The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday declared its opposition to targeted killings by military drones unless due process is followed.
The Assembly also called on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would restrict use of drones.
“The goal is to ensure that in any justification of targeting human beings that the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens are protected, international law upheld, noncombatants safeguarded, U.S. strategic goals served, and the larger goal of peace and justice advanced,” the action said. The Assembly proposed that Congress establish civilian oversight for the use of drones, but it also urged that “checks be put on executive power” related to drones.
The resolution on drones was brought to the Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International issues. It was divided into four separate actions, all of which passed by wide margins.
The committee’s recommendation was an amended version of a resolution sponsored by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
Chris Iosso, coordinator of ACSWP, said the pervasiveness of drones was one reason that ACSWP recommended regulation rather than the outright ban of drones. “We did take the more conservative position vis-a-vis drones because they cannot be put in the bottle,” Iosso said. He said countries around the world are using them.
Ed Fedor, a teaching elder commissioner and a military chaplain from the Presbytery of Sacramento, said it would be “naïve at best” to call for the ban of drones. “This is the wave of the future for the U.S. military,” he said. He predicted that years from now manned aircraft would not be used in combat.
Drones are a concern of people around the world, former GA moderator Rick-Ufford Chase told the Assembly. Ufford-Chase said during his travels as moderator from 2004 to 2006 he repeatedly heard the church’s global partners express their distress about the use of drones.
“Terror reigns when these weapons fly over their communities,” he said. He urged approval of the ACSWP proposal.
The Assembly also passed two actions related to Cuba. One urges the U.S. government to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, and the other requests the Obama administration to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The United States restricted the travel of its citizens to Cuba and imposed an economic boycott on the country in the early 1960s after Fidel Castro seized power. In 1982, it was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism amid charges that it supported insurgent groups in Latin America and permitted fugitives wanted in the United States to reside there.
In other action, the Assembly sent to the presbyteries five affirmations related to the church’s commitment to peace and non-violence. The presbyteries were asked to discuss the affirmations and take an advisory vote.
The affirmations, developed by ACSWP and amended by the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee, are part of a six-year church-wide peace discernment process initiated by the 219th General Assembly (2010). The affirmations uphold the essential role of peacemaking for Christians, confess Christian complicity in the world’s violence, reclaim Christ’s authority as the Prince of Peace and commit to nonviolent responses to conflicts in daily living, communities and the world.