The Pentagon pushed Congress to leave in place the broad Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), a 2001 law giving the Executive branch wide latitude to use military force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, namely Al Qaeda and associated forces.
Congress is considering modifying or extending the AUMF now that al Qaeda has been largely decimated and tying suspects back to the 9/11 attacks becomes more and more of stretch. However, before any expansion of AUMF or passage of some similar authority is even on the table, Congress and the public would be wise to unpack what it really means to continue the AUMF.
The AUMF was the purported "legal basis" for this country's most dastardly deeds of the past decade, including torture, domestic surveillance, indefinite detention, the Guantanamo Bay prison, and assassination by drone. Two Presidents have used the AUMF to claim such extraordinary, unilateral power to deprive individuals - including Americans - of their rights to life, liberty, and property without due process. The Executive branch will certainly not want to give up power, but that does not mean it should be allowed to continue its actions without accountability, especially when military action has continued for over a decade with no sign of resolution.
In March of this year, The New York Times recommended that Congress repeal the AUMF becuase two presidents have used it as the basis for their fanatical Executive power grabs:
But over time, that resolution became warped into something else: the basis for a vast overreaching of power by one president, Mr. Bush, and less outrageous but still dangerous policies by another, Barack Obama.The now-infamous G.W. Bush-era torture memos invoked AUMF as justification for torture. (See August 1, 2002 memo, pg. 32). As if its use as the justification for torture is not enough to abandon the broad statue, the NYT summarized the other shameful actions the U.S. took with the rationalization that the AUMF allowed it:
Mr. Bush used the authorization law as an excuse to kidnap hundreds of people — guilty and blameless people alike — and throw them into secret prisons where many were tortured. He used it as a pretext to open the Guantánamo Bay camp and to eavesdrop on Americans without bothering to obtain a warrant. He claimed it as justification for the invasion of Iraq, twisting intelligence to fabricate a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.In a climate of fear of a new terrorist (or now cyber) threat, it's all too easy to glaze over what the Executive Branch has done with what started out as an effort to protect the country. It's worth remembering that the Executive branch has invoked the AUMF as justification for actions far beyond the scope of the AUMF on its face, and, worse, those actions tear at the fabric of our democracy and, as is evident in the hollowed faces of Gitmo hunger strikers, continue shred our country's moral fiber.
Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama does not go as far as to claim that the Constitution gives him the inherent power to do all those things. But he has relied on the 2001 authorization to use drones to kill terrorists far from the Afghan battlefield, and to claim an unconstitutional power to kill American citizens in other countries based only on suspicion that they are or might become terrorist threats, without judicial review.