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

Religious leaders protest Obama drone policy

By Dan Merica, CNN
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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. Squrl

    “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.”

    It is exactly what every terrorist does on a daily basis. What happened to "an eye for an eye"?

    March 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • Lola Bunch

      What makes me laugh is that each and every good, holy man never said a word when Bush was employing the same damned drones. If there's one thing I cannot stand, it's the hypocrisy of those who didn't condemn the one President who started the use of drones while critisizing the next President who is trying to wrap up the two wars Bush started, AND the one who claimed God told him start in the first place.

      March 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • Reader

      There is no "eye for an eye" in the New Testament. There is a lot about forgiveness, selfishness, love, turning the other cheek . I know all these may seem nonsense for some, but in the end, this is what makes us human.

      March 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Chilipepper

      Reader, did they conveniently forget that when Bush first started using them??

      March 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm |
  2. Ancient Texan

    It hasn't been too long since the left was livid with rage over the use on "enhanced interrogation" to secure important terrorist information. Also the lack of habeous corpus for prisoners and speedy trials. Now we have a differnt administration and it's perfectly O.K. to just kill them and not aquire any intelligence. Double standard?

    March 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Cted

      I'm all for using planes too that doesn't mean we should carpet bomb India for fun. It is HOW we are using drones. Using drones instead of a strike aircraft in a war – sure all for it. Using drones to assassinate people we have presented no evidence are guilty of anything is murder.

      If we have the evidence they ARE terrorists try them in abstentia. If you can get 12 jurors to give them the death penalty fine.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Chilipepper

      But it isn't the left that'scomplaining now, is it, Ancient?? It's the religious right. Double standard?

      March 28, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There is no double standard.

      IN 1998 Clinton sent lots of cruise missiles after Al Queda. (At that time the right complained that he was merely trying to distract the American public from his impeachment with boogeyman stories about terrorists.)

      Drone attacks are no different – except that they are much more accurate, have less collateral damage and we can see what we hit.

      Waterboarding, extreme rendition and the suspension of habeus corpus are still wrong but they are not related to missile attacks.

      You could argue that surprise attacks on foreign nationals are wrong but every modern President has used them as far back as I can think of.

      March 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
  3. Doug

    i am DEFINITELY in favor of US Military using drones.
    ANYTHING that saves American lives in a war, is a VERY GOOD thing IMO.

    and all u Obama bashers posting here, do u remember WHO started using drones by the USA ???
    that's right, good ole GW Bush. one of the few good things he did in his 8 years of POTUS.

    March 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  4. GnatB

    Dear religious leaders. The U.S. didn't start this war. Nor does the U.S. get to decide if/when it's over. Pretty sure any war fought in self defense fulfills the criteria for a "Just War". And I'm pretty sure the U.S. is open to their surrender at any time.

    As for David and Goliath? It's not the U.S.'s fault they've decided to attack somebody outside their weight class and have made no attempt to surrender, but instead continue to attack. Of course, since they believe they have god on their side, they presumably feel they have every likelyhood of winning. And I'm ashamed of those religions leaders. David vs. Goliath isn't about how fights are supposed to be fair, but rather that if god's on your side, you're going to win regardless of what the odds "look" like.

    March 28, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • Chilipepper

      Bull. Are you saying that Bush didn't invade Iraq on a false premise? Give me a break.

      March 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  5. flickerman

    If there was no collateral damage, meaning death of innocent bystanders, then the drone program is ideal. If it saves one American life, it will justify itself.
    Only the terrorists can stop the drones by renouncing their terror tactics. We have to protect ourselves. Nice to hear from the theologians, but defending lives of civilized people is priority number one. Ever hear of Imams condemning suicide bombing and other Islamic atrocities like mass murder of Shiites on pilgrimage.?

    March 28, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • JT

      I was with you up until that obscenely racist part at the end.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  6. Solitairedog

    I would like to add my voice to those who are asking President Obama to stop the drone attacks. It's a horror. If the president feels we can't win without them, maybe we should accept a draw because this form of attack is not consistant with almost anybody's ethic. It will be a blight on his presidency in history and I really hate that.

    March 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Merle McClung

      Ridiculous. You would rather put American lives at risk to kill a terrorist. These murders insist on urban warfare, so they can kill and maim as many innocents as possible, yet you would have us only fight them on the ground, in the midst of their supporters? Why not use technology to save Americans lives and the lives of those innocents these terrorists kill???
      This is only an issue because the military contractors are making it so. Can you imagine how much we could cut the military budget if we didn't have to order thousands of armored vehicles, big jets and other types of "snooping" aircraft??

      Whenever so much is made about so little, look for the money.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Roger that

      It will be a blight on his presidency in history and I really hate that.

      No it won't. The drones are killing terrorists. He will be remembered as the president that got OBL.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
  7. Cat Holic

    What do we call pedophilia priests: Drones.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  8. Poppa

    We have plenty of missiles available for the same task, but then using a drone or satellite info for targeting will definitely cause more collateral damage due to time lag requiring larger munitions or salvos.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Space Cowboy

      I see you think because we fly a drone on the other side of the world there is some kind of massive lag. Only a second or two. Maybe you should understand how the defense architecture works.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  9. DA

    I guess snipers would fall in that category as well. Wars like Stalingrad would have been very different without them. Drones are usually a result of ground recon as well and permission is needed to actually strike.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • avacon

      Snipers target combatants on the battlefield. Drones can anybody anywhere – you could be sitting at home minding your own business then be blown to bits without warning. Different thing.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Merle McClung

      Avacon, we have plenty of missiles that could do the same thing. It's not a question of whether on not the drone or a missile hit the target - they both can. The drone is superior because it can be controlled from far away, out of danger, and a missile cannot. Also, the drone creates less collateral damage than a missile. In other words, we would not have to go back and re-build a country after all the "shock and awe" junk.

      March 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  10. Bad Dog

    I'm so sick and tired of religion being used as an intrusion into governing. Tell the high-hats, kid-lovers, and the rest of them to just go take care of the sick, poor and widowed with THEIR efforts and THEIR money which is the only real commission they should be concerned about.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Chilipepper

      I agree! +1

      March 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  11. Syndrome Zed

    These aren't personal duels, and the goal here isn't to save someone's honor. The single, overriding goal of this version of the war on terror is to preserve American lives, civilian and military alike. Drones provide a method of achieving that goal that minimizes the risk to our side. And like it or not, this *is* an "our side versus their side" situation.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  12. Bill39

    Issues of morality in war are difficult to resolve. I'm sure there are many religious leaders who do not agree with this group.

    In many (most?) cases, the intended victims of drone strikes have, in fact, had many opportunities to change their ways or surrender.

    Is assassinating known terrorists morally worse than widespread bombing of non-combatants? Compare the number of "innocent" people killed by drones with the number killed by bombs in your favorite war. Isn't there a net benefit in minimizing overall number of unintended deaths?

    March 28, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  13. To Drone or not to Drone

    From a military aspect.

    A drone can penetrate areas and target indiviudals with relative ease. These drones have cameras on them for pilots to accurately see thier targets. These targets are in a database. Then the database gets a hit. This is our target. The drone pilot then recieves confirmation that this target is to be taken out. Pilot fires and kills said target.

    Drones are not a new technology. They have been used for years. Is there collateral damage? yes. But one must ask oneself if the individuals who are around this individual know about this "terrorist". Rewards for information leading to are out there. It's no big secret that America is after known terrorists. It's no big secret that America has drones and they are lethally accurate.

    The church states that we should give them the chance to surrender. These individuals have every moment of every day to surrender to any soldier anywhere. Instead they choose not to surrender themselves voluntarily. So are we to send someone over to ask them face to face? That's absurdity.

    These individuals whom are targeted by the American government do not care for the safety of innocents. They prefer to detonate explosives in populated areas without strategic sound reason or logic. They do not care about the innocents they kill. They do not ask if someone will surrender. They do not give anyone anywhere time to leave. They kill without regard.

    These drones do not target people. Without an operator, they are nothing but a pile of materials. These operators are the ones that are targeting the terrorists. It's no different than any soldier in the armed forces. Are they required to ask "HEY!! you there! you want to surrender before we kill you?". I'm sure that was such a popular statement during vietnam or WW1 or WW2 or the Korean war or during the Revolutionary war or the Battle of 1812. Oh yeah, perhaps in the battle of midway or the attack on Pearl Harbor they were flashing signals to the U.S. forces asking if they wanted to surrender while flying overhead then unable to speak english, decided the Americans said "No," then attacked.

    Perhaps we can take this to a different era when churches used to slaughter people for thinking they were of another religion? Did they give them the chance to surrender? Sure did, convert or die.

    Now people will say that things have changed, and they have. But war is still war. Enemies are still enemies. A drone is no different than an M-16. Just with longer range. The Artillery we use, the shots from ships, the missles from fighter planes, the M203 grenade launcher, the Mark 19, the M240B etc...all kill with impunity.

    Not every shot from every soldier kills. There are misses, there are stray bullets. So let's just say that one ricochets and kills an innocent. Is that the fault of the soldier who fired it? No. It's war. It's one of the tragic costs of conflict.

    To drone or not to drone....it's a tool and an effective one. I say use it.
    U.S. army retired.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Here here!

      March 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Lorrae

      Well said!

      March 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • clevercandi

      where's the LIKE button?????

      March 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  14. History Bear

    Devotees to a mythical figure who is reported to have ordered his "chosen" people to slaughter every living thing in their march to conquest. Hypocrites.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Barry

    During the middle ages, horrified clergy labeled the crossbow evil and immoral because it's destructive power transformed the nature of warfare. At the beginning of the last century, the submarine was condemned as immoral. Now we have drones. There are two lessons to be learned. First, it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Second, we will adjust.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • ME II

      ... until we don't.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  16. St Xavier

    Your damed if you do an damed if you don't you can not win. The drone policty our government uses to kill an observe bad guys is a correct one. Why should we put a man in a plane to get short down an cause more grief when we could just do it with an unmaned plane an if the plane is shot down then all we have lost is hardware, it's easer to replace hardware then a person.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      The issue is oversight. Currently more authority is required to obtain a wiretap than to use a drone to kill targets. We should be very sure that it is a legitimate target.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  17. chiz3914

    So the Ayatollahs have spoken

    March 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  18. Sherri

    The worst truth about drone killings – it kills more civilians, including children and women, than is reported. The person hitting the kill button oftentimes also misses their mark. I don't believe in extrajudicial murders.

    March 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Optimus

      What's your source to show that the civilian casualties aren't accurate? What makes you think a drone is less accurate than a manned bomber?

      March 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Syndrome Zed

      You're right, better to go back to Operation Arclight, where B-52's carpet bombed the bejeebus out of Vietnam to try and root out the VC. Or better yet, let's go back to Dresden and firebomb entire cities.

      The real "worst truth" here is that drone pilots still cause fewer civilian casualties than the alternatives. Are they underreported? Probably, but just ask General Westmoreland about civilian (and US troop) casualties in Vietnam and you'll get a number about 20% of the real thing....as usual.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  19. kaviski

    Where were these guys during WWII? Surely not in the Eighth Air Force...

    March 28, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  20. Ramona

    Religion has CAUSED more wars throughout history than pretty much anything.

    March 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Chad

      In their Encyclopedia of Wars, authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod attempt a comprehensive listing of wars in history. They doc ument 1763 wars overall, of which 123 (7%) have been classified to involve a religious conflict
      - Axelrod, Alan & Phillips, Charles Encyclopedia of Wars, Facts on File, November 2004, ISBN 978-0-8160-2851-1

      7% of all wars due to religious reasons..

      March 28, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • ChadChecker

      Where does Chad find this stuff? A simple google for the Encyclopedia of Wars returns on the first page, one hit from Amazon.com where there is ONE two-star review of volume 3 of this book. Whoopy.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Optimus

      ChadChecker, you're being a little misleading about that two-star review. The negative review was left because of a gripe about the use of BCE/CE instead of the traditional BC/AD time reference. The user didn't actually review the quality of material INSIDE the book. Furthermore, only 15 of 77 people found his review helpful.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • ME II

      Obviously wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_war). Rarely do books talk about themselves in the third person, "In their Encyclopedia of Wars,..."

      Although, ultimately there is nothing wrong with de-referencing wikipedia, but technically it should be cited as something like,
      "as paraphrased on Wikipedia...", I think.

      I have no idea if the information presented is correct or not.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Religion has close relatives : tribalism, racism, patriotism. And it does itself bring about fear and hatred. We can do without any of that. With careful planning and attention to education we can at least put an end to religion in this part of the world. Religion will only sound like a bad dream to most young people of the next generation.

      March 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Chad

      With careful planning and attention to education we can at least put an end to religion in this part of the world. Religion will only sound like a bad dream to most young people of the next generation. - Tom, Tom, the Other One

      "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people". - Karl Marx

      March 28, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Tom Tom

      Apparently you're a Marxist now...

      Bravo chad! You've got it now, just accuse every atheist of being a communist (because they're obviously the same thing) and I'm sure people will congratulate you on your keen eye, especially Joe McCarthy.

      (End Sarcasm)

      March 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      A Marxist? That's a surprise.

      "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
      (Groucho Marx)

      March 28, 2013 at 8:04 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.