Congress should clarify authorization for war

Washington, D.C.The Obama administration’s political and legal authority to wage war against al-Qaeda has steadily eroded. Liberal and conservative members of Congress have challenged the administration’s lack of transparency in conducting drone attacks against alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia. Foreign allies as well as adversaries have asked whether United States has arrogated the right to kill enemies anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, the appearance of new branches of al-Qaeda in northern Africa and, most recently, Syria has raised the question of whether the legal authority Congress granted in September 2001 for using military force applies to those groups. Obama has said he wishes to introduce greater openness into counterterrorism operations, but he has not yet taken any substantial steps. Now legislators in both houses are undertaking their own initiatives. In the House, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), vice chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has introduced legislation that would require the Defense Department to report to Congress all kill-or-capture operations it undertakes and deliver a written explanation of legal basis and approval process used to place suspects on target lists. Thornberry’s measure would be a step forward. But it still leaves important legal issues unaddressed, which is why we support an effort by Senate Armed Services Committee to explore, beginning at a hearing Thursday, whether 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) should be revised. The law authorizes the president to use force against “those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for the attacks on NYC and Washington. The Bush and Obama administrations have been backed by the courts in interpreting that language to allow attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaeda as well as “substantial supporters” and “associated forces.” But many legal experts have questioned whether a law aimed at Osama bin Laden and his cadre could be used to justify a drone strike against jihadists plotting an attack against the United States more than a decade later and thousands of miles from Afghanistan. A group of legal experts, including Robert Chesney of the University of Texas, Jack Goldsmith of Harvard, Matthew Waxman of Columbia, Benjamin Wittes of Brookings Institution, has proposed that Congress consider revising AUMF to authorize presidents to designate emerging al-Qaeda affiliates that pose a threat to the United States as covered by the force authorization. Such legislation could put into law criteria for adding militants outside conventional battle zones to strike lists and require greater disclosure. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said he will seek to put together bipartisan group to consider such reforms. Opponents say that any such legislation risks placing the United States on a permanent war footing; some argue that the United States should instead move toward declaring the conflict against al-Qaeda over. That would mean closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and returning to the pre-9/11 methods for combatting international terrorism. No one wants an endless war, which is why the AUMF amendment proposal includes a sunset provision. But the reality is that al-Qaeda and its sucessors appear likely to pose a serious threat to the United States for the foreseeable future, as recent terrorist attacks in Benghazi and Algeria demonstrated. Countering the jihadists with intelligence and law enforcement tools manifestly failed before Sept. 11, 2001. Congress would be wise to ensure this president and his successors have the authority they need to defend the country. (source: Editorial Board – The Washington Post – 17/05/2013)


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9 Responses to Congress should clarify authorization for war

  1. Ending a war can be more time-consuming and challenging than starting one, especially the so-called global war on terror that has defied conventional notions. Harold Hongju Koh, professor of law and former dean of Yale Law School, describes how the war on terror transformed into endless war in this YaleGlobal essay based on a speech delivered in May at the Oxford Union. Koh refutes common perceptions on US foreign policy: that the war on terror is perpetual, with no strategy available for ending conflict, and that the Obama administration’s approach follows the path of the Bush administration. Koh served in the US State Department under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He urges ending what he calls the Forever War through disengagement from Afghanistan, closure of Guantanamo and greater discipline over the use of drones. According to Koh, transparent, agreed-upon domestic and international legal process and standards are essential for starting and ending wars of all types (…..)

  2. (…..) After Nixon, American presidents, instead of citing the national interest, preferred once again to invoke America’s God-given mission, most notably former President George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. They even wanted to free the world from the “axis of evil.” But the neo-cons are history, while Kissinger’s realism, stemming from the 19th century, still remains valid, as President Barack Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, demonstrates today. During the election campaign, Democratic candidate Obama portrayed himself as an idealistic “citizen of the world.” But he was hardly in office before he began pursuing the maxim that idealists give nice speeches, while realists shape policy. In this fashion, the president turned himself into a lone judge who personally approves which Islamist is to be killed with a drone attack somewhere in the world. He launched a new era of conflict with massive investments in “cyber war.” And Obama prosecutes betrayers of state secrets even more relentlessly than any of his predecessors. The president has coldly recognized that war-weary Americans prefer progress at home instead of elsewhere in the world. This is one reason he has threatened Syrian dictator Bashar Assad while following up with little in the way of action. Not unlike Kissinger’s approach in Chile, Obama looks the other way when America’s allies, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, subjugate their people, or when China harasses dissidents. US author Jacob Heilbrunn calls this approach “neo-Kissingerism,” and notes: “Obama may even start speaking about foreign affairs with a German accent.” Kissinger is a realist with a weakness: He is vain, and he was never indifferent to how other people felt about him. It must make him jealous to see that Obama is so popular in many parts of the world, despite his cold-blooded actions. But as he turns 90, Kissinger probably relishes the notion that the president resembles him more and more every day.

  3. (According to Mitch McConnell) Revelations about the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups have raised important questions about the Obama administration’s commitment to the First Amendment. Yet there is ample evidence to suggest that the culture of intimidation in which these tactics were allowed to flourish goes well beyond one agency or a few rogue employees. For years, administration officials have used the power of the federal government to isolate their opponents. Meanwhile, the unionized employees who populate the IRS and other agencies across the country routinely take their cues from union bosses, whose political donations and speeches show their support for the White House. When it comes to rewarding friends and punishing enemies, the IRS is not alone. In fact, recent efforts to revive the so-called Disclose Act suggest that these tactics are alive and well in Washington. This bill, which would force grass-roots groups to make their member and donor lists public, may seem benign to some. But as a longtime defender of the First Amendment, I have always seen it for what it is: a backdoor effort to discourage those who disagree with the Obama administration from participating in the political process. The abuses at the IRS — which include selective sharing with left-wing journalists of confidential information about conservative groups — is just the kind of thing the Disclose Act was designed to enable (…..) The First Amendment was not written to protect popular speech. It was written to protect speech that was not popular. The moment we lose sight of that, we betray the principle of equal justice that lies at the heart of our system. We can hope the president and all who do the work of government have relearned that lesson in recent days, but we can’t count on that. The American people need to remain vigilant against any effort by the powerful to stifle speech — and do everything they can to prevent it.

  4. (The End of the Perpetual War ???) President Obama’s speech on Thursday was the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America. For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” Mr. Obama said in the speech at the National Defense University. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.” As frustratingly late as it was — much of what Mr. Obama said should have been said years ago — there is no underestimating the importance of that statement. Mr. Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, used the state of war that began with the authorization to invade Afghanistan and go after Al Qaeda and others who planned the Sept. 11 attacks to justify extraordinary acts like indefinite detention without charges and the targeted killing of terrorist suspects. While there are some, particularly the more hawkish Congressional Republicans, who say this war should essentially last forever, Mr. Obama told the world that the United States must return to a state in which counterterrorism is handled, as it always was before 2001, primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies.

    That shift is essential to preserving the democratic system and rule of law for which the United States is fighting, and for repairing its badly damaged global image.

    Mr. Obama said the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed after Sept. 11, 2001, must be replaced to avoid keeping “America on a perpetual wartime footing.” He added: “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.” He did not say what should replace that law, but he vowed: “I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.” Mr. Obama’s speech covered the range of national security, counterterrorism and civil liberties issues facing the United States since 2001 (…..)

  5. President Obama wisely avoided the phrase “mission accomplished” in his major speech last week about the “war on terror,” but columnists aren’t obliged to be so circumspect: It is time to declare victory and get on with our lives. Obama could never say this, of course, because there will surely be future terrorist attacks that kill Americans both at home and abroad. But he came close when he said that “the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11” — in other words, before we rashly declared war on a tactic rather than an enemy. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” Obama said. “We must make decisions based not on fear, but on hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the current threat that we face” (…..) He could have gone further in talking about the nature of the threat from “radicalized” individuals. What distinguishes their crimes from other senseless acts of violence? Put another way, what would the reaction have been if Adam Lanza, as he murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had yelled, “Allahu akbar”? Was there really any meaningful connection between the bloody Boston rampage and international jihadism? It seems likely that an al-Qaeda Web site taught the Boston bombers how to build their pressure-cooker bombs, but what about the alienation they obviously felt? What about their mental health? Was jihad anything more than a label, an affinity-group logo like the Red Sox insignia on a baseball cap? Obama has been saying for years that he intends to leave behind a sound legal and administrative framework for counterterrorism operations against groups or individuals who pose a threat. The long, dense, well-written speech he delivered Thursday was a start. Rather, it was a restart; upon taking office in 2009 he immediately banned torture and secret detentions overseas, but he let pass his best opportunity to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He announced that he will resume transferring some prisoners, especially to Yemen. But despite Obama’s impassioned plea, I think it is highly unlikely that Congress will remove the many restrictions that keep the president from just shutting the place down. Some detainees may still be there when Obama leaves office in 2017.

    The president gave the clearest explanation to date of how he decides to use pilotless drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists overseas. As I’ve written before, the age of drone warfare is here whether we like it or not. I really don’t like it at all. I realize, however, that any president faced with a choice between risking American lives and dispatching a few robots is going to send in the drones. But armed drones are weapons of assassination, not of war as we know it. They are designed to snuff out a specific human being and those unfortunately nearby, halfway around the globe, like a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. No amount of judicial or congressional oversight should make us feel great about that.

  6. President Obama announced on Wednesday afternoon that Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, would replace Tom Donilon, who is resigning, as national security adviser in a major shakeup of his foreign-policy inner circle. The appointment, which Mr. Obama made in a Rose Garden ceremony, puts Ms. Rice, 48, an outspoken diplomat and a close political ally, at the heart of the administration’s foreign-policy apparatus. It is also a defiant gesture to Republicans who harshly criticized Ms. Rice for presenting an erroneous account of the deadly attacks on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. The post of national security adviser, while powerful, does not require Senate confirmation. In his announcement, Mr. Obama referred to Ms. Rice’s role as an adviser during his 2008 presidential campaign and praised her work as a key diplomat during his first term. “With her background as a scholar, Susan understands that there’s no substitute for American leadership,” Mr. Obama said. “She is at once passionate and pragmatic. I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately.” Mr. Obama also named Samantha Power, a National Security Council official, as Ms. Rice’s replacement at the United Nations. Ms. Power, who has written extensively about genocide, is closely allied with Ms. Rice on human rights issues. In his statement, Mr. Obama cited Ms. Power’s work with Ms. Rice on issues related to the United Nations. “She knows the U.N.’s strengths. She knows its weaknesses,” Mr. Obama said. “She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side. And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in. And to ensure that we have the principled leadership we need at the United Nations, I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay” (…..)

  7. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Susan Rice appears to be a Democrat clone of Condoleeza Rice. If Obama decides to get into another war, Rice will certainly stand by her man.

  8. CityBumpkin: Seeing as she is an appointed cabinet official, I’m not sure why one would expect it to work any other way.

  9. IT’S WELL understood that if nuclear war ever comes, it is the president who has to make the fateful decisions. But if the United States ever faced a genuine conflict in cyberspace, with decisions having to be made at network speed against adversaries unknown or hard to find, who would be in charge? A major attempt to sort this out at the highest levels is evident in President Policy Directive 20, which President Obama signed last October. The directive is still classified as top secret but was among the papers spilled into public view by Edward Snowden, the contractor for the National Security Agency who also revealed classified materials on Internet and telephone surveillance. Although the military has designated cyberspace as a new domain of conflict, there hasn’t been a real cyberwar yet. Much about this kind of conflict among nations or groups is still only conjecture. But the new directive makes clear that, as now envisioned, it is still a matter of “national-level strategic objectives” to be decided by the president. Presidential approval is required for cyber-operations if they might result in “significant consequences,” which include loss of life, serious levels of retaliation, damage to property, adverse foreign policy consequences or economic impact on the country. Wisely, cyberweapons are being put in a category with nuclear weapons, not to be fired off by a field commander without authority. There’s an exception for emergency actions (…..)


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