Death by the Numbers

The Predator and Reaper drones in most common use by the CIA and U.S. military carry 500-pound GPS-guided bombs or Hellfire missiles. The bombs can destroy whole neighborhoods, while Hellfire missiles are designed to explode afterhitting their target, spewing shrapnel and “incendiary pellets” to “ensure target destruction.”

DRONE WATCH: Deliberately Killing U.S. Citizens

Editor's Note: DRONE WATCH follows daily developments about drone strikes and policy concerning the highly controversial usage of drones. To keep up to date, follow our Quick Read blog HERE.

One of the most hotly contested points of the administration’s drone policy is its claim to have legal justification for killing U.S. citizens. Now we have their rationale for that claim. Michael Isikoff, National Investigative Correspondent for NBC News, published on Monday a memo he says was given to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June.

The “Department of Justice White Paper” outlines certain conditions for an attack. An “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” must determine that the targeted U.S. citizen is a “senior, operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force,” poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” “capture is infeasible,” and the attack is conducted in a way consistent with “law of war principles.”  In those conditions, the memo says, “a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who has joined al-Qa’ida or its associated forces would be lawful under U.S. and international law.”

DRONE WATCH: Death From Above

Drone Watch. Image by Kurt Lightner for Sojourners.

Drone Watch. Image by Kurt Lightner for Sojourners.

Last month, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged in a public speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that the United States was using armed unmanned drones to kill alleged militants.

Brennan’s acknowledgement was the only “new” news. 

Beginning in earnest under President George W. Bush and dramatically escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is now using drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), and has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya). Going by the names Reaper and Predator, firing missiles named Hellfire, the drones are responsible for thousands of deaths, including hundreds of women and children.

Why drones?

There are three major reasons opponents of the unmanned death planes usually give. First, in fighting against terrorist and insurgent organizations, the United States has adopted a kill — not capture — strategy. With a “kill list” of targets, the attacks aim at known or suspected leaders.

Second, the attacks can be carried out with no danger to American troops. Remotely guided from distant locations, drones are a way of carrying out risk-free military operations. Third, with the attacks increasingly under the control of the CIA rather than the military, they can be conducted with a high degree of secrecy. Whom the drones targeted and killed, and how many civilians may have also been killed, is free of scrutiny.

Assessing the Afghanistan War

Over the past few days, news sources have reported on a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan delivered to the White House in December. NIEs represent the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies on national security issues, and are completed for use by high-level policy makers.

The document remains classified, and news reports have emphasized different points.

McClatchy Newspapers wrote of a warning that “Taliban leaders haven't abandoned their goal of reclaiming power and reimposing harsh Islamic rule on Afghanistan.” The article quotes “a U.S. official” as saying, "There is no indication that the Taliban are ready to settle for a goal short of total control over an Islamic emirate."

While the U.S. military has made some gains since President Obama sent additional troops a year ago, the article says the NIE concludes they may not be sustainable.

Jim Wallis and Richard Land: Join the Great Conversation

People of faith -- including evangelical Christians -- will be voting both ways in the upcoming election. It is simply not true that they will be voting only on one or two issues.

And, if evangelicals focus on many of the issues central to their faith, rather than becoming partisan cheerleaders, they might be able to raise some critical issues in this election and to hold both sides more accountable, even in a campaign that both Richard and I suspect will be one of the ugliest in U.S. history.

At the end of the evening, Amy remarked that if the upcoming election debates were as civil and substantive as this evening was, we would all be very grateful.

News: Quick Links

Baby steppin': Economy grew 2.5 percent in the third quarter. Democrats first offer: $3 trillion for debt. Immigration is a faith issue. Harsh rhetoric to derail the GOP? The canon of St. Paul's Cathedral in London resigns over plans to evict Occupy London protesters. Elizabeth Warren and the #OccupyWallStreet election test.

Did Someone Say "Class Warfare"?

When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"

God and Class Warfare

Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.

So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.