By and large, the silence continues. There are reposted articles on Christianity Today and Religion & Ethics from years ago (I won’t link to them because it can’t be that difficult to find someone who can write 1000 words on Just War Theory and Drones in light of the new information we are receiving.
But a few voices are beginning to be heard (not on religion sites, on the Washington Post, for example, but they’ve not exactly exercised responsible journalism on this issue (or on the larger issues of war and terrorism). Huffpo Religion promises a conversation on drones tomorrow afternoon. And total silence from the Episcopalians, so far as I can tell.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writes in the Washington Post:
One of the most inspiring and even profound speeches on both Just War theory and Just Peace theory I have ever heard was President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In that speech, I argued, “The president said that the ‘old architecture’ of thinking about war and peace is ‘buckling.’ What is required now, argued the President, is to ‘think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of just peace.’” I called this the “Obama doctrine.” I was wrong.
David Gushee of Mercer University, in the Post:
The United States would never accept it if another militarily sophisticated country-China or Russia come to mind-developed a policy in which they routinely launched “targeted” attacks on our soil seeking the deaths of those they identified as “imminent threats” to their national security, accidentally killing innocent Americans on a regular basis.
There is a disturbing combination of American arrogance and self-righteousness at work here. We alone, the exceptional nation, the beacon of freedom and justice, can be trusted with the power to kill our own and others around the world in the name of national self-defense (and global security). And then we concentrate the execution of that policy in the hands of individual officials in the executive branch not subject to external review. This sounds like a people that have forgotten the old biblical claim that “no one is righteous, not one.” Every nation and every individual needs someone looking over their shoulder and checking their exercise of power. All are fallible. Even us.
If you want to understand a little bit of why I am so angry about this, note that today in the hearings for John Brennan, Senators cracked jokes about waterboarding.
Outside of the Christian community, progressives and human rights activists are speaking out. David Cole has 13 questions he wishes the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would ask John Brennan during his nomination hearing.
An earlier piece by David Cole on the released memo addresses moral and legal questions raised by the use of drones:
In fact, the capabilities of drones raise a number of related questions that go entirely unasked in this paper. Drone technology has made it possible to use lethal force in many situations where we could not or would not have even considered it in the past. Unlike conventional military operations, drone attacks require no “boots on the ground,” and therefore do not pose a risk to American lives. Unlike bombings, they have pinpoint accuracy; they therefore reduce the collateral costs of killing and may be easier to disavow. Because drones can effectively travel the world while being controlled remotely from home, they permit the “war” to move far beyond the battlefield. And drones have made it possible for the US government to do something that was unthinkable before, and should be unthinkable still—to kill its own citizens in secret. In short, drones radically reduce the disincentives to killing. And that may well make a nation prone to use military force before it is truly a last resort. That certainly seems to be what has happened here.
Unless and until the actual legal opinion is available to study, it is probably just as well to avoid sweeping judgments about either the morality or legality of using drones to attack suspected enemies of the state. David Cole is quite right to point out some of the unique aspects of this technology and the concomitant risks the accompany its use. However, drones are not unique in expanding the meaning of “war” beyond the battlefield. The attackers of the World Trade Center did that, as have suicide bombers in many other instances. Conflict today takes place in so many forms that the very notion of “war” as distinct from “peace” becomes difficult to identify — just ask any resident of Gaza or even Karachi. One might also ask why it makes any difference what the nationality of a target might be? Is a US citizen less dangerous than an Iraqi, a Saudi, a Pakistani, an Afghan or a Colombian if he or she is working with an organization that aims to kill Americans? What sort of protection does any human being deserve once they actively take up arms against the US or any other country?
While no other country currently deploys drones, a number have taken action by other means against private citizens who were considered dangers to their vital interests; think of the Russian who was killed by radioactive poisoning or the fatwas issued against offenders of Iranian religious sensibilities.
The issues involved in deciding what is or is not a tolerable use of force in a very dangerous and morally clouded world are not likely to be clarified very much in congressional hearings, but at least we might hope that the discussion would lead to more scrupulous consideration of the long term consequences of low level violence. Regardless of their content, they are unlikely to have much direct effect and we will always need to rely on the sober judgement of the person who sits in the White House.