Congress Holds Hearing on New War Authorization
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by Countable | 6.20.17
On Tuesday morning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathered to hear testimony concerning the possibility of a new authorization for U.S. military operations against terror groups in the Middle East. Since the Trump administration launched strikes against targets in Syria in early April, Congress has renewed the debate about issuing a new war authorization, called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
In conflicts since WWII, the U.S. has used the AUMF as opposed to a declaration of war to empower presidents to pursue military objectives. A declaration of war legally empowers the executive branch in a variety of ways, while an AUMF usually has more specific parameters and boundaries.
The AUMF cited by the Trump administration and its predecessors as providing appropriate authorization was enacted following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 against the perpetrators of the attack. It is a broad, unspecified directive that has been used as the justification to launch military actions against various countries and terrorist organizations by every president for the last 16 years. Some members of Congress believe it still provides appropriate authorization. Others have argued that it is past time for Congress to issue a new authorization with specific objectives and targets, consistent with their constitutional obligations.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing today to look at the legal necessities of issuing a new AUMF. They heard testimony from the Honorable John B. Bellinger, III, who was instrumental in the crafting of the AUMF in 2001 and the Honorable Kathleen H. Hicks, Ph.D. Hicks is the Senior Vice President, Henry A. Kissinger Chair, and Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) opened the hearing with a statement:
"I have always believed that it is important for Congress to exercise its constitutional role to authorize the use of force and that our country is better off when Congress clearly authorizes the wars we fight. As a matter of fact we are approaching the day when an American soldier will deploy to combat under an authority that was passed before they were born."
He further argued that his personal view is that the 2001 AUMF (amended in 2002) was sufficient to cover current actions by the Trump administration, but that he did not want to risk "its expiration without a replacement."
Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), followed up with his own opening statement. He noted that many of the military actions undertaken since 2001 have been against targets with "at best" tenuous ties to al Qaeda. The actions in Syria specifically have nothing to do with the terror attacks of 2001:
"These AUMFs are now becoming mere authorizations of convenience for presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world. This is no longer acceptable. To [allow] this situation to continue is dereliction of Congress's duty under the Constitution to direct and regulate the president’s use of his commander-in-chief authority in activities of war.
In his written testimony Bollinger argued that a new, comprehensive AUMF should be issued that addressed specific target groups, geographical limitations, time limitations, scope of military force, use of force against Americans allied with enemy groups, detention of enemy combatants, and transparency and reporting. He reminded Congress that any AUMF only functions according to U.S. law, but that the U.S. is still subject to international law:
"It is important for Congress to understand that the AUMF only authorizes the use of force under U.S. domestic law. The United States must separately comply with international law rules governing the use of force. The U.N. Charter, a treaty to which the U.S. is a party, prohibits the use of force in or against another U.N. member state unless the state has consented, the U.N. Security Council has authorized the use of force, or the use of force is in self-defense in response to an armed attack or imminent armed attack. It is important that the United States observe international law rules governing the use of force not only because the U.S. has agreed to be bound by the U.N. Charter but because we want other countries like Russia and China to follow the same rules.”
Hicks also testified that the U.S. needs a new AUMF. She noted that most current members of Congress were elected after the 2001 AUMF, and therefore have never participated in a vigorous, public debate on war authorization. She insisted:
"A robust congressional role in use of force decisions can spur consideration of policy alternatives, raise important strategic considerations, and build the public support necessary for sustainable national security strategy. It strengthens our democracy and our legitimacy."
Do you support Congress voting on a new AUMF to pursue the war on terror with specific objectives and limitations? Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!
— Asha Sanaker
(Photo Credit: People and Places / Creative Commons)
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