WASHINGTON (USCCB) — As President Barack Obama spoke on national TV March 28 to update the American people on the international effort “that we have led in Libya,” the nation’s Catholic bishops are calling for a commitment to stay focused on protecting that country’s people.
“Important questions include: How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians?” wrote Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., in a March 24 letter to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. The bishop, who is chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), also urged that the use of force be continually evaluated in light of these questions: “Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address?” and “What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?”
The bishop said he knows “these are difficult questions to which there are few easy answers, but it is our moral responsibility as a nation to rigorously examine the use of military force in light of the need to protect human life and dignity.”
Bishop Hubbard said the purpose articulated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 to demand “a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians” appears to meet the traditional criterion of “just cause,” but said the U.S. bishops joined Pope Benedict XVI in following the military action in Libya with “great apprehension.”
President Obama defended his decision concerning military force, saying March 28: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.”
He noted that 10 days earlier the international community offered Libya’s leader Moammar Gaddafi “a final chance to stop his campaign of killing, or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.
“At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show ‘no mercy’ to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte, N.C. — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
“It was not in our national interest to let that happen,” President Obama said. “And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it.”
The president said the U.S. was not acting alone, and that the international community has been mobilized for collective action.
He said NATO has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and No Fly Zone. Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday.