Christians–whether we are adherents of just war tradition or of Christian nonviolence–should not support U.S. policies that kill civilians indiscriminately. However, in the past six days, our government has intensified a policy that does exactly that.
The number of suspected U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have spiked dramatically since Friday, July 3, with four strikes having killed roughly 78 people. These weapons are notoriously indiscriminate: as of late May we used them to kill roughly 15 civilians for every one suspected militant.
All who consider themselves followers of Christ should demand that the U.S. immediately cease the use of drones in Pakistan, with which the U.S. government has killed hundreds of civilians in a nation with which we are not officially at war.
According to Anti-War.com:
- In the first attack [on July 8], drones fired six missiles at a mountaintop training camp, killing 10.
- Later more drones fired missiles at four vehicles 12 miles east, killing at least another 35. One official said the death toll could rise as high as 50 when all is said and done.
- Yesterday [July 7], the drones had attacked another compound, killing at least 16 and wounding around 30 others.
- On Friday [July 3], another strike killed 17.
So far there are no reports that any high profile militants have been killed in any of the strikes.
These drone strikes are outrageously dangerous for civilians for two reasons. First, the mechanical and physical distance involved makes it extremely easy psychologically for the drone operators to kill. From Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing:
Artillery crews, bomber crews, naval gunners, and missile crews–at sea and on the ground–are all protected by the same powerful combination of group absolution, mechanical distance, and, most pertinent to our current discussion, physical distance.
In years of research and reading on the subject of killing in combat I have not found one single instance of individuals who have refused to kill the enemy under these circumstances, nor have I found a single instance of psychiatric trauma associated with this type of killing.
Second, because we lack human intelligence on the ground (or even people who can speak the language on the ground), we rely on paid informants equipped with small infrared homing beacons. These spotters basically get paid commission on each bomb that falls, which encourages them to plant homing beacons in as many places as possible–including in the homes of non-combatants.
The pictures of the “chips with 9 volt batteries”…bear a sharp resemblance to the Phoenix and Pegasus models of infrared flashing beacons made by Cejay Engineering. The devices are used by the U.S. military…The gadgets use LEDs, powered by a 9 volt battery, to emit beacons of infrared light that are visible only through night vision equipment. …They can weigh as little as a half-ounce, are as small as an inch-and-a-quarter, and have a battery life of nearly 100 hours…
American Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft are both equipped with infrared cameras, making such beacons a natural drone signaling mechanism. And because the devices are relatively simple and cheap — less sophisticated models can be purchased online for as little as $25 each — they can be handed out to informants, without fear of compromising clandestine, sophisticated American technology.
In April, 19 year-old Habibur Rehman made a videotaped “confession” of planting such devices, just before he was executed by the Taliban as an American spy. “I was given $122 to drop chips wrapped in cigarette paper at Al Qaeda and Taliban houses,” he said. If I was successful, I was told, I would be given thousands of dollars.”
But Rehman says he didn’t just tag jihadists with the devices. “The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money,” he added. Which raises the possibility that the unmanned aircraft…may have been lead to the wrong targets.
While news reports relay intelligence officials’ characterizations of those killed by this week’s strikes as “militants” in “strongholds” and “training camps,” we may never know for sure just who died in these blasts. According to AP:
Independent verification of the casualties and the target was not possible because the region is remote, dangerous and largely inaccessible to journalists. U.S. officials do not publicly comment on the strikes.
As of late May, drone strikes in Pakistan killed “780 civilians and about 50 alleged terrorists”. If the past civilian-to-suspected-militant ratio held true for these most recent strikes, the drones would have killed roughly five suspected militants and 73 civilians.
Ground the drones, now.