Current Congressional War Authorizations Do Not Provide Authority to Strike Syria

Washington, D.C.—In response to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s claims that President Trump has authority to strike Syria under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Human Rights First’s Rita Siemion issued the following statement:

“Before making such bold and dangerous claims, Speaker Ryan should check his facts. There is no credible way to interpret the 2001 or 2002 war authorizations as providing President Trump with the authority to strike Assad, regardless of whether one accepts the claim that those authorizations provide the authority for current operations against ISIS in Syria.

“The confusion over whether an authorization passed to respond to the 9/11 attacks could be used to strike a sovereign nation with no connection to those attacks nearly 17 years later demonstrates the dangers of Congress passing overbroad war authorizations. If Congress moves forward with any new authorization, whether against ISIS or Assad, it must include clear limits and an expiration date to avoid such problems in the future.”

In response to President Trump’s statements that he is considering unilaterally striking the Syrian government without Congressional authorization, Speaker Ryan today said “the existing AUMF gives [President Trump] the authority he needs to do what he may or may not do [in Syria].”

The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs do not authorize strikes against the sovereign nation of Syria. The 2001 AUMF authorizes the use of force against those responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks and the 2002 AUMF authorized the use of force to address the threat posed by the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. These two authorizations have been stretched in the years since by successive administrations to justify the use of force against ISIS and other affiliated groups in Syria and Iraq. However, there is no colorable argument that these authorizations would or could apply to a strike against Syria, which is also battling ISIS. Human Rights First’s issue brief, Drafting an Effective Authorization for Use of Military Force, outlines the organization’s recommendations for a new AUMF.


Published on April 13, 2018


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