Former NCTC Director Olsen to Testify on AUMF

Washington, D.C.—As the House Foreign Affairs Committee considers issued related to the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Human Rights First board member Matthew G. Olsen will urge members of Congress to update and clarify the 2001 AUMF—used initially to authorize force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks—so that it matches the dynamic and persistent nature of terrorism threats to the United States.

“Over the past several years, the range of threats we face from terrorist groups has become increasingly diverse, fragmented, and geographically expansive,” wrote Olsen in his prepared testimony. “It is clear that the 2001 AUMF is not well-suited to today’s evolving terrorist threats…. Clear drafting and thoughtful limitations are critical to ensuring the operational effectiveness of the authority and to prevent the authorization from being used beyond the scope of Congress’ intent or in ways that undermine American values or our long-term security interests.”

Human Rights First has long-advocated that any new AUMF should include the following:

  • Clearly-defined mission objectives and enemy;
  • Transparency and reporting requirements;
  • Compliance with international law;
  • Repeal or supersede other AUMFs; and,
  • Require reauthorization.

Human Rights First has also developed a detailed analysis supporting these recommendations in an issue brief, which compares a number of AUMF proposals that are being considered.

The organization notes that over-broad language in the 2001 AUMF has been stretched to cover the use of force nearly 16 years later against groups that did not even exist in 2001. Such usage undermines human rights protections and the rule of law by enabling expansive use of wartime powers—such as lethal force as a first resort, military tribunals, and detention without charge or trial. By tailoring congressional war authorizations to current threats that require a military response and conducting ongoing oversight, Congress can ensure that future presidents do not stretch wartime killing, detention, and trial authorities beyond the battlefield situations where they are needed.

A coalition of human rights, civil liberties, and faith groups also sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee calling for any new AUMF to be considered with appropriate safeguards. “We urge you to ensure…that any new AUMF is clear, specific, tailored to the particular situation for which force is being authorized, and comports with the international law obligations of the United States,” the letter wrote.

“Congress should update the 2001 AUMF—which is increasingly outdated given the threats the country is facing today—to explicitly provide a mandate for the use of military force and the authority that is warranted. In doing so, Congress should provide the executive branch with the operational flexibility to prosecute those wars effectively,” added Olsen. “Fulfilling this responsibility will show our troops that Congress is behind them, bolster American leadership, assure our allies and partners that the United States respects human rights and the rule of law, and demonstrate to our enemies that we are committed to their defeat.”


Published on July 25, 2017


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