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What has God got to do with drones?: Get Religion, October 24, 2012 October 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,”a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.

So began Peter Arnett’s 8 Feb 1968 report from the town of Ban Tre. Published in the New York Times under the headline “Major Describes Move“, time has improved the quotation to various forms of “we had to destroy the village to save it”. Questions of the proportionality of  response to a threat have been present in war reporting from the start of the craft in the Nineteenth century to the present conflict in Afghanistan. However the questions raised by Peter Arnett have been debated for more than a millennium in the theological and philosophical speculations of “just war” theory.

The moral issues surrounding the use of unmanned drones has been been raised from time to time in the U.S. press and addressed by my colleague Mollie Hemingway on the pages of GetReligion. However, the European press has been particularly exercised over their use in the battle with the Taliban. Tuesday’s Guardian in London gave the issue the front page treatment in its story on the activation of an RAF squadron operating from Britain that will control drones flying over Afghanistan. However the Guardian approaches the issue of ethics without reference to religion.

The article entitled “UK to double number of drones in Afghanistan” begins:

The UK is to double the number of armed RAF “drones” flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the aircraft will be controlled from terminals and screens in Britain.

In the new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan, the Guardian can reveal. It is expected they will begin operations within six weeks. Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months.

Details of the new squadron’s operations are discussed and then the story moves to the moral issues involved in the use of unmanned drone attacks.

The use of drones has become one of the most controversial features of military strategy in Afghanistan. The UK has been flying them almost non-stop since 2008.

The CIA’s programme of “targeted” drone killings in Pakistan’s tribal area was last month condemned in a report by US academics. The attacks are politically counterproductive, kill large numbers of civilians and undermine respect for international law, according to the study by Stanford and New York universities’ law schools.

After raising the moral issues, the Guardian steps back somewhat and dives into eight paragraphs of operational details before resurfacing with this statement.

The MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimise civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died because of the “immense difficulty and risks” of verifying who has been hit. …In December 2010, David Cameron claimed that 124 insurgents had been killed in UK drone strikes. But defence officials said they had no idea where the prime minister got the figure and denied it was from the MoD.

Let me start off by commending the Guardian‘s reporter for raising the moral issues surrounding the targeted killing of America and Britain’s enemies. A story published the same day in the Washington Post on the administration’s plans to create kill lists of enemies was silent on the moral issues — though it did mention that there had been legal challenges to the government’s use of drones to kill American citizens in enemy ranks. As an aside, I am surprised by the lack of outrage over the targeted killing program from the press. America has been down this road before. The Phoenix program in Vietnam sparked congressional hearings and a steady flow of moral outrage up through the Carter Administration.

Was it sufficient for the Guardian to put forward the objections of some American law school professors when raising the moral issues of drone warfare? There are any number of philosophers and theologians who could have offered cogent critiques of the morality of drone warfare — Britain’s smartest man, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has been outspoken in his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and has lectured on the issue of “just war” to military audiences. The choice of whom to quote, of course, lies with the author — but my sense of this story is that the religious element is outside the reporter’s knowledge. Ethics for the Guardian is not tied to religion.

This is, for me, is the journalism question in this story. There is an ethical ghost here — but what sort of ethical ghost, secular or religious?

The Christian tradition holds that morality without religion is impossible. There can be ethics without religion, but these ethics are necessarily incomplete or flawed. In his book Morality after Auschwitz, Peter Haas asked how Germany could have willingly participated in a state-sponsored program of genocide. His answer was that:

far from being contemptuous of ethics, the perpetrators acted in strict conformity with an ethic which held that, however difficult and unpleasant the task might have been, mass extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was entirely justified. . . . the Holocaust as a sustained effort was possible only because a new ethic was in place that did not define the arrest and deportation of Jews as wrong and in fact defined it as ethically tolerable and ever good.

If there is no God, there is no good and evil, no right and wrong, or as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said in the Brothers Karamazov, “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”

Against this view we have philosophers and ethicists such as Prof. Peter Singer of Princeton University who have argued  “that an intellectually coherent ethic has to be independent of religion and that’s an argument that goes right back to Socrates and Plato.”

Whether unconsciously or by choice, the Guardian has come down on one side of this argument. There is no God.

For those of us who are unpersuaded that there can be right or wrong without a God, should it have provided the arguments of religious ethics when addressing morality? Or should we take another newspaper?

What say you GetReligion readers? How should intelligent journalism address this question?

First printed in GetReligion.

Camp Bastion crosses: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2011 p 6. May 1, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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A chaplain serving with the 3rd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment at Camp Bastion has found a novel way to meet the pastoral needs of his troops in Afghanistan.

The Rev. Robin Richardson, who returns to Britain on April 24 after a six month deployment hands out crosses made from the wire fencing surrounding the camp to paratroopers in Helmand Province.

“Towards the beginning of the tour, some of the lads asked me if I had some crosses I could give them,” Padre Richardson said.  “I found a few at Camp Bastion, and I gave them out. I ran out very quickly.”

“So I wandered around our camp at Shahzad, trying to find something I could fashion into a cross. And I noticed some discarded Hesco wire, and I saw lots and lots of crosses.”

The wire is part of the fortified perimeter of Camp  Bastion, with gravel and sand held in place by wire mesh.   “I got busy with some bolt-cutters and a hammer and a drill,” the padre said, “and I started making small crosses out of the discarded wire.”

“A lot of the lads have asked if they can have one,” he said. “And they’ve been wearing them, and understanding a bit about what lies behind it.”

Improvisation has been one of the hallmarks of Padre Richardson, who has kept a blog during his deployment overseas.  On April 5, the padre described a field baptism of a young soldier.  “That we had no kind of font or baptistry was irrelevant. We had a big blue plastic barrel that the lads dunk themselves in after a patrol to cool down, and we had a mug cut from the container that held a mortar round.”

Friends of Adam, the young man, “those he lives alongside, and with whom he had discussed his decision, his choice, his desire to be baptized” stood with the young man beside the barrel as the padre read “words I’ve prayed with lads in CPs during the tour, words I prayed with a young man as he laid critically ill in a hospital bed and now words of promise for Adam at his baptism.  Words from the book of Joshua chapter 1 that God had promised a faithful soldier thousands of years earlier.”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

“There was silence as I baptised Adam,” Padre Richardson wrote, “until he stood and his mates, some of toughest most professional soldiers you could find, paratroopers all, clapped and stepped forward wide-armed to congratulate their friend. I needed a few moments to let it all sink in. It was quite simply one of those moments that help to remind you what it’s all about.”

St Patrick’s Day celebrated in Helmand: The Church of England Newspaper, March 18, 2011 March 18, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland.
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Lord Eames celebrating St Patrick's Day with soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The former Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Eames, celebrated St Patrick’s Day last week with soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment at memorial services at Forward Operating Base Shawquat in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.

Lord Eames’ March 17 visit took place during the inspection by MPs and Peers of the 16 Air Assault Brigade’s work at Camp Bastion.

“It is an immense privilege to visit the Royal Irish Regiment and to see the wonderful progress they have enabled the local community in Helmand to make towards stability and confidence,” said Lord Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland from 1986 to 2006.

The visit opened with Lord Eames joining the officers and men of the regiment at a memorial service for Lance Corporal Stephen McKee, who was killed in action by an improvised explosive device on March 9.

The death of Lance Corporal McKee “has cast a shadow over our celebrations of St Patrick’s Day but Northern Ireland should be very proud of what he and all his colleagues have achieved here,” Lord Eames said.

Lt. Col. Colin Weir, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment thanked the archbishop for his “warm and inspirational words during the vigil for the repatriation” of Lance Corporal McKee, “sent home by his comrades on St Patrick’s Day.”

The regiment held its St Patrick’s Day parade later that day, with piper, bugler and shamrocks brought from Ulster for the occasion. Lord Eames presented a shamrock to those present, and rededicated the memorial to the 40 British soldiers killed in action in Helmand.

“Many soldiers from the island of Ireland are serving across Task Force Helmand on this St Patrick’s Day,” said Chaplain Andrew Totten of the 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Lord Eames “formerly Archbishop of Armagh and successor to St Patrick, inspired the Royal Irish with his presence and message, sharing St Patrick’s ancient vision of Peace and Hope,” the chaplain said.

Malmesbury Abbey welcomes returning Afghanistan veterans: The Church of England Newspaper, July 10, 2010 July 11, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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A service of Thanksgiving was held at Malmesbury Abbey on June 29 for the men of 9 Regiment Royal Logistics Corp on their return from deployment in Afghanistan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire played host to soldiers of 9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) at a memorial service on June 29, welcoming the troops home following a six month deployment in Afghanistan.

At a ceremony in the town square, the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire presented 150 men with campaign medals for their service in Operation HERRICK in Afghanistan, followed by the service of thanksgiving at the Abbey.

The Rev. Andrew Cooper, Senior Chaplain Cotswold Garrison and 2nd Signal Brigade, and the unit’s chaplain, led the service at the abbey church, assisted by the Vicar of Malmesbury, the Rev. Neill Archer, and his assistant, the Rev. Mike Noah, the local chaplain to the Royal British Legion.

“To come home and receive such a massive level of support from the local community is quite amazing, and unique in my twenty plus years service to date,” said Lt. Col. Simon Jordan, the unit’s commanding officer.

During their tour, 9 Regt RLC served with the Theatre Logistics Corp providing British forces with everything from bullets, body armour and medical supplies to fuel, rations, water and welfare facilities and were stationed in Kandahar and Camp Bastion in Helmand province.  The Regiment returned from Afghanistan with few casualties, and no deaths or serious injuries.

Founded in 676, Malmesbury Abbey was in continuous existence as a Benedictine monastery until it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.  A local wool merchant who purchased the abbey lands from the crown gave the abbey church to the town, which continues to use it as the parish church for the community.

German bishop resigns over drink-driving: CEN 3.05.10 p 7. March 15, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England Newspaper, EKD.
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Bishop Margot Kaessmann

The President Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (EKD) has resigned after being arrested for drunk driving in Hanover.

The Rt. Rev. Margot Käßmann (Kaessmann) was stopped by police for running a red traffic signal on Feb 20 and failed a field sobriety test. Under German law driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.11 per cent is a criminal offence. The bishop’s blood alcohol level was 0.154 per cent, three times the .05 per cent legal limit, making it likely that if convicted, she would lose her driver’s licence for a year.

“I made a serious mistake that I regret deeply,” Bishop Kaessmann told a televised news conference on Feb 24.

“My heart tells me very clearly that I cannot remain in office with the necessary authority,” she said, stating that she no longer had the moral authority to “name and judge ethical and political challenges.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel stated she had valued working with the bishop, but accepted her decision “with respect and regret.”

German newspapers had a field day with the arrest, reprinting past statements made by Bishop Kaessmann condemning alcohol abuse and drunk driving. Bishop Kaessmann told the press last year she was giving up alcohol for Lent stating she “noticed how a glass of wine in the evening can become a habit.”.

Spiegel reported that three years ago the Bishop condemned drunk drivers saying “sometimes there is a lack of awareness particularly when drink and drugs are involved.”

“Sometimes on the motorway I see people driving as though they have no idea of how powerful a car is, even at 50 kilometres per hour, in other words how a car can really destroy lives.

Bild reported that in one column the bishop wrote that “wine is a part of life, but it should be enjoyed in moderation,” she said, adding that “even the Bible warns about drunkenness. I like … light white wines.”

After her arrest the bishop told Bild she was “shocked” that she “could make such a terrible mistake,” and added she was “aware of how dangerous and irresponsible drinking and driving is, and am ready for the legal consequences.”

Elected chairman of the EKD’s church council on Oct 28, 2009 at the church’s national synod meeting in Ulm, Bishop Kaessmann is the first women to lead Germany’s 25 million Lutherans. A mother of four, her election stirred controversy in conservative quarters as she divorced her husband, a fellow Lutheran pastor, in 2007 after 26 years of marriage.

The new bishop has taken a high public profile since her election, and has condemned as immoral the government’s operations in Afghanistan. At two New Year’s church services, she told congregations in Berlin and Dresden she did not approve of NATO strategy in Afghanistan, where 4,500 German soldiers serve with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

“Even by the loosest possible standards of the Protestant church, this war is unjustifiable. That is why there needs to be an end to the violent conflict as soon as possible,” she told the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

She called it “infuriating” that “military methods had once again taken priority” before other methods. “The population will only accept a peaceful new beginning if peaceful methods are used,” she said, calling for immediate peace talks with the Taliban.

German political leaders and veterans’ groups denounced her views as “not helpful”, “naïve”, and “unrealistic.” Germany fields the third-largest force contingent after the United States and Britain, who have asked it to commit more troops towards the stabilization of the country.

Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg met with Bishop Kaessmann last month and has invited her to visit the Bundeswehr’s mission in Afghanistan. It is too soon to tell if the bishop’s drunk driving arrest and resignation will affect the political calculus of the anti-war movement in Germany, analysts tell The Church of England Newspaper.

Call for prayer for Korean hostages: CEN 8.01.07 August 2, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England Newspaper.
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THE PRESBYTERIAN Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) has issued a call for prayer following the execution of a second Korean missionary by the Taliban.A spokesman for the hard-line Afghani Islamist group told AFP on July 31 via telephone that they had killed a German hostage and a Korean missionary after their self-imposed deadline for negotiations expired on Monday night. Call for prayer for Korean hostages

Read it all in the Church of England Newspaper.

Taliban threat to South Korean missionaries: CEN 7.25.07 July 26, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England Newspaper.
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THE TALIBAN have seized 23 South Korean missionaries, and have threatened to kill them unless Seoul withdraws its 200 troops serving with coalition forces in Afghanistan.On July 19 the 18 women and five men were seized on a bus traveling from Kabul to Khandahar. The missionaries, evangelical Christians, are members of the medical aid group Korean Action in Khandahar. Taliban threat to South Korean missionaries

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Council Fully Funds ACC’s Asking: TLC 3.07.07 March 7, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Anglican Consultative Council, Executive Council, Living Church.
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The Episcopal Church will contribute 27 percent of the budget of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in 2007 and for the fourth consecutive year, no funds have been set aside to cover the cost of the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops.

Meeting in Portland, Ore., March 2-4, the Executive Council voted to fully fund the ACC’s asking for the current triennium, and pledged $661,000 for 2007, $687,440 for 2008 and $713,880 in 2009, making it the second-largest donor to the ACC among the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Read it all in The Living Church.

Afghani FM — Rogue Pakistani agents boosting Taliban: JP 2.04.07 February 4, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, British Foreign Policy, Jerusalem Post.
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Rogue elements of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, have reequipped the Taliban and are seeking to destabilize Afghanistan, the country’s foreign minister claimed Friday.

While on a two-day visit to London, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) that “within Pakistan’s military intelligence establishment there is a very powerful circle who are seeking a protracted Afghanistan, not an independent Afghanistan.”

Read it all in the Jerusalem Post.

Executive Council Affirms Church’s Membership in Abortion Rights Group: TLC 1.20.06 January 20, 2006

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Afghanistan, Executive Council, Living Church.
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The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has approved the Church’s membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), an organization whose literature states its “primary role is educating the public to make clear that abortion can be a moral, ethical, and religiously responsible decision.”

The vote during the Jan. 9-12 meeting held in Des Moines, Iowa, came upon a recommendation from the Executive Council’s Committee on National Concerns. John Vanderstar, an Executive Council member from the Diocese of Washington who proposed the resolution, said it was intended to clarify the Church’s relationship to the organization.

Read it all in The Living Church.