Faith‐Based Organizations Question Lethal Use of Drones

UPDATE 10/22/2013: Rep Grayson will hold a congressional briefing on drones on October 29. Increase its impact by writing a letter to the editor in your local paper calling for oversight of drone strikes.

On April 16, 2013, FCNL led a group of faith-based organizations in sending President Barack Obama a letter questioning the lethal use of drones.

Read the PDF letter here.

April 16, 2013

President Barack Obama
The Office of the President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As people and communities of faith, we are moved to express our great concern about the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles, known commonly as drones, for targeted killings of alleged members of Al Qaeda, its affiliates and other associated forces around the world.

The use of these lethal weapons within the borders of other sovereign nations, at times without their permission, shrouded in secrecy and without clear legal authority, raises serious moral and ethical questions about the principles and the implications of this practice for U.S. foreign relations and the prospects for a more peaceful world.

A threshold question: Is the U.S. at war?

If targeted killings by drones are justified as acts of war, they must be subject to international law on the use of lethal force within the borders of another sovereign nation. Without a clear showing of permission to use lethal force within another nation, or an imminent threat to the U.S. from that nation, these killings seriously undermine prohibitions in international law against the use of deadly force.

The administration and Congress should end the assertion that the U.S. is involved in a “global war,” allowed by the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF), passed in September of 2001 and renewed in December of 2011, and should comply with international human rights law in all U.S. counter-terrorism operations.

If the U.S. is not at war, then other principles of human and civil rights must govern U.S. actions.

If these acts of targeted killing are police actions, rather than a matter of war, what right does the U.S. have to take these actions in another country? Rather than seeking to “eliminate” individuals from a so-called “kill list” who are suspected of involvement in or planning of violent criminal activity, or bombing sites that appear suspicious to remote drone operators, the administration should uphold U.S. and international admonitions that no one should be deprived of life arbitrarily. The U.S. should extend protections consistent with principles of human and civil rights pertaining to the pursuit and apprehension of a criminal suspect, including fair trial in a court of law. This expectation can and should be achieved in cooperation with other countries in accordance with their international obligations.

Additionally, protections consistent with principles of human and civil rights should be extended to uninvolved civilians, family members, and bystanders who often suffer in drone attacks.

Targeted killings do not address the root causes of conflicts and thus will not end violence against the U.S.

The practice of targeted killings, by drones in particular, provokes high anxiety in communities, as drones patrol neighborhoods. Drone killings destroy trust and lead increasing numbers of people to turn to fear-based responses, which may include acts we often describe as "terrorism." In addition, as the killings injure and threaten people who were previously uninvolved, drone attacks can boost recruitment for extremist organizations.

A far more effective strategy would be to address the root causes of conflicts by creating conditions that defuse the hostility, including strategies to prevent violent conflict and to promote restorative justice practices, and effective economic development programs.

Oversight and accountability are essential.

The administration appears to be creating a new kind of warlike campaign – a militarized police action – that follows neither the rules of war nor the rule of law. We urge the administration to follow judicial due process and we urge Congress to exercise oversight to guard against continuing or extending the practice of targeted killings, without charges or trial, of individuals suspected of presenting a threat to the U.S.

The natural checks on lethal violence must be maintained.

On an individual level, military trainers know that human nature itself serves as a check on lethal violence. Coming face to face with someone described as an enemy requires a deliberate choice to override a deep human instinct against killing. Remote, technical warfare removes that very human check. As a society we have not adequately considered where this development leads us as a species. The remote nature of this type of deadly violence has the potential to encourage overuse and extension of the policy to more countries and more perceived threats. Furthermore, by increasingly relying on targeted killings, we become increasingly less able and willing to engage various conflicts in humanizing ways that are in accord with human dignity.

Mr. President, we understand these matters are not simple. Nonetheless, we feel obliged as people and communities of faith to raise fundamental moral and ethical questions about the evolving kinds of warfare this nation is now pursuing. We urge you to give these issues more careful reflection and evaluation.


Friends Committee on National Legislation
Diane Randall
Executive Secretary

Simone Campbell
SSS, Executive Director

Church of the Brethren
Nathan Holser
Coordinator, Office of Public Witness

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
James Winkler
General Secretary

Christian Reformed Church in Northern America
Rev. Joel Boot
Executive Director

Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Justice and Peace Director

Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Washington Office
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Sandy Sorenson
Director, Washington Office

Disciples Justice Action Network
Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan

American Friends Service Committee
Shan Cretin
General Secretary

Disciples Peace Fellowship
Rev. Dr. Craig Watts

American Muslims for Justice
Nauman Shah and Saba Ahmed

Fellowship of Reconciliation
Dr. Mark C. Johnson
Executive Director

On Earth Peace
Bill Scheurer 
Executive Director

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Rick Ufford-Chase
Executive Director

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