Obama drone review welcomed, but international review still needed, bishop says

President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would place tighter restrictions on the use of drones against suspected terrorists was welcomed by the bishop who sent a letter May 17 to the White House and congressional leaders seeking a wide-scale public discussion on the use of the emerging technology.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, who chairs the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the administration to fully consider the moral questions surrounding the use of drones as it refines its policy.

Bishop Richard E. Pates (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Bishop Richard E. Pates (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

“The (White House) policy has raised a lot of serious moral questions and concerns,” Bishop Pates said May 28. “I don’t think it’s been widely discussed with the American public. It’s a relatively new revelation for the broader public. The letter itself and what we are addressing is the questions of civilians and those who are killed as ‘collateral damage.’ So we have to be very open about what is involved in the utilization of this (technology).”

Obama offered a strong defense of drone use to protect American security in an address at the National Defense University May 23, but also said it was time to review how they are being used. The U.S. showed it was not about to back off of their use, however, if today’s attack in Pakistan is any indication. Pakistani intelligence officials said a suspected drone strike killed four people including Waliur Rehman, who is considered the No. 2 leader in the Pakistan Taliban.

The Taliban denied he was dead.

The bishop suggested that Obama would do well if he took the discussion of drone use to the world on the path to developing international protocols.

“We think it is very important that it undergo international discussion and scrutiny,” said the bishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “We feel that is very important because the technology soon will be widespread.”

Crew prepares to launch pilot-less drone combat aircraft from aircraft carrier in Atlantic Ocean off coast of Virginia May 14. (CNS/Reuters)

Crew prepares to launch pilot-less drone combat aircraft from aircraft carrier in Atlantic Ocean off coast of Virginia May 14. (CNS/Reuters)

The letter was about a year in development, first broached by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse, N.Y., who was looking for help in understanding the moral issues surrounding drone use. The diocese is home to the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, one of several U.S. centers where drone operators pilot the unmanned aircraft in their search for suspected Muslim militants halfway around the world. The base also has been the scene of regular nonviolent vigils and protests.

As questions were raised, the committee reached out to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who urged the USCCB to move forward with the letter because of the U.S. role as the world’s leading user of drones.

The council itself is planning to examine the use of drones during a session at a conference it is putting together this fall.

3 Responses

  1. Discussion is useful–within the context of the terrorists waging war on the whole of Western civilization and their commitment to continue this war.

    What is “unjust” about using drones to target those who already are engaged in the war? I don’t recall the bishops complaining about the ideology that resulted in the destruction ofr 9/11, or the mess being created in Iraq as a result of the purveyors of this ideology.

    Where in history have wars ceased outside the defeat of one of the parties to any of those wars?

  2. I have no issue with the bishop expressing his concern about the use of drones. This is a relative new technology which if not properly regulated could result in unnecessary civilian death or injury. It is prudent to ask for international protocol in the use of drones.

  3. I believe I agree with what you have to say, Jim F.
    The best policy is, the process that upholds human dignity first and foremost. Who but, the church should ask that things go on the up and up and the straight and narrow- for goodness sake..

    For who would deny that: Life begins with Christ & Ends .+.

    ..in my humble opinion.

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