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115 groups demand Biden end ‘unlawful’ drone strikes

An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV., June 25, 2015. (Senior Airman Cory D. Payne/U.S. Air Force)
July 14, 2021

On June 30, 115 different organizations representing various civil liberties, human rights, religious and anti-war causes sent a letter to President Joe Biden demanding he end “the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.”

“We, the undersigned organizations, focus variously on human rights, civil rights and civil liberties, racial, social, and environmental justice, humanitarian approaches to foreign policy, faith-based initiatives, peacebuilding, government accountability, veterans’ issues, and the protection of civilians,” the letter begins. “We write to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones. This program is a centerpiece of the United States’ forever wars and has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black communities in multiple parts of the world. Your administration’s current review of this program, and the approaching 20th anniversary of 9/11, is an opportunity to abandon this war-based approach and chart a new path forward that promotes and respects our collective human security.”

The letter was organized with groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Human Rights Watch, Progressive Democrats of America and the Open Society Policy Center, among others. The original signing groups included 77 U.S.-based human rights and anti-war groups and 36 international groups, for 113 original signers total. An additional two groups also signed onto the letter after it was sent to Biden on June 30.

Human rights groups have long denounced the use of drones strikes against what U.S. officials have deemed are terrorist targets, particularly in areas outside of areas the U.S. has established as traditional combat zones.

The U.S. use of drone strikes has rapidly expanded throughout the nearly 20-year global war on terror. According to a January 2017 report by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there was a tenfold increase in U.S. drone strikes under President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Biden than under President George W. Bush. The U.S. reliance on drone strikes continued during the Trump presidency. In May, Just Security reported, based on documents obtained by the ACLU, that Trump had relaxed Obama-era rules to account for U.S. drone strikes.

The Hill reported that shortly after taking office as president, Biden ordered a review of the U.S. policies surrounding drone strikes. The Hill reported such strikes are still allowed but now require new high-level reviews before they are approved.

“We appreciate your stated commitments to ending ‘forever wars,’ promoting racial justice, and centering human rights in U.S. foreign policy,” the letter concludes. “Disavowing and ending the lethal strikes program is both a human rights and racial justice imperative in meeting these commitments.”

The full letter reads:

June 30, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned organizations, focus variously on human rights, civil rights and civil liberties, racial, social, and environmental justice, humanitarian approaches to foreign policy, faith-based initiatives, peacebuilding, government accountability, veterans’ issues, and the protection of civilians. We write to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones. This program is a centerpiece of the United States’ forever wars and has exacted an appalling toll on Muslim, Brown, and Black communities in multiple parts of the world. Your administration’s current review of this program, and the approaching 20th anniversary of 9/11, is an opportunity to abandon this war-based approach and chart a new path forward that promotes and respects our collective human security.

Successive presidents have now claimed the unilateral power to authorize secretive extrajudicial killing outside any recognized battlefield, with no meaningful accountability for wrongful deaths and civilian lives lost and injured. This lethal strikes program is a cornerstone of the broader U.S. war-based approach, which has led to wars and other violent conflicts; hundreds of thousands dead, including significant civilian casualties; massive human displacement; and indefinite military detention and torture. It has caused lasting psychological trauma and deprived families of beloved members, as well as means of survival. In the United States, this approach has contributed to further militarized and violent approaches to domestic policing; bias-based racial, ethnic, and religious profiling in investigations, prosecutions, and watchlisting; warrantless surveillance; and epidemic rates of addiction and suicide among veterans, among other harms. It is past time to change course and start repairing the damage done.

We appreciate your stated commitments to ending “forever wars,” promoting racial justice, and centering human rights in U.S. foreign policy. Disavowing and ending the lethal strikes program is both a human rights and racial justice imperative in meeting these commitments. Twenty years into a war-based approach that has undermined and violated fundamental rights, we urge you to abandon it and embrace an approach that advances our collective human security. That approach should be rooted in promoting human rights, justice, equality, dignity, peacebuilding, diplomacy, and accountability, in action as well as words.

Sincerely,

U.S.-Based Organizations

About Face: Veterans Against the War

Action Center on Race & the Economy

Alliance for Peacebuilding

Alliance of Baptists

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA)

American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)

Amnesty International USA

Beyond the Bomb

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Victims of Torture

CODEPINK

Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Common Defense

Center for International Policy

Center for Nonviolent Solutions

Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

CorpWatch

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Council on American-Islamic Relations (Washington Chapter)

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress Education Fund

Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)

Dissenters

Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC)

Ensaaf

Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)

*Friends Committee on National Legislation

Global Justice Clinic,

NYU School of Law

Government Information Watch

Human Rights First

Human Rights Watch

ICNA Council for Social Justice

Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Justice For Muslims Collective

Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice

Kent State Truth Tribunal

*Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Military Families Speak Out

Muslim Justice League

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

North Carolina Peace Action

Open Society Policy Center

Orange County Peace Coalition

Pax Christi USA

Peace Action Peace Education Center

Poligon Education Fund

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Office of Public Witness

Progressive Democrats of America

Project Blueprint

Queer Crescent

Rethinking Foreign Policy

RootsAction.org

Saferworld (Washington Office)

Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

ShelterBox USA

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Sunrise Movement

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United for Peace and Justice

University Network for Human Rights

US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI)

Veterans For Peace

Western New York Pax Christi

Win Without War

Women for Afghan Women

Women for Weapons Trade Transparency

Women Watch Afrika

Women’s Action for New Directions

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom US

Internationally-Based Organizations

AFARD-MALI (Mali)

Alf Ba Civilian and Coexistence Foundation (Yemen)

Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development (Nigeria)

BUCOFORE (Chad)

Building Blocks for Peace Foundation(Nigeria)

Campaña Colombiana Contra Minas (Colombia)

Centre for Democracy and Development (Nigeria)

Center for Policy Analysis of Horn of Africa (Somaliland)

Conciliation Resources (United Kingdom)

Defence for Human Rights (Yemen)

Digital Shelter (Somalia)

Drone Wars UK

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

Foundation for Fundamental Rights (Pakistan)

Heritage Institute for Somali Studies (Somalia)

Initiatives for International Dialogue (Philippines)

International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS)

IRIAD (Italy)

Justice Project Pakistan

Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL)

Mareb Girls Foundation (Yemen)

Mwatana for Human Rights (Yemen)

National Organization for Development Society (Yemen)

National Partnership of Children and Youth in Peacebuilding (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

PAX (Netherlands)

Peace Direct (United Kingdom)

Peace Initiative Network (Nigeria)

Peace Training and Research Organisation (PTRO) (Afghanistan)

Reprieve (United Kingdom)

Shadow World Investigations (United Kingdom)

Witness Somalia

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

World BEYOND War Yemeni Youth Forum for Peace

The Youth Cafe (Kenya)

Youth for Peace and Development (Zimbabwe)

*Joined after June 30, 2021