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Pentagon 'Rewrites Constitution' Affirming Endless War

Senate hearing on the Authorization for Use of Military Force confirms congressional war powers rendered 'null and void'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The United States is truly engaged in an endless war.

A seemingly timeless MoveOn.org bumper sticker. (Photo: Alex Poldavo / Flickr) In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Forces Thursday morning entitled Oversight: The Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force, and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pentagon officials argued that the wide-ranging counter-terrorism laws implemented after 9/11 will continue to be the law of the land until "hostilities with al-Qaeda," or any individuals potentially associated with the group, come to an end.

"This is the most astounding and astoundingly disturbing hearing I have been to since I have been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today"
- Sen. Angus King (I-Maine)
During the hearing, lawmakers questioned the panel on the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and weighed further actions. It was the first Senate hearing on the potential rewriting of the AUMF.

The rule empowers the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

This widespread directive has enabled the Commander in Chief to oversee everything from the rendition, transfer and indefinite detention of "suspects," to the authorization of lethal drone strikes.

Further, Pentagon officials argued Thursday that under the AUMF troops could be sent to Syria, Yemen and the Congo without new congressional authorization.

Testifying before the panel, Michael A. Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, defended the rationale saying that if a terrorist organization outside of al-Qaeda, the Taliban or any other "associated forces" began to threaten the United States, "Then we might have to look at different authorities or extended authority or adjustment of authority to go after that organization."

Sheehan added that "when hostilities with al-Qaeda end, the AUMF will no longer be in force," ignoring the verified, self-perpetuating nature of the "global war on terror" in that American militarism has only increased hostilities worldwide.

"This is the most astounding and astoundingly disturbing hearing I have been to since I have been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today," said Senator Angus King (I-Maine) at the hearing Thursday.

"I'm just a little old lawyer from Brunswick, Maine, but I don't see how you can possibly read this to be in comport with the Constitution," King said. "Under your reading, we've granted unbelievable powers to the president and it's a very dangerous precedent."

"You guys have invented this term, associated forces, that’s nowhere in this document," he added. "It’s the justification for everything, and it renders the war powers of Congress null and void."

Encouraging the lawmakers to retire the AUMF, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, explained that there is "no more important distinction than the line between peace and war," because during peacetime a suspect can only be detained after full due process. Whereas in war, governments can kill at will.

He continued:

[T]he combination of a declared global war and the newly enhanced capacity to kill individual targets far from any traditional battlefield poses new dangers to basic rights—ones that will only grow as the US role in the Afghan armed conflict winds down. That leaves only al-Qaeda and similar armed groups but without the elements that traditionally limit use of the war power: the control of territory and a recognizable battlefield. To paint the problem most starkly, might a government that wants to kill a particular person simply declare “war” on him and shoot him, circumventing the basic due-process rights to which the target would ordinarily be entitled?

Calling the AUMF a "blank check written in advance," Roth added that although President Obama has formally dropped the Bush administration’s use of the phrase "global war on terror," he noted that their interpretation of the rule "looks very similar."

Democracy Now! posted this excerpt from Thursday's hearing:

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