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June 16, 2017

The Daily Show Examines the AUMF and “America’s War Problem”

By Scott Johnston

After 9/11, Congress passed an authorization for use of military force, known as an “AUMF.” This AUMF gave the executive branch the authority to use force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them—namely al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. 

Yet that authorization is still being used today—nearly 16 years later—as legal authority for using war time powers, such as drone strikes, against an array of terrorist organizations in at least seven different countries around the world. Some of these groups, like ISIS and al Shabaab, not only took no part in the 9/11 attacks, but did not even exist when the 9/11 AUMF was passed. 

Last night Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show did a fantastic segment highlighting this important issue just in time for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing next week to review congressional authorizations for the use of military force. The hearing will likely address how existing AUMFs are currently being used as well as proposals for repealing or replacing them.  

As this debate gets under way, Congress should ensure that any new AUMF authorizing current conflicts cannot again be used to justify unbounded or perpetual war. Wartime rules were designed for the battlefield. The use of wartime powers to kill and detain outside of war threatens fundamental human rights protections against arbitrary killing and detention without charge or trial.   

To keep wartime powers where they belong and prevent Congress from inadvertently authorizing a second “Global War on Terror,” any new AUMF passed by Congress should satisfy the following bipartisan checklist

  • Clearly define the mission objective and the enemy 
  • Include robust reporting and transparency requirements to keep both Congress and the public informed 
  • Require compliance with U.S. obligations under international law
  • Clarify that the authorization is the sole source of statutory authority to use force against ISIS to prevent confusion or overlap
  • Set a sunset date for both the new AUMF and for the 2001 AUMF to ensure continued congressional support for the use of force as the conflict evolves. Repeal the 2002 AUMF.