House Armed Services Committee Authorizes Costly New Wars in Yemen and Nations in Africa to Expand Fight Against Terrorism

Bill would continue suspension of other counterterrorism tools

Washington, D.C. — New legislation—approved by the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee early this morning—raises a number of red flags which should be thoroughly considered by Congress, a leading rights group said today. Human Rights First criticizes several provisions included in the bill, which aim to expand the use of military force to fight terrorism in Yemen, nations in Africa and beyond. Today, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill the last week of May. Included in this legislation is a new Authorization for Use of Military Force which declares “an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.” The bill also cedes to the “President…the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict.” Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chairman on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a press statement on May 9, 2011 in support of that the new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that the “threats posed by al-Qaeda cells in Yemen and Africa underscore the evolving and continuing nature of the terrorist threat to the United States.” Rep. Mac Thornberry, in a story appearing in Politico on May 10, concurred saying that the new AUMF was justified because some terrorist groups are not connected to the attacks on 9/11. C. Dixon Osburn, Director of Law & Security for Human Rights First, said, “Congress should hold extensive hearings on the threats facing our nation, and whether a costly military response is appropriate, before handing over to this and future Presidents unchecked power to use military force anywhere around the globe. The President has significant counterterrorism tools at his disposal which do not require military intervention.” Congress held fifteen hearings before approving an Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq. Some have suggested that the AUMF is a reaffirmation of existing authority, but the language of the bill makes clear that this is a new AUMF, which is tantamount to a declaration of war. Section 1034 of the NDAA is called an “affirmation,” not a “reaffirmation.” It explicitly removes any reference to those who attacked us on 9/11, which was the reason for the original AUMF in 2001. The Chairman’s mark makes clear that the threat has “evolved” since 9/11, and the new AUMF is intended to target those new threats. Other provisions of the NDAA include:

  • Continuing suspension of use of Article III federal courts in prosecuting those suspected of terror crimes held at Guantanamo;
  • Restricting the ability of the Administration to transfer innocent men still held at Guantanamo back home or to third countries;
  • Eliminating the role of the State Department and Department of Justice in reviewing the files of prisoners being held in long term detention without trial, making defense officials the sole reviewing authority.

Osburn said, “The President has ably demonstrated leadership, courage and decisiveness in the fight against terrorism. Congress should not hamstring his efforts by eliminating the roles of agencies, not only critical to, but successful in, the fight against terrorism.” As coverage of this legislation continues, Human Rights First has the following individuals available for interview: Dixon Osburn is Director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security program. Raha Wala is the Georgetown Law Fellow at Human Rights First’s Law and Security program.


Published on May 12, 2011


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