Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) shared a national security secret at a Rotary Club meeting in his home state. He gave the number of people killed by drones.
“We’ve killed 4,700,” said Graham, who is a Southern Baptist. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida.”
A drone is “a weapon that needs to be used,” said Graham in response to a question. “It’s a tactical weapon. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is now armed.”
Graham added that he wanted drones to patrol the U.S. border.
“I don’t want to arm them, but we need drones along the border so we can really control illegal immigration,” said Graham, who is considered a lynchpin in the ongoing negotiations for comprehensive immigration reform.
The RT network reported that “neither the Executive nor Legislative branches of the US have formally offered as much as an estimate regarding the number of kills, and drone-strikes led by the Central Intelligence Agency have largely gone unconfirmed by the CIA, despite first-hand accounts from survivors of the attacks.”
The shroud of secrecy around drone kills is understandable from the government’s perspective, but hardly ethical as President Obama’s press secretary would have Americans believe.
Jay Carney said that drone strikes “are ethical and they are wise.”
One wonders the source of Carney’s moral justification and doubts the wisdom in the killing of innocent civilians.
Yet the White House – the U.S. government – wants the public to think that drones kill the leadership of our enemy, not innocent civilians, not children and women.
“In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killing’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts,” read a September 2012 report, Living Under Drones, from schools of law at Stanford University and New York University.
But the next sentence adds: “This narrative is false.”
And later in the report, it noted, “The number of high-level targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2 percent.”
Two percent? Two percent of 4,700 kills? Drones are a “surgically precise” weapon?
Given the high probability that drones kill mostly civilians, one is hard pressed to see how the use of drones passes one of the time-honored rules of Just War, which speaks to avoiding civilian casualties.
The Christian community is slowly and rightly raising moral questions about the use of drones. Soon – hopefully very soon – moral opposition to the discriminate use of drones will increase.
EthicsDaily.com has posted a few pieces. Zach Dawes compared the use of drones to violent video games while Jonathan Langley referred to drone strikes as assassinations. Miguel De La Torre lamented that technology was advancing faster than our moral reflection.
The United Kingdom branch of Pax Christi, a pacifist movement within the Catholic Church, has issued a statement on drones.
“In theory these might possibly be used in a way that conforms to Just War teaching (such as in a war declared by legitimate authority, with discrimination between combatants and civilians). But that is not how they are currently being used,” reads the document.
Pax Christi noted that drones dehumanize both the victims of attacks and those operating the drones. “Their current use and deployment flouts both the rule of law in relation to war and human rights and traditional church teaching on warfare,” said the group.
Another Catholic thinker, from a much different wing of the Catholic Church, Robert George, wrote last summer, “The use of drones is not … inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations; but the risk of death and other grave harms to noncombatants are substantial and certainly complicate the picture for any policy maker who is serious about the moral requirements for the justified use of military force.”
George, a Princeton University professor, added, “Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war.”
He argued that “the wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized.”
Accusing the Obama administration of having a fetish – an obsession – with drones, George lamented in February that too few had spoken out against the use of drones.
He said that “too many liberals were more interested in protecting their man than in speaking truth to his power; too many conservatives were cheering him on when it came to targeted killing by predator drones.”
Political loyalties and agendas appear for now to compromise the moral commitments and prophet voice of many people of faith.
That is likely and hopefully changing.
Those who live by the drone will surely die as the result of drone kills – to contemporize the wisdom and warning of Jesus, who said, “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.