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May 15, 2018

Drafting an Effective Authorization for Use of Military Force

Within days of the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such organizations or persons.” This language is widely understood as authorizing force against al Qaeda, who planned and committed the attacks on the United States on 9/11, and the Afghan Taliban, who had harbored al Qaeda before and after the attacks.

The 2001 AUMF is expressly limited to using force to prevent future acts of terrorism against the United States by the entities responsible for 9/11.

Yet since its passage, and for longer than any war in the nation’s history, the executive branch has been using the 2001 AUMF as the primary legal basis for military operations against an array of terrorist organizations in at least 14 different countries around the world, including against associated forces and successor entities of those responsible for 9/11.

The executive branch’s continued reliance on the 2001 AUMF for military operations far beyond what Congress originally authorized undermines Congress’ important constitutional role as the branch responsible for the decision to go to war. The lack of any sunset provision or reporting requirements in the 2001 AUMF also restricts the ability of Congress to conduct meaningful oversight over military operations and the foreign affairs of the United States.

This issue brief outlines how to draft Authorizations for Use of Military Force effectively.

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