Congress Urged to Consider Narrowly-Tailored AUMF in Fight Against ISIS

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to prioritize drafting an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that is narrowly-tailored and time-bound so as not to repeat the mistakes of previous congressional force authorizations. The call came in a statement for the record submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ahead of its hearing this afternoon, “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against ISIL.”

“The experience of the last decade has shown that the vagueness of congressional force authorizations and their failure to ensure adherence to international law and human rights norms have weakened the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism and harmed U.S. standing in global public opinion,” noted Human Rights First in its statement. “They have also eaten away at the rule of law, upon which human rights and successful U.S. leadership both rely.”

Human Rights First notes that ISIS is a prime example of how the threat posed by violent extremist groups has changed in recent years. Neither the 2001 AUMF, enacted in the days following the 9/11 attacks, nor the 2002 AUMF, which targeted Saddam Hussein’s regime, clearly applies to ISIS. A new, all-encompassing AUMF that does not distinguish ISIS from other terrorist groups or threats around the world is both legally problematic and bad strategy.

Human Rights First urges Congress to sunset the 2001 AUMF against al Qaeda and the Taliban as combat operations wind down in Afghanistan. Establishing a sunset now will require Congress and the administration to consider at some near future date whether the 2001 AUMF is an appropriate and lawful authorization to deal with threats to the United States from al Qaeda and the Taliban.

As the Senate considers different options for a new authorization in the fight against ISIS, Human Rights First recommends that any new AUMF 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;
  • Comply with international law;
  • Sunset, rather than expand, the 2001 AUMF.

Last month, a nonpartisan group of top national security lawyers released a  statement of principles designed to guide congressional authorization in the continued fight against ISIS. The signatories of that statement included: 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.

“The current debate offers an important opportunity for Congress to clarify with whom the United States is at war and ensure that the administration is operating under an appropriately narrow legal authorization that adheres to international law and human rights norms—and strengthens U.S. global legitimacy as a result,” noted the statement.

For a more detailed set of recommendations regarding congressional authorization in the fight against ISIS, see Human Rights First’s fact sheets, “Gaining Global Legitimacy and Promoting the Rule of Law: Necessary Inclusions for an AUMF to Combat ISIS, “Analysis of Recently Proposed ISIL AUMFs from Senators Paul and Menendez.


Published on December 9, 2014


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