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No, Just War Theory Cannot Justify the Use of Militarized Drones

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President Obama, you claim to be a man of faith and during this deeply religious time of year, religious leaders from around the country have a message to share with you: we do not support your drone war or the use of “just war” theory to make Americans complicit in your drone war.

President Obama, when you celebrate Passover in the White House this year, remember the Jewish liberation story. This story is propelled forward when God awakens to the desperate cries of families suffering the burden of state violence. And when you attend Easter services, remember these words of the Gospel:

“Whatever you do to the least among you, you do to Me.”

Perhaps these lines from the scripture will cause you to hesitate the next time you order a drone strike that will inevitably kill more innocent civilians. In Pakistan alone, in the name of your just war, America has already murdered 178 children. Around the world, your commitment to a national security state has led to the killing of thousands of innocent civilians with “just” drone strikes. Drone strikes are not aimed at individuals; they are aimed at clusters of people, which is why there are always civilian casualties.

You would like Americans to believe that drone strikes are permissible according to just war theory. In your propagating this concept that war can be just, we've heard that you studied St. Aquinas and St. Augustine. In particular, you cite the principles of necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity. However, examination of your use of these principles reveals a very different truth: Drone strikes vitiate every one of these principles. We are not stupid, Mr. President. We can also read. The new white paper that was leaked in hopes of explaining the use of drones to kill innocent civilians only perpetuated the idea that kill lists, drone strikes, and hellfire missiles do more harm than good. The memo is a document of Orwellian proportions.

First of all, necessity requires imminent danger. Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia do not pose an imminent threat to the vast military and police power of the United States. Moreover, your memo declares that "an imminent threat does not require the U.S. to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place."  This sentence statement directly negates the principle of necessity.

We are not at war with the countries that are subject to drone strikes. We have no declared war on any of these countries either. I’m assuming that’s why the CIA operates the drone program. The country cannot hold you accountable for a program we are not able to be informed about. We are unable to ask serious questions about the drone policy because it is shrouded in secrecy and classified documents. By allowing the CIA to operate the drone program, you are trying to legalize covert warfare and take the power of declaring war away from Congress, and thus negating the very Constitution you have sworn to protect and defend. And you are not ruling out the use of drone strikes upon citizens living on U.S. soil! In essence, you are giving yourself dictatorial powers supported by mechanism outside a representative framework.
   
The principles of proportionality and distinction are also completely skewed. By declaring every military aged male a combatant, you are justifying mass killing, essentially claiming that the distinction between combatants and civilians is nonexistent. After 9/11, the United State’s military industrial complex exploded, allowing the United States to become the largest promoter of violence in the world by destroying countries and supplying weapons, ammunitions, surveillance and other militarized forms of population control to dictators and military forces around the world. As a government and a country we have lost all sense of proportionality because we rely on violence to sustain our political, economic and military control. Corporate profits are through the roof, yet our citizens and, in particular, our veterans, are being forced into poverty, hunger, and lack of health care. In what world do these ends justify the means?

Finally, humanity means the avoidance of unnecessary suffering. Both the Talmud and Qur'an have a saying that sums up this definition nicely:

If you save one life, you save the whole world. If you destroy one life, you destroy the world entire.

President Obama, drone strikes are destroying worlds—as well as the future and our credibility around the globe.  Child by child, family by family. There is no moral or religious universe where the amount of carnage brought on by drone strikes is justified. Do you really want the first African American President of the United States to be remembered as the man who executed families according to a kill list? I hope that this season of liberation and transformation awakens you to seek healing for the world, not to seek war.