Senate Committee Adopts Narrowly-Tailored AUMF

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s adoption of an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) for war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that is narrowly-tailored and sunsets the 2001 AUMF.

“The foreign relations committee today took an important step today by adopting a narrowly-tailored authorization that includes important and prudent limits that would help ensure that force is being used consistent with the rule of law,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “By sunsetting the 2001 AUMF, today’s action avoids perpetuating an unnecessary and costly ‘forever war’ against international terrorism.  The authorization adopted today, though not perfect, sends an important signal that Congress can and should narrowly tailor an authorization for the use of military force to the enemy the United States is facing today, rather than unnamed enemies that the United States may or may not someday face in the future.”

The AUMF adopted today would:

  • Sunset the ISIS AUMF and the 2001 AUMF after three years.
  • Sunset provisions are important to revisit the scope of the mission and provide a pathway to shift off an armed conflict framework for dealing with terrorism.
  • Limit applicability of the AUMF to only those “associated forces” acting “for or on behalf of” ISIS.  The current definition of “associated forces” is unnecessarily broad, and could extend to groups not engaged in an armed conflict with the United States.
  • Make clear that the 2001 AUMF is no longer the operative force authorization against ISIS.  The administration has claimed that the 2001 AUMF applies to ISIS, when most legal experts disagree as ISIS is a separate organization from al Qaeda.
  • Require that the president report to Congress every 60 days on actions taken pursuant to the authorization, and that the president present a comprehensive strategy 30 days after the bill is enacted detailing specific objectives, the list of organizations targeted, the geographic scope, and measures taken to reduce civilian casualties, as well as contributions from coalition partners, humanitarian assistance, benchmarks toward achieving goals, a realistic exit strategy, and estimation of costs.
  • Impose limitations on the use of ground troops unless the use meets designated purposes.

As the Congress further considers the AUMF, it should improve upon this draft by:

  • Clarify the “associated forces” provision so that the authorization cannot apply to associated forces of a “closely-related successor entity” of ISIS.  The administration has used a similar “successor” theory to unjustifiably claim that the 2001 AUMF applies to ISIS.  The current provision, if not amended, could go ever further by extending the authorization unnamed associated forces against an unknown successor group to ISIS.
  • Provide mission specific objectives. This would allow Congress to specify any conditions that justify, or do not justify, the use of force, and ensure that the president cannot use force more broadly or under conditions other than what Congress intends.
  • Expand reporting requirements to include regular reporting on the status of progress towards the mission’s objectives, detailed information about the numbers of civilian and combatant casualties; and the legal basis for targeting particular groups and individuals or using force in particular countries.

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

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Published on December 11, 2014

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