Drone wars undermine 'checks and balances' - Army chaplain resigning over strikes

© Christopher Griffin
The Obama administration's drone strike policies around the world have "blown accountability and oversight and checks and balances up in smoke," a US Army chaplain who left the military in April told RT in an interview.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, sent via the US Army Human Resources Command, Reverend Chris Antal, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, said he stepped down from his post based on the "unaccountable killing" that has resulted from American drone warfare in nations such as Pakistan and Yemen.

Antal wrote in his resignation letter that he was stepping down because "the Executive Branch continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials. I refuse to support this policy of unaccountable killing."

Data collected by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) shows that over the past 10 years, drone strikes have killed up to 1,000 civilians and as many as 7,000 total in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.

Capable of surveillance and firing missiles, Predator and Reaper drones have been used to attack stateless targets – with much danger to civilians, according to numerous reports – all without an international legal framework and with only the US government’s take-our-word-for-it assurances that lethal drones are guided by some sort of ethical or moral compass.

"These drone wars have blown accountability and oversight and checks and balances up in smoke," Antal said in an interview with RT. "We need to stop killing people with drones until the administration is transparent and accountable, and the public can figure out just what is going on."

Comprehensive tracking of drone strikes by TBIJ indicates that President Obama has greatly increased the use of drones during his two terms in the White House, expanding drone warfare to new heights amid his more covert version of the 'war on terror' in contrast to the ground wars preferred by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Antal said he has experienced moral conflict "between by duties as a military officer and my responsibilities as an ordained minister, and I couldn't reconcile those moral conflicts. And, for me, resignation was the best course of action."

Antal said he refused to be an "empire chaplain."

"The president, as commander-in-chief, has assumed the role of judge, jury, and executioner in the drone strikes that completely undermine due process," he told RT. "It undermines the checks-and-balances system of our government, and the public is left without proper information to make informed decisions."

The Unitarian minister said he was also disturbed by the billions of dollars the US spent to upgrade its nuclear weapons cache.

"There is no morally defensible use of this weapon of mass destruction," he said, adding that he has met with victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings of 1945. "I'm deeply troubled by the administration's backsliding on nuclear promises as well as the plans the White House has approved to begin a new air-dropped nuclear cruise missile. This tortures my conscience and wounds my soul."

The Obama administration has claimed that drone strikes are used only against alleged suspects of terror around the world. In April, Obama said though intelligence on the targets is “checked, double-checked, triple-checked," he admitted civilians unrelated to any alleged wrongdoing have been killed.

US officials long avoided acknowledging that the CIA was involved in drone strikes. The New York Times reported in May 2012 that those targeted for strikes – Obama's ‘kill list’ – are cleared through the White House during weekly meetings dubbed ‘Terror Tuesdays.’

The US justifies drone strikes in nations like Pakistan with the 2011 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), a law the US Congress passed days after the 9/11 strikes that granted the US president the right to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those behind the attacks on America.

In May 2013, nearly 12 years after the law’s signing, Obama clarified who falls into that broad category as “Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and its associated forces,” while
promising reforms to the drone program that are difficult to verify based on the government's secrecy.

In February, the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, said in a report that the Obama administration has made little to no progress on US drone policy transparency in recent years.

"Little progress has been made during the past year and a half to enact reforms that establish a more sensible US drone policy consistent with America’s long-term security and economic interests. The lack of a clear drone policy risks leaving a legacy on drone use that is based on secrecy and a lack of accountability that undermines efforts to support the international rule of law," the study’s author, Rachel Stohl, said in the report.

Both the US Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency are using drones, and not just overseas. In March, the Pentagon disclosed that it has used military drones for aerial surveillance within the US. A month later, a US appeals court affirmed the Obama administration's assertion that the CIA does not have to disclose victims or information associated with its "targeted killing" drone assassination program.

The Obama administration is preparing to reveal "how many militants and noncombatant civilians it has killed since 2009" in "places where the United States conducts airstrikes but does not consider itself officially at war," the Washington Post reported in late May.