Senate Debates War Authorization

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today applauded the Senate’s efforts to begin a long-overdue debate on the use of wartime powers for countering terrorism. The Senate today debated, yet ultimately tabled, an amendment proposed by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have repealed both the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations to Use Military Force (AUMF) in six months.

“Today’s debate is an important step toward repealing the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, a bill that was enacted before three-quarters of today’s Congress was even in office,” said Human Rights First’s Rita Siemion. “Senator Paul’s amendment, had it been approved, would have provided the much-needed push for Congress to uphold its constitutional duty to authorize war, and to limit the use of extraordinary wartime powers to kill and detain.”

Senator Paul’s amendment was tabled by a vote of 61-36. Human Rights First notes that it is Congress’s responsibility to act as a crucial check on the executive branch, and ensure that presidents are properly constrained in their ability to use armed conflict authorities that undermine human rights, such as lethal force as a first resort, military tribunals, and detention without trial. The 2001 AUMF has already been used far beyond its original purpose of authorizing force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Debating a new AUMF would allow Congress to not only fulfill its duty, but to ensure that the United States’ use of wartime authorities is subject to appropriate constraints.

If Congress decides to pass a new AUMF, Human Rights First cautions that any authorization should reflect the hard lessons of the last decade and a half. National security experts  and civil and human rights advocates alike agree that any new AUMF should be clear, specific, and tailored to current threats. A new issue brief by Human Rights First compares leading AUMF proposals and details how to effectively draft a new AUMF that empowers the United States to counter the terrorist threat, uphold the rule of law, and maintain the global legitimacy that is crucial to the success of the mission.


Published on September 13, 2017


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