Senate Committee Urged to Move toward Post-War Counterterrorism Strategy

Washington, D.C. – In a statement submitted today to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Human Rights First outlined comprehensive recommendations for the United States to pursue an effective counterterrorism strategy that does not rely on war authorities granted in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Today’s hearing comes amid questions about the scope of the AUMF and the appropriate role for the United States in addressing challenges such as assisting Nigerian authorities in their search for the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

“The work of protecting the United States from terrorist violence is far from done. Yet it is increasingly clear that, both for effective counterterrorism and for preserving U.S. stature as a leader on human rights and the rule of law, the 2001 AUMF and the wartime attitudes and policies it has facilitated are outdated,” wrote Human Rights First in its statement. “Congress and the administration have the opportunity to move beyond piecemeal attempts at reform to set a clear legal and policy framework that combats terrorism effectively and makes clear to our friends and enemies that we will not be goaded into eroding our national strength through a permanent state of war.”

Human Rights First’s statement examines the legal and policy consequences of maintaining the current AUMF, adopting a new one, or moving to a policy built on other national security authorities. It notes that an over-reliance on military options to counter terrorist threats squanders the extraordinary economic, diplomatic, and human capital resources that the United States can marshal in support of policy goals. A variety of tools can be used to counter external threats, including diplomacy, intelligence sharing, humanitarian assistance and strategic communications, and working with regional partners and international allies.

Recommendations in today’s statement include:

  • Congress and the administration should publicly debate and clarify the shifting nature of the threat posed by Al Qaeda, and the core competencies and additional legal authorities, if any, needed to keep Americans secure.
  • The administration should remedy the lack of transparency about current U.S. policy under the AUMF, by disclosing to Congress and the American people:
    • With which groups the administration considers the United States to be at war;
    • Which groups the administration considers to be “associated forces”;
    • The countries in which military force is currently being used;
    • The criteria the administration uses to classify targets and collateral damage; and
    • The legal memoranda and policy guidance that govern lethal targeting operations.
  • The administration should describe in concrete and specific terms the conditions necessary to bring an end to the armed conflict with Al Qaeda and associated forces.
  • The administration should clarify and reform its legal and policy framework for the use of lethal force outside of active zones of hostilities to put it on more solid footing by bringing it further in line with the requirements of international human rights law.
  • Congress should hold a series of hearings, with the cooperation of the administration, to examine the most effective way to narrow and ultimately repeal the 2001 AUMF. Congress should not pass any new AUMF that would expand the mandate contained within the 2001 AUMF.
  • The administration and Congress should seek and implement a bipartisan solution to remove one of the most problematic legacies of the AUMF — the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay — by transferring all cleared detainees to their home or third countries, prosecuting detainees suspected of criminal conduct in Article III courts, and transferring the remaining detainees to the United States with a view toward their ultimate release or prosecution elsewhere.

“As the United States ends the war in Afghanistan, it is important for policymakers to take a hard look at the 2001 AUMF and assess whether an armed conflict framework for counterterrorism operations is the most effective way to address the current threat,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “We must guard against the creep of extraordinary war powers into everyday governance.  Such powers tend to undermine democratic values, inviting detention without charge or trial, extrajudicial killing, military tribunals, and mass surveillance – the hallmarks of repression – to gain a foothold in the United States.”


Published on May 21, 2014


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