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Religious Leaders Question the Morality of Drone Strikes



Recently, a small remote-controlled aircraft crashed on the grounds of the White House -- the official home of the president of the United States. Experts say there is no good way to protect against these now widely available devices -- often called drones.

The U.S. Secret Service has launched an investigation of the crash. This was not the first incident of a flying machine on the White House grounds. In September 1994, a pilot crashed a small airplane into the area known as the South Lawn. That event led to increased security. But the latest incident calls attention to the increased vulnerability of the traditional home of U.S. presidents.

Matthew Waite is a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska. Mr. Waite says the White House is well protected. But he warns that someone who wants to can still create a lot of problems. In his words, “if somebody wants to cause harm and havoc with a device and some explosives, there is very little to stop them.”

Under the Obama administration, drones are a secretive yet important part of United States efforts for fighting terrorism overseas. Supporters say targeted drone attacks keep U.S. troops out of harm’s way while limiting injuries to civilians.

But some religious leaders say the use of unmanned aircraft to attack suspected terrorists is morally wrong. At a recent meeting in New Jersey, they demanded an immediate halt to such raids.

The group of religious leaders first met in 2006 after reports about possible mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. That meeting started an influential movement against torture. Now, they are talking about the morality of drone warfare.

The Reverend George Hunsinger teaches theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He calls drone attacks “remote-controlled killing”.

“It is a video game! You see these soldiers, these pilots, joking in the cockpit, and you see what is on the screen, and you see the crosshairs and so on, and they are blowing people up as they cross the street, on a sidewalk. On what grounds?”

U.S. officials say drone attacks have killed known terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. But human rights groups say civilians are often killed in the attacks. They say civilian deaths are hard to count because the drone program is partly directed by the Central Intelligence Agency.

During his recent visit to India, President Obama suggested that drone attacks would continue in areas like Yemen.

“Because the alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve.”

Susan Thistlethwaite is a former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary. She says that some of the actions taken by the United States are contradictory.

“We have an administration or State Department conducting one foreign policy, and we have the CIA conducting a different and in many ways contradictory foreign policy!”

“Drones allow you to use violence in situations where you would never send in boots on the ground, troops. So that it actually expands the theater of war. And you could make a case now that drones make the whole world a battlefield.”

Mohamed Magid is a Muslim religious leader. He was born in Sudan. He says drone attacks create more terrorists.

The religious leaders are largely opposed to warfare. But their earlier campaign helped influence Congress to investigate the conditions at Abu Ghraib. In the end, former President George W. Bush banned the use of torture.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This report is based on stories from VOA reporters George Putic and Jerome Socolovsky. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

contradictory – n. involving or having information that disagrees with other information; containing a contradiction

dronen. an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control or computers

seminary – n. a school for training religious leaders (such as priests, ministers, and rabbis)

theologyn. the study of God and religious beliefs

Secret Servicen. a U.S. government department in charge of protecting elected leaders of the U.S. and visiting leaders

vulnerableadj. open to attack, harm, or damage

What do you think about the use of drones? Should regular citizens have access to them? Are drones used in war morally wrong?

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