Administration AUMF Fails to Include Sunset of 2001 Authorization

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed disappointment that the Obama Administration’s proposal for an authorization for the use of force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) does not include a provision to sunset the 2001 AUMF. The organization urges Congress to include such a provision when they consider the administration’s proposal.

“Policymakers and legal experts from both sides of the aisle agree that the 2001 AUMF has been stretched well beyond its original purpose, which was to authorize force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “Congress now has an opportunity to sunset that AUMF, which will re-establish its oversight and promote public deliberation and transparency, as well as help ensure policies that respect human rights and the rule of law.”

As Congress reviews and considers the administration’s proposed text, it is crucial that Congress correct the shortfalls of the AUMFs left over from the last decade. Human Rights First notes that establishing a future date for expiration of the 2001 AUMF would mandate a review by Congress and the administration, requiring the two branches of government to debate and agree on the appropriate scope of war authorities to fight al Qaeda and its so-called “associated forces.” While today’s proposed AUMF does include a three-year sunset and a repeal of the 2002 AUMF, without a sunset of the 2001 AUMF, those two provisions may prove virtually meaningless.

In late 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted an AUMF against ISIL that included provisions to sunset the 2001 AUMF and limit the scope of the operation against ISIL.

Human Rights First notes that in addition to including a sunset of the 2001 AUMF, any authorization for force against ISIL should:

  • Define the specific enemy and the length of time that force is authorized;
  • Specify mission objectives;
  • Ensure greater transparency and congressional oversight through regular reporting by the administration; and
  • Comply with international law.

Human Rights First’s recommendations for an ISIL AUMF are in line with a statement of principles released by a nonpartisan group of top national security lawyers, designed to guide Congress as it considers a force authorization against ISIL. The signatories of that statement include: Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Columbia Law School; Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law; Walter Dellinger, Partner, O’Melveny & Myers LLP; Ryan Goodman, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law, New York University School of Law; Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Yale Law School; Marty Lederman, Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; and, Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law.  Yesterday, some members of this group sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to include a sunset for the 2001 AUMF in the administration’s proposal for an ISIL AUMF.

“The overly-broad 2001 AUMF has flouted the rule of law and left the door open for human rights abuses, both of which undermine successful U.S. leadership,” said Stahnke. “Congress should seize the opportunity to reexamine the necessity of the 2001 AUMF as combat operations wind down in Afghanistan.”

For a more detailed set of recommendations regarding congressional authorization in the fight against ISIL, see Human Rights First’s fact sheets, “ISIL AUMF: Including a 2001 AUMF Sunset,” “Gaining Global Legitimacy and Promoting the Rule of Law: Necessary Inclusions for an AUMF to Combat ISIL, and the  recent letter to President Obama on an ISIL AUMF, from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino.


Published on February 11, 2015


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