The prayer service below was prepared by Art Laffin of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C. It is a revised version of a service offered at the White House on May 4, 2012 and can be adapted for a nonviolent public witness or worship setting.

Prayer Service to End the Use of Lethal Drones

Song: Peace Prayer


What are Drones? (Taken from: Drones-Children Victims of War web site)

MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV

MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They are aircraft which are either controlled by pilots on the ground, often thousands of miles away from the action, or are programmed to function autonomously without any direct human control. Drones can be used for reconnaissance and surveillance or to drop missiles and bombs.

Pilotless aircraft have been experimented with since the World War I. The first “aerial torpedo” was the Kettering Bug first flown in 1918 but developed too late to be of use in the war. By World War II, radio-controlled surveillance and assault drones had been developed by the US Navy. In 1942 an assault drone successfully delivered a torpedo attack from a distance of 20 miles but their utilization remained limited. The use of drones for reconnaissance took off during the Vietnam War, but it was the 1980s which saw a significant development in their military use. The Predator RQ-1L, made by General Atomics was deployed in the Balkans in 1995, in Iraq in 1996, and Afghanistan from 2001. This was followed by the development of the Reaper (also known as Predator B), which became operational in 2007.

The drones used in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are controlled from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada which is home to the 432d Wing pilots who fly the MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft in support of US and Coalition troops.

The drones are used for three main purposes: to support ground troops under attack by launching missiles and bombs from the air; giving a 24-hour-a-day surveillance of the ground and observing the “pattern of life”; to conduct targeted killings.

The CIA also, reportedly, controls a fleet of drones from its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in coordination with pilots near hidden airfields in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The drones are reportedly flown by civilians, including both intelligence officers and private contractors (often retired military personnel) and the list of targets approved by senior Government personnel, although the criteria for inclusion and all other aspects of the program are unknown. The CIA is not required to identify its target by name; rather, targeting decisions may be based on surveillance and “pattern of life” assessments.

Robotic killing
Drones are increasing the remote and robotic nature of modern hi-tech warfare. They are encouraging a “Playstation mentality” amongst the troops where killing is simply watching the movement of figures or vehicles on the ground, pushing a button and seeing them engulfed in an explosion plume. There is a huge margin of error, often because of faulty intelligence, and civilian casualties are mounting. According to Pakistan Bodycount, 2867 people have been killed or injured by drones in Pakistan alone, with a 2.5% success rate against Al-Qaida. Figures for Afghanistan and Iraq are unknown. There is also no measure for the terror and psychological damage being done to the millions of children and adults who are in the constant sights of these unmanned systems.

The Weapons
The MQ-9 Reaper carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles (including the Thermobaric version AGM- 114N), the AIM-9 Sidewinder and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition). Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. The Reaper can remain for 14 – 16 hours in the air.

(From Background Piece for Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control,
Washington DC, April 28-29, 2012)

Air Force Senior William Swain operates a sensor control for an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission on Aug. 8, 2007, at Creech Air Force Base.

Air Force Senior William Swain operates a sensor control for an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission on Aug. 8, 2007, at Creech Air Force Base.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has increasingly deployed drones in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. While the U.S. military and the CIA initially used drones primarily for surveillance, these remotely controlled aerial vehicles are currently routinely used to launch missiles against human targets in countries where the United States is not at war, including Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. As many as 3,000 people, including hundreds of noncombatants and even American citizens, have been killed in covert missions.

Our nation is leading the way toward a new form of warfare where pilots sitting on the ground thousands of miles away command drone strikes, where targets are—in military jargon—“neutralized,” and where unintended victims are dismissed as “collateral damage.” Close observers, both inside and outside the U.S. military, call this “video-game warfare.” These drone operations, directed largely by the CIA, lack necessary transparency and accountability.

Drones are also being deployed domestically by border security and law enforcement agencies. Predator drones deployed by Customs and Border Protection search for immigrants and drugs on the northern and southern borders, while metropolitan police and county sheriffs are acquiring smaller drones to assist their SWAT operations. Congress recently mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration open up domestic airspace to private and commercial drones by 2015 and that it immediately speed up the licensing process to permit the deployment of government drones (military, homeland security, and law enforcement) in commercial U.S. airways.

As drones become an increasingly preferred form of warfare and as their presence expands at home, it is time to educate ourselves, the U.S. public, and our policymakers about drone proliferation. As remotely controlled warfare and spying race forward, it is also time to organize to end current abuses and to prevent the potentially widespread misuse both overseas and here at home.

Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 2:1-5

Luke 6:27-36

“U.S. Approves Expansive Drone Strikes in Yemen” – From Democracy Now, April 26, 2012

The White House has approved a radical expansion of how it carries out drone strikes inside Yemen. The Washington Post reports President Obama has granted a CIA request to launch drone attacks even if it does not know the identities of those who will be killed. The so-called “signature” strike policy went into effect earlier this month, and at least one attack has already been launched. It is widely expected the number of U.S. drone strikes will see a radical jump with the new policy in place. At least 48 civilians have been killed in 27 U.S. strikes inside Yemen since 2009. The sweeping leeway for the strikes has already been in effect in Pakistan, where U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians.

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

“White House Acknowledges Drone Strikes,” by Greg Miller, The Washington Post, May 1, 2012

The Obama administration formally acknowledged for the first time Monday its use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects, lifting but not removing the shroud of secrecy that surrounds the nation’s expanding use of targeted killing operations overseas.

Saying President Obama had instructed aides to be more open about the issue, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan offered the most extensive outline yet of a clandestine program that officials had for years refused to discuss – even as evidence of its lethal toll mounted.

“So let me say it as simply as I can,” Brennan said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “Yes, in full accordance with the law – and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives – the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.”

The decision to acknowledge the use of drones, and that innocent civilians have been killed, comes at a time when the administration is moving to make its national security accomplishments a central issue in the presidential campaign.

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

Drones and Their Victims in Pakistan

The following is taken from a report on “Democracy Now!” February 6, 2012:

The CIA’s drone campaign targeting suspected militants in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to rescue victims or were attending funerals. So concludes a new report by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It found that since President Obama took office three years ago, as many as 535 civilians have been killed, including more than 60 children. The investigation also revealed that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. Chris Woods, award-winning reporter with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, stated that in this report, “We noted that there were repeated reports at the time, contemporaneous reports in publications like New York Times, news agencies like Reuters, by CNN, that there were these strikes on rescuers, that there were reports that there had been an initial strike and then, some minutes later, as people had come forward to help and pull out the dead and injured, that drones had returned to the scene and had attacked rescuers,” Woods says. “We’ve been able to name just over 50 civilians that we understand have been killed in those attacks. In total, we think that more than 75 civilians have been killed, specifically in these attacks on rescuers and on mourners, on funeral-goers.”

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

Taken from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism Web Site regarding U.S. Drone Strikes

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004 – 2012

Total U.S. strikes: 324
Obama strikes: 272
Total reported killed: 2,454 – 3,130
Civilians reported killed: 484 – 828
Children reported killed: 175
Total reported injured: 1,175-1,288

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

U.S. Covert Action in Yemen 2002 – 2012
Total U.S. strikes: 40 – 144
Total U.S. drone strikes: 27 – 92
Total reported killed: 296 – 794
Civilians reported killed: 55 – 133
Children reported killed: 24

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

U.S. Covert Action in Somalia 2007 – 2012
Total U.S. strikes: 10 – 21
Total U.S. drone strikes: 3 – 9
Total reported killed: 58 – 169
Civilians reported killed: 11 – 57
Children reported killed: 1 – 3

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

“Obama Administration Silencing Pakistani Drone-Strike Lawyer,
by Medea Benjamin, April 10, 2012

Pakistani Human Rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar claims that the vast majority of those killed by U.S. Drone attacks in Pakistan are ordinary civilians. “Most of the victims who are labeled militants might be Taliban sympathizers but they are not involved in any criminal or terrorist acts,” Akbar said. “The Americans often use the fact that someone carries a weapon as proof they’re a combatant. If that’s the criteria, then the U.S. will have to commit genocide, because all men in that area carry AK-47s. It’s part of their culture.”

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

The unmanned Predator drone aircraft: Mirza Shahzad Akbar represents Pakistanis who are suing the CIA and U.S. Defense Department on claims that they, as innocent bystanders, have been injured or lost relatives in drone attacks. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features

“Drones of Its Own: NATO Signs Deal with Northrup Grumman for ‘Global Surveillance Capabilities’ – Part of its ‘Allied Ground Surveillance’ system, the five Global Hawk UAVs will cost $1.7 Billion” –
Published on Monday, May 21, 2012 by Common Dreams staff

As part of NATO’s planned multi-year and multi-billion dollar investment in an increased global surveillance capability, building what it calls an “Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS)” system, the 28-nation military alliance penned a deal with defense contractor Northrop Grumman on Sunday for a fleet of unmanned aerial drones along with the requisite command and control base stations needed to operate them.

The signing of the deal took place between Northrup executives and NATO officials in a quiet room away from the boisterous street protests taking place outside the NATO summit on the streets of Chicago, where citizens voiced their opposition to NATO’s continued military presence in Afghanistan and its increasingly violent role in world affairs in recent years.
NATO has relied heavily on the use of drones owned and operated by the United States in its recent military operations in Afghanistan and in Libya, but this acquisition will allow it to have a vast capability all its own. The system will cost close to $1.7 billion dollars, with billions more needed to maintain and operate the system over the next two decades.
“Today is a big day for the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme,” NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said on Sunday. “The signature of the procurement contract for the AGS system is an important step towards the delivery of this key capability to the Alliance. It will move us from consultations to implementation. From an idea to a programme. From a paper on our desk to a capability operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet.”

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

Who Will Drones Target? Who in the U.S. Will Decide? By Kimberly Dozier, AP Intelligence Writer, May 21, 2012

White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets. The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.

In describing Brennan’s arrangement to The Associated Press, the officials provided the first detailed description of the military’s previous review process that set a schedule for killing or capturing terror leaders around the Arab world and beyond. They spoke on condition of anonymity because U.S. officials are not allowed to publicly describe the classified targeting program.

One senior administration official argues that Brennan’s move adds another layer of review that augments rather than detracts from the Pentagon’s role. The official says that in fact there will be more people at the table making the decisions, including representatives from every agency involved in counterterrorism, before they are reviewed by senior officials and ultimately the president.

The CIA’s process remains unchanged, but never included the large number of interagency players the Pentagon brought to the table for its debates.

And the move gives Brennan greater input earlier in the process, before senior officials make the final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials.

Let us pray, God Forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, By Jo Becker and Scott Shane, New York Times, May 29, 2012

This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.”

Let us pray, God forgive the U.S. for creating and using these killer drones.

Read Accounts of Drone Bombing Victims:

Note: Optional—The following accounts of victims of drone attacks are read as one or more people from the group symbolically does a die-in wearing the name of the Pakistan drone bombing victim.

Orphaned survivors of the Bismullah family. Photo Noor Behram/Reprieve.

Orphaned survivors of the Bismullah family. Photo Noor Behram/Reprieve.

1) (From Bureau of Investigative Journalism web site) Picture this: Three children who stand surrounded by the debris of their former home, a few hours after it was obliterated by a Hellfire missile fired from a CIA drone in the early hours of August 23 2010. When photographer Noor Behram reached the children a few hours later he said the children were shocked but had, at least, survived the blast. Their father, Bismullah, their mother, and 8 and 10-year-old brothers had been blown to pieces by the strike. The orphaned children and their dead loved ones became the latest civilian victims of a U.S. war against Pakistani militancy in which they had played no part.

2) Khairullah’s case (From the Foundation for Fundamental Rights web site)
November 26th, 2010 (Day Time) Location: Mir Ali – Miranshah Road

Sanaullah Jan, aged 17, was an 11th-grade pre-engineering student in Government Degree College Mirali. On 26th November 2010, after college, he and couple of friends from college decided to go to Miranshah, a nearby city. It was a nice day and driving to another town with friends was quite enjoyable. It was on road to Miranshah that a missile fired from a drone burnt the car down. No one survived. Khairullah Jan, Sanaullah’s elder brother reached the scene after he heard about the attack. All that was left was his dead brother’s half-burnt college ID. Khairullah not only lost his brother but a classmate as both were in same class. Sanaullah was the bright one of the family and use to help Khairullah in his studies, but not anymore.

Today Khairullah is pursuing his brother’s legal action against those who wrongfully executed his brother and he is determined to get justice one day.

3) Fahim’s Case (From the Foundation for Fundamental Rights website)
January 23, 2009 (Time: 17:00 hrs.), Location: Zerakai, NWA

Fahim Qureshi was only 13 years old when, on one evening in January 2009, his house was attacked by a CIA-operated drone. The house is situated in Zeraki village in NWA. That day there were about 8 family members gathered in Fahim’s family house and as usual the male members were in the hujra. Some of their friends were present in the hujra as well. Fahim was living in a joint family house, so all his father’s brothers were staying together along with their respective families.

The missile fired killed 7 people present in the hujra, including Muhammad Khalil (Fahim’s uncle), Mansur-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s uncle), Azaz-ur-Rehman (Fahim’s cousin), Khush Dil Khan (Fahim’s uncle), Obaidullah (local shopkeep (neighbour)). Fahim was severely injured and was immediately moved to a hospital in Peshawar (approx. 200 kms). His injuries were complicated though as shrapnel cut through his stomach so he was transferred to the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi (another 200 kms) where he was treated for next 6 months. Fahim lost his left eye as well but he is continuing his education and wants to be an engineer. His elder uncle Muhammad Khalil, who was killed in the same attack, was his mentor and a retired teacher from the village school.

Fahim says he will never choose violence as revenge, but he will also never forget what happened to him. He wants to pursue his legal case against the CIA till the last effort.


We pray for all the victims of U.S. drone strikes and call for an immediate end to the use of lethal drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. We ask all those who give orders, operate the drones, manufacture and profit from the drones for military and CIA purposes, to search their hearts and consciences, to hear the cries of the victims, to withdraw their consent from this immoral lethal weapon of terror and policy of assassination, to repent and to beg forgiveness from, and make reparations to, the victims’ families. We give thanks for groups of peacemakers like the Creech 14, the Hancock 38, the Hancock 33, Johns Hopkins 9 and many other peacemakers who have been arrested, tried and jailed for their acts of nonviolent resistance to these murderous weapons, these killer drones, our American death squads of the skies.

Litany of Repentance and Conversion

We ask God’s forgiveness for our complicity in the violence now unleashed in our world and we repent of the violence in our own hearts.

Response: Deliver us O God

From the arrogance of power
From the tyranny of greed
From the politics of hypocrisy
From the addiction of control
From the idolatry of national security
From the cancer of hatred
From the hysteria of nationalism
From the sin of racism
From the sin of sexism
From the sin of torture
From the sin of war
From the waste and preparation of war
From the madness of war
In humility we ask o God, hear our prayer.
(Adapted from CPT Litany of Resistance, by Jim Looney)

Response: Forgive us O God

For our hardness of the heart….Forgive us O God
For wasting our gifts
For wanting too much
For wounding the earth
For ignoring the poor
For trusting in weapons
For refusing to listen
For exporting arms
For desiring dominance
For lacking humility
For failing to risk
For failing to trust
For failing to act
For failing to hope
For failing to love
For failing to negotiate
For our arrogance
For our impatience
For our pride
For our silence

Response: Change our hearts O God

That we learn compassion….Change our hearts O God
That we embrace nonviolence
That we act in justice
That we live in hope
That we do your will
That we love our enemies
That we strive to be peacemakers

That we live simply
That we practice sharing
That we protect the earth
That we cherish all life
(Adapted from Pax Christi USA)

Closing Song: Vine and Fig Tree