Representatives to Boehner: Move Forward on ISIL AUMF

“The failure of Congress to act upon the president’s request in a timely manner is a deep breach of our constitutional authority and responsibilities,” Congressmen Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) said in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), urging him to move forward on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

They are absolutely right.

The United States has been fighting ISIL since August of last year. Since September, the administration has relied on the authority granted by the 2001 AUMF, which was passed in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. As Human Rights First along with numerous national security experts and lawmakers have stated, relying on the 2001 AUMF to fight ISIL is misguided and inappropriate.

The 60-word 2001 authorization allows the president to use force against the “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 2001.” ISIL was not involved in planning the 9/11 attacks—it didn’t even exist at the time. Yet the administration interprets the 2001 AUMF to apply to ISIL by arguing that ISIL is the “new al Qaeda”– even though ISIL is currently fighting against al Qaeda.

Without action from Congress, this elastic interpretation of the 2001 AUMF could be repeated over and over again in the future. The 2001 AUMF contains no sunset or repeal mechanism. Even those who voted for it argue that it has now been stretched far beyond its intended purpose. After over a decade of war, this is no longer justifiable.

In February the Obama Administration provided Congress with a draft ISIL AUMF, as many lawmakers insisted that he do. As Representatives Jones and McGovern note, it’s now almost four months later, and the draft legislation has gone nowhere. Last week, Speaker Boehner suggested that President Obama should throw out the first draft and start over.

The administration’s proposed AUMF is far from perfect, but it should serve as a starting point for debate. There is one critical element missing from it that should be included in any authorization against ISIL: a sunset of the 2001 AUMF. Several other draft ISIL AUMFs have included a sunset provision and received bipartisan support. A sunset would simply require Congress to examine at a designated point in the future whether or not we still need a legal war authorization. If they find we do, it stays; if they find we don’t, it goes.

There is no reason that the United States should have a perpetual blank check for war. Use of force should require approval from Congress, and sending our troops into harm’s way deserves a serious debate. As Representatives Jones and McGovern wrote, anything short of that is irresponsible.

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Published on May 28, 2015

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