Obama’s AUMF Not Up to Snuff
At long last, the Obama administration sent Congress a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL, which he’s been bombing in Iraq and Syria since August.
But there’s one big problem. His proposed AUMF doesn’t include a repeal or sunset clause for the 2001 AUMF, which was designed to allow the United States to go after the perpetrators of 9/11.
The 2001 AUMF plunged the United States into a “forever war” that neither Congress nor the American people anticipated at the time. The fact that Obama has invoked it to justify his military campaign against ISIL, who didn’t even exist in 2001, is further proof of its overreaching powers. As Steve Vladeck wrote in Reuters, the outcomes of the 2001 AUMF “include a debilitating state of perpetual war, confusing legal authorities, diminished congressional oversight and a lack of public deliberation respecting significant new military operations.”
There is bipartisan support for sunsetting the 2001 AUMF. In late 2014, a group of prominent legal scholars put together a set of principles for a potential ISIL AUMF, which included a sunset provision for the 2001 act and the 2002 AUMF that authorized invasion of Iraq. These principles were reflected in the AUMF the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted in late December.
But the administration is apparently ignoring these recommendations. This goes against even Obama’s own advice, as he has called for the 2001 AUMF’s repeal in the past. And while his draft ISIL AUMF does include its own sunset provision in three years and a repeal of the 2002 AUMF, without putting an end to the 2001 act, the status quo remains the same. The forever war rages on.
One of Congress’s most important powers is its ability to declare war. The 2001 AUMF has more or less stripped that power, allowing presidents to engage in military conflicts without the important debate and reevaluation that sunset clauses provide. Vague and never-ending AUMFs are also deeply problematic for human rights because they can entrench wartime powers that threaten the rule of law: indefinite detention, military trials, and wartime killings (drone strikes, for example).
It’s great that the president is engaging Congress on an AUMF, but Congress should amend the President’s proposal and make sure that their authorization limits the 2001 AUMF and gets the United States off the path of perpetual war.
If you want to learn more about congressional authorization in the fight against ISIL, check out our fact sheets, “ISIL AUMF: Including a 2001 AUMF Sunset,” , and the letter to President Obama on an ISIL AUMF, from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino.