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Pax Christi to speak about drone warfare

Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02


Photo courtesy of Pax Christi USA

Pax Christi members rally against unmanned drones in Columbus, Ga. in November 2012.

The University of Memphis Catholic Center will play host to a discussion on the controversial use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. military on Tuesday.

Pax Christi Memphis, the local branch of Pax Christi International, a non-profit Catholic peace movement that advocates against violence and war, is hosting the discussion. The event starts at 6:45 p.m.

Judy Bettice, coordinator for Pax Christie Memphis, hopes this discussion will open people’s eyes to the moral implications of targeted killing and surveillance.

“I hope that people will be more engaged in examining the moral implications of targeted surveillance of civilians and the killing of ‘bad guys,’” said Bettice. “I think the discussion has only been in politics and not in morality.”
Some in the military maintain that the utility of UAVs extends far beyond surgical strikes against suspected terrorists. Unmanned drones carry out a number of peaceful missions in both the military and civilian sectors, including search and rescue, scientific research and forest fire detection.

“They serve a vital aspect to the military — surveillance, reconnaissance and strike missions,” said Maj. Brant Gast, operations officer of the campus Air Force ROTC and assistant professor of aerospace studies. “Everyone always thinks we use UAVs for killing bad guys, but we use them for surveillance. Reconnaissance was the first mission of the Air Force. We’re not into collateral damage.”
Gast said his opinions are his own and do not represent the Air Force or the military in general.

In a statement on Pax Christi International’s website, the organization spells out its concerns about the morality and legality of drone strikes.

“Despite U.S. government claims that drone operators can distinguish an al Qaeda terrorist from innocent civilians, recent studies present significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians and injured many more,” according to Pax Christi’s statement. “Pax Christi International has given serious consideration to different perspectives on this issue and is persuaded that the use of these armed unmanned vehicles as weapons should be prohibited.”
The Obama administration has come under fire recently for its usage of armed UAVs in killing suspected members of terrorist organizations. On Monday, the Justice Department released a memo clarifying when drone strikes can be used against U.S. citizens, such as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and suspected terrorist, who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011.

Opponents claim that despite the military’s assurances that the utmost care is being taken to protect non-combatants, too many innocent bystanders are being injured or killed. Earlier this year, the United Nations announced it would be carrying out an investigation on the use of unmanned drones by the U.S. and Israel.

However, the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center last spring reveal that 62 percent of Americans support Obama’s drone policy, though opposition to drone strikes remains high elsewhere in the world, with 47 percent of Britons and 90 percent of Greeks opposed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been an especially outspoken opponent of drone strikes, going so far as to call them “illegal.”
“The executive branch has, in effect, claimed the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on “kill lists” on the basis of a secret determination, based on secret evidence, that a person meets a secret definition of the enemy,” according to a statement on the ACLU’s website.    
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based non-profit organization, maintains a detailed and frequently updated list of U.S. “covert actions” carried out against suspected members of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda.

On Monday, the BIJ announced that it would be launching a new project called “Naming the Dead,” which seeks to identify those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, with the project expanding to include Yemen and Somalia in the future.

To date, a total of 423 drone strikes have been carried out in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia according to the BIJ, leading to 4,743 deaths in those three countries. The vast majority of those strikes have been carried out in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas in the northwest portion of the country.

The BIJ claims that up to 891 civilians — 176 of whom were children — have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan alone.

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