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Religious leaders protest Obama drone policy
March 28th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Religious leaders protest Obama drone policy

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – A group of rabbis, reverends and priests has a message for President Barack Obama: stop the drone war.

In a video produced by the Brave New Foundation, a group that uses video and social media to protest against drones, Jewish and Christian leaders describe the practice as "assassination by remote control," which violates religious principles.

“From a New Testament point of view, drones are completely appalling,” the Rev. Paul F. M. Zahl, the retired Episcopal rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told CNN. “The whole idea of killing a guy without giving the guy a chance to surrender is preemptive. That for me was completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

The video criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences.  The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions.

According to the religious leaders in the video, titled “Drones and Religion,” the drone program fails to meet several of these criteria.

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“The use of remote-controlled drones to assassinate targeted persons without charge, trial, or even at least the chance to surrender, is about as un-Christian a maneuver as I can imagine,” Zahl said. “I decided to protest this inhuman policy because it goes against the core principles on which I’ve built my life.”

“The Obama administration is playing God,” said Joe Nangle, a Franciscan friar at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Virginia, in the video. “Instead of a culture of life, we are dealing death.”

The video, which includes running commentary from the six religious leaders, also includes video from speeches by Obama and his new director of the CIA, John Brennan.

“This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists,” Obama said in a  a clip from an online forum he held in January that is included in the religious leaders' video.

The video also uses biblical languages and stories to emphasize its anti-drone point.

“We are Goliath, and David is about the size of a mouse,” Zahl said in the video, alluding to the biblical story of David defeating Goliath in a one-on-one fight. “It is about that evenly matched.”

The Obama administration’s drone policy has drawn a great deal of attention in the last few months.

In February, the Senate Intelligence Committee received a classified document that seeks to justify the administration’s policy of targeting Americans overseas via drone attacks. The document provides the Justice Department's legal rationale for the controversial policy of using lethal force against U.S. citizens fighting on behalf of terrorist groups.

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After the memo’s release, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky filibustered the nomination of Brennan as CIA director because of the Obama administration’s drone policy. Paul’s filibuster shone a light on drones, leading many Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill to question their use.

The White House has defended such strikes as “legal,” “ethical” and “wise.”

“This president takes his responsibilities very seriously," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said about drones in early February. "And first and foremost that's his responsibility to protect the United States and American citizens. … The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al Qaeda terrorist to insure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life.”

- CNN’s Pam Benson contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Foreign policy • Politics

soundoff (363 Responses)
  1. enuftrashtalk

    Ah. Ok, we'll go back to F-18's, F-15's, and various stealth planes. It will just take a little longer.

    What is this called "drone morality" ?

    March 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  2. bostontola

    “The whole idea of killing a guy without giving the guy a chance to surrender is preemptive. That for me was completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

    God directed his people to ambush enemies in the bible multiple times, no request for surrender in those. Is there no limit to their hypocrisy?

    March 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Jim

    “The use of remote-controlled drones to assassinate targeted persons without charge, trial, or even at least the chance to surrender, is about as un-Christian a maneuver as I can imagine,”

    Then ban artillery, manned strike aircraft, bombers, submarines and all missiles (nuclear and otherwise). I did miss anything?

    March 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  4. CJ

    Really? It's unfair is basically what they're stating. You'd rather we send in a couple hundred thousand troops who will also die, or risk their lives?

    When we sent in thousands of troops, do you think they sent combatants to trial in a war zone, or shot at them? Has no one seen what tanks and helicopters do to their targets? There's no trial in war.

    That said, maybe we shouldn't be there in the first place.

    March 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Alan S

      CJ: I agree with you. The position the religious leaders are taking is, at best, difficult to understand. And that's the very kindest thing I can say.

      As to your closing comment that maybe the U.S. shouldn't be there: that's a legitimate question, but please remember that after Desert Storm the U.S. military withdrew the vast majority of its personnel from that part of the world. It was the attacks on D.C. and NYC in 2001 that led to a re-introduction of U.S. ground troops. As long as America's enemies use that region for a staging ground, it is difficult to argue that U.S. forces should withdraw completely.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  5. ___

    Ironic that these relgious morons who believe in "holy" books that recommend stoning women to death for having s3x take issue with taking out terrorists with drones.

    War means killing people. If you don't want war, then don't wage war, but if you have an enemy to fight, then make your peace with the fact that people are going to die.

    Not too long ago, nations were killing each other with concentration camps and gulags, firebombing cities, nuking cities and carpet bombing indescriminately. Perhaps in a perfect world there will be no more war...but until then, precision killing with a drone is a step in the right direction and is the lesser evil of imperfect choices.

    March 28, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    Why?

    What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon?

    And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror?

    The koran, mohammed's book of death for all infidels and muslim domination of the world by any means.

    Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed.

    Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein.

    Until then, no muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere .......................................................

    So the drones keep us up to date anytime, anywhere!!!

    March 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  7. bostontola

    Why didn't they come out against snipers 100 years ago? These remotely piloted vehicles are no more than high tech snipers.

    The just war doctrine make it clear that all military personnel are obligated to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. Formerly, the distinction was between military and civilian. The former are valid targets; the latter are exempt.

    The religious leaders may have had a valid argument based on drones not being precise enough, but they didn't. It's based on things that are already permitted and not opposed by them. If they wanted to make a moral stand, they should put themselves on firmer ground.

    March 28, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  8. JoH

    Religious leaders are just worried their long record of child molestation will get caught by a drone.

    March 28, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Muhammed

    we love drones

    March 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    Oh the irony. it "violates religious principles"?!?! The bible is full of massacres and murder. Religion has been the cause of more killings than any other reason in history.

    March 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mr. Flibble

      SHHHHHHH! You really want religious nuts to know they're hypocrites?

      March 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Laughing

      Wait so this validates using drones to murder people? This is your mindset?

      March 28, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • RickInNY

      @ Laughing – Where did either of them imply that. What they are saying, is that they're hypocrites.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Tony B

      Religion is not the reason for most wars, and I'm tired of that old line. Let's point to some of the greatest conflicts in human history:
      WWI – not religious
      WWII – not religious
      American Revolution – not religious
      French Revolution – not religious
      100 Years War – not religious
      Roman Conquest(s) – not religious
      Greek Conquest(s) – not religious

      In fact, the one primary religious war that people point to are the Crusades, which in fact killed very few in comparison. You may not like religion, but religious wars are actually very small compared to overall wars in human history.

      And you cannot argue against religion by citing war without also citing the incredible humanitarian efforts that also come from religion. Most of the largest non-government relief agencies in the U.S. are religiously affiliated.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Vad

      Funny. I would have thought the core reason for the majority of War's would have been very secular reasons like money, power, land or greed. Religion is just a tool those in power abuse to fire up the people. Lets say you get your wish and Religion is eradicated, something else will take it's place. Nationalism, politics, racial superiorty, the list goes on.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Tony...you forgot so many others...U.S. civil war (slavery), War of 1812 (left over issues form A.R.), Korea (communist expansion), Vietnam (communist expansion), Mexican-American war (imperialism–texas too good to pass up), and the list goes on. Just another lie from the atheists.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • Sensible

      Vad, A conversation, Tony B....While I agree with you guys that religion hasn't caused most wars this does not absolve religion from being complicit in crimes against humanity. You can't look in history and not find this "tool" bringing harm to humanity. It still does to this day. Doing humanitarian work does not change this fact. Besides that kind of work can be done without religion, plus you have to know that it's done at least partly to gain converts and therefore bringing more power by mere numbers. I say partly cause I like to think some folks do good for the sake of doing good. I don't advocate getting rid of religion per say just for it to stay out of the publics business, the fact is religion can't seem to do that. Never has, its always trying to infect everybody else with its beliefs. Also, it doesnt follow that if religion is made obsolete that some kind of negative system will take its place.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Mr. Flibble

      @Tony B. – Have you ever heard of the little thing called "The Christian Dark Ages"? How about the Spanish Inquisition? Salem Witch Trials? French Wars of Religion? The Holocaust? to name a few. How about you go look up to see how many millions were murdered in the name of "God" and then get back to us with an informed rebuttal.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  11. brad

    These religiouse leaders are about as stupid as you can get. First off, all our enemies are given a chance to avoid a war, and can surrender at any time. Second, according to the bible, Christians should never go to war, period, cause it is a sin to murder, and spears and swords should be turned into pruning shears and plows. 3rd, these same leaders bless these soldiers to get devine help to be better murderers then the other side. 4th, were was this doctrine when they were mass murdering people for not believing, for being a witch, or during the holy wars?

    March 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Brad...are you saying that our soldiers are murderers? Is that just your position or is that all atheists's position?

      March 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Sensible

      A conversation.....whats up with the all atheist position. Being an atheist means you don't believe in god, its really that simple. Nothing else unites us. Any other views are up in the air. And yes technically killing is killing. You can play semantic games all you like, a life is lost. In war it's ususally plenty of innocent civilian life, sometimes way more than the soldiers doing the fighting.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  12. nickm

    They want to give them a chance to surrender first? Is that their argument? The terrorists have had that chance for years.

    For the innocents, its unfortunate, but you should be helping to not only point out the terrorists, but to get out of the way.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  13. Ben

    No worry. Just tell us who supports drones and who doesn't. We'll settle this at the ballot box. Americans didn't buy Romney's claim that we had to set ourselves up to attack Iraq, and we won't buy the arguments for mindless murder with drones.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  14. Lycidas

    Hope they were as against it when Bush was President.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  15. albie

    who cares what religious leaders say – they should have no bearing on the real world – they believe in fairy tales and then expect people to listen to the - I don't listen to homeless people talking to themselves either

    March 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Lycidas

      The opinions they have are just as valid as yours. They are not superior to you and you are not superior to them in that regard.

      March 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  16. Organic1

    Considering there is the small matter 'separation of church and state' I think those religious leaders are looking for a pay raise from their sheep, and not staying tax free is what they seem to thumb their noses at. It all good though, as long as none of them get to have the controls over the drones, we should all be safe.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Tony B

      Ugh, "separation of church and state" does not mean the church has no say in matters of the state. It means the state cannot impose a religious belief on others, i.e. Sharia law. But a religious organization has as much say in any state matters as does a civil organization such as a union or corporation.

      I personally agree with the Obama administration's use of drones. Our enemies do not wear uniforms, take prisoners or follow other rules of war, so I have little sympathy for them under the Just War doctrine.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  17. Willie12345

    Obama is crushing our economy single handed. He don't need no stinking drones.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Thoth

      pfft....Dow seeing records, housing prices climbing, unemployment stabilized.....yeah, he's really doing a number on the 'economy' all by himself. Especially since, you know, he has like 1 legislative power (Veto). I'm sure Congress has nothing to do with stalled government.....

      March 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • mb2010a

      No, he's not. And yes, we do...OK?

      March 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  18. kennyzales

    Would it help if we baptize the drones before we send them out? Seriously, isn't that the point of war...to gain a tactical advantage and win regardless of the sacrifice of human life? Sounds pretty appalling, doesn't it? Hmm... I guess war is bad. No more voting for war. I've switched sides and am now voting for peace.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  19. Thoth

    Perhaps in some cases. War isn't pretty. I presume you would equally condemn the Christian god for the multi.tude of cowardly indiscriminate attacks he allegedly placed on mankind. Think "plagues", commandments to slaughter men, women and children, flooding the earth and murdering every living thing, save what fit on Noah's Arc...., murdering the first born of egyptians....because you know, they were certainly guilty of something.

    March 28, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Thoth

      oops...darn reply button....

      March 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • brad

      If you are going to go that route, don't forget the death sentence he handed down to every living human from adam and eve on down thanks to what two people did. Not only that, but he created the tempter, he started the very first war ever faught, between him and the devil, then involved humans in that war all because he had a chip on his shoulder. Also, God loves it when his little piglets suffer in agony yet still worship him, he gets a thrill out of it, and even demands it. God is one sic fairy tale.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
  20. freep211

    There are many innocents killed and injured in the drone attacks. They are indiscriminate and cowardly attacks that makes the statement of "kill them all and let God sort them out."

    March 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • mb2010a

      Hmmm...tell me that again after the next suicide bomber blows him/herself up in the middle of a packed market place and kills hundreds of innocent people. Yours is a straw man argument...

      March 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • brad

      Yeah but, if they started the war, why should one more soldier die, or one of our citizens die, for their radical cause. Better their citizens are slaughtered for what THEIR government did, then our citizens. Besides, those people over their don't really contribut anything to the world, were as Americans and our allies contribute technology, first aid, food, money, water, rescue operations and so on.

      March 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Brad
      Who started the war again?

      March 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Sensible

      Brad, you seem to think that the U.S. is perfect and everybody else be damned. I promise you that the U.S. did not get into its position of world power by being nice and playing fair. Of course unless you just buy into all the garbage you are sold about how great this country is all the time. Maybe you should pick up a history book when you are not busy. Better their citizens are slaughtered, wow you are cold human being. You must be one of the faithful, you probably sqaure the circle with ease I'm sure. Fair as all the aid our government gives, please know its not out of the kindness of heart. Its called buying influence also known as the U.S. "interest". Thats the word they use in foreign policy to say we protecting ours and screwing somebody else out of theirs.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.