Obama Administration Urged to Craft Narrowly-Tailored AUMF to Address ISIL Threat

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the Obama Administration to work with Congress to draft an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to address the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that is narrowly-tailored and includes mission objectives as well as a sunset date. The call came in a letter to the president from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino, and follows last night’s State of the Union address, in which President Obama indicated that he would ask Congress for an authorization to use force against ISIL.

“We urge you to use this opportunity to ‘lead wisely’ and tailor war-making authorities to the threats our country currently faces. As you have noted, security threats have evolved since 9/11,” wrote Massimino. “When the United States must go to war, it should be clear with whom, why, and to what end. The current conflict with ISIL provides the opportunity to … move in this direction.”

Human Rights First notes that any legislation should include a sunset of 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.

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, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted an AUMF against ISIL that included provisions to sunset the 2001 AUMF and limited the scope of the operation against ISIL. Human Rights First notes that this adoption was a positive step forward in creating an AUMF that helps ensure that any use of force is consistent with the rule of law.

Human Rights First’s recommended inclusions 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 congressional authorization in the continued fight against ISIL. 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.

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


Published on January 21, 2015


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