warfare meet the Church’s criteria of just war, as laid out by the Catechism?

There is a reason the Catechism teaches:

"The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties" (2312).

"Non-combatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely" (2313).

The drone approach has angered Pakistanis and others in that region of the world and helped to radicalize them against the U.S., helping to create a fertile field for terrorists to recruit new converts.

One aspect of just-war teaching is that the war must not create evils worse than the evil being fought.

Most Americans are not aware of the realities of how the Obama administration conducts this war. Here are some salient things to remember:

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker notes, when describing the CIA’s drone strikes, "The program is classified as covert, and the intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge or how many people have been killed."

The program, Mayer says, is founded on a claim by the Obama administration that the drone program is subject to no judicial review and that those targeted for killing are secretly targeted on the president’s unilateral will alone — even if they are American citizens.

In other words, we live — right now and not in some dystopian future — where the president has seized the power to order the immediate death of anyone he chooses, foreign or citizen, without any obligation to present evidence for his death decree to any public scrutiny, much less permit the target for killing the opportunity for arrest, trial, judge, jury or verdict.

Mayer continues, "ecause of the CIA program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war. Should something go wrong in the CIA’s program — last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan — it’s unclear what the consequences would be."

So what happens when the president’s drone war winds up killing and maiming women, children or other civilians (as, for example, has happened multiple times in the deliberate targeting of funerals or family members and rescue workers who have come to help the dead and injured from a previous drone strike, according to Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian)?

According to The New York Times, "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It, in effect, counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

In short, the administration deals with the killing of civilians by calling them terrorists after we’ve killed them.

Such a method positively invites abuse. And abuse it has created. For the reality is that, as Conor Friedersdorf reports in The Atlantic, "The Obama administration permits the CIA to carry out ‘signature strikes’ even though they don’t know the identity of the people they’re trying to kill!"

You read that right. According to Greenwald, "In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals."

In other words, our drone war has led not to accidental collateral damage, but to the willful and indiscriminate murder of civilians — exactly the opposite of the "surgical approach" it is touted as.

A common — and perfectly sound — argument on the pro-life front for those who are unsure of whether an unborn baby is a person is that you would not fire a gun into a bush without checking to see whether it was a deer or another hunter. So, if in doubt, don’t shoot.

Our policy of drone warfare is the opposite: We are in many cases shooting at people we know nothing about in the hope that some may be terrorists. And, as citizens, we are handing over to an absolutely unaccountable executive the power to secretly order the death of anyone he chooses.

Imagine, say, the Chinese using drones on our soil to target and kill suspected criminals or members of the Chinese mafia. Would Americans be satisfied with the explanation of the Chinese government if they said that somewhere between 500-1,000 innocent Americans killed were "acceptable losses" and "collateral damage"?

Could there be a more efficient way for China to provoke war?

Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com and at Catholic and Enjoying It!