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May 21, 2019

House Committee Passes Amendment to Repeal 2001 War Authorization

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today applauded the House Appropriations Committee for adopting an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The 2001 AUMF, which authorized the use of force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, has been used by the executive branch as the primary legal basis for military operations against an array of terrorist organizations in more than half a dozen countries for purposes far beyond what Congress originally intended. Today’s amendment, introduced by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), is an important first step toward Congress reclaiming its war-making authority.

“After nearly seventeen years of war under the 2001 authorization, it’s time for Congress to reassert its control over when, where, and against whom the nation uses force. Our founding fathers wisely entrusted Congress, not the president, with deciding when the nation should go to war,” said Human Rights First’s Rita Siemion. “Authorizing war allows the government to use a range of extreme and exceptional powers, including lethal targeting and detention without criminal charge. Representative Lee’s amendment presents an opportunity for Congress to reassert its constitutional duty and reassess the extent to which such force is necessary and appropriate for today’s terrorist threats.”

If Congress determines that a new AUMF is warranted, Human Rights First cautions that any authorization should reflect the lessons learned over the last seventeen years. Congress must provide the president with sufficient operational flexibility while including adequate safeguards to ensure the nation does not become embroiled in new conflicts without public debate or congressional authorization. National security experts and civil and human rights activists agree that any new AUMF must be specific, clear, and tailored to current threats.

Most importantly, any new AUMF must be limited in duration. A sunset clause would not mark the end of a particular conflict, but would demonstrate a strong commitment to democratic institutions throughout engagement. Furthermore, a new AUMF should name the specific enemy, list the countries where force is authorized, specify the permitted mission objectives, require robust reporting both to Congress and the American people, require compliance with U.S. obligations under international law, and clearly specify that it is the sole source of statutory authority to use force against an enemy named. 

“Despite its recent history of acquiescence, Congress has acted swiftly in the past to authorize military force when necessary,” added Siemion. “Therefore, there should be no doubt that it can once again assume this active role when the need arises without relying on an outdated, unsuitable authorization from 2001.”

For more information, or to speak with Siemion, contact Christopher Plummer at [email protected].