Senators Should Question Administration on ISIL AUMF

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged senators to question Obama Administration witnesses about why the proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) does not sunset the 2001 AUMF. Secretaries John Kerry and Ashton Carter, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey will face questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning.

“President Obama has claimed that he has the authority he needs to fight ISIL in the 2001 AUMF, even though the group didn’t exist at the time it was created,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “Without addressing the 2001 AUMF, this or a future administration could claim authority to fight ISIL under the nearly 14 year old law, and ignore any limitations included in the new ISIL AUMF.”

As Congress reviews and considers the administration’s proposed text, Human Rights First urges Congress to correct the shortfalls of the previous AUMFs from the last decade. The organization notes that establishing a future date for expiration of the 2001 AUMF would mandate a review by Congress and the administration, requiring the two branches of government to debate and agree on the appropriate scope of war authorities to fight al Qaeda and its so-called “associated forces.” While the administration’s proposed AUMF does include a three-year sunset and a repeal of the 2002 AUMF, these two provisions may prove virtually meaningless without a sunset of the 2001 AUMF.

In late 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted an AUMF against ISIL that included provisions to sunset the 2001 AUMF and limit the scope of the operation against ISIL.

Human Rights First notes that in addition to including a sunset of the 2001 AUMF, any authorization for force against ISIL should:

  • Define the specific enemy and the length of time that force is authorized;
  • Specify mission objectives;
  • Make clear that the ISIL AUMF is the sole source of statutory authority to use force against ISIL;
  • Ensure greater transparency and congressional oversight through regular reporting by the administration; and
  • Comply with international law.

Human Rights First’s recommendations for an ISIL AUMF are in line with a statement of principles released by a nonpartisan group of top national security lawyers, designed to guide Congress as it considers a force authorization against ISIL. The signatories of that statement include: Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Sarah H. Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Columbia Law School; Jennifer Daskal, Assistant Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law; Walter Dellinger, Partner, O’Melveny & Myers LLP; Ryan Goodman, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law, New York University School of Law; Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law, Yale Law School; Marty Lederman, Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; and, Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law. Several members of this group recently released a statement on the “Six Missing Elements” in the President’s ISIL AUMF proposal.

“Congress should use its authority to exercise oversight to place limits on military force,” noted Stahnke. “Senators shouldn’t waste the opportunity to question Kerry, Carter, and Dempsey on these important national security issues.”

For a more detailed set of recommendations regarding congressional authorization in the fight against ISIL, see Human Rights First’s fact sheets, “Myth v. Fact: Sunsets in AUMFs,” “President Obama’s Proposed ISIL AUMF,” “ISIL AUMF: Including a 2001 AUMF Sunset,” “Gaining Global Legitimacy and Promoting the Rule of Law: Necessary Inclusions for an AUMF to Combat ISIL,” and the recent letter to President Obama on an ISIL AUMF, from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. To speak with Stahnke contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on March 11, 2015


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