Though the Authorization for Use of Military Force—a joint resolution passed in the days following the 9/11 attacks—has been repeatedly reauthorized by Congress, officials inside the White House reveal that the Obama administration is having specific conversations about how to both expand the law's authority and make certain aspects of the US "global war on terror" permanent.
Known as the AUMF and considered the piece of legislation most responsible for the ongoing and seemingly endless use of military force abroad, new reporting by the Washington Post examines how even government insiders supportive of the ongoing military operations say the law is being "stretched to its legal limits."
Motivated by those concerns—and perhaps due to the mounting public and congressional opposition to Obama's use of predator drones and claims of executive authority—the administration is now debating how to "turn counterterrorism policies adopted as emergency measures after the 2001 attacks into more permanent procedures" that can sustain its desire to continue the military "campaign against al-Qaeda and its affiliates" and, as the Post vaguely reports, "other current and future threats."
Despite the passage of time and an increasingly war-weary public, however, the 'War on Terror' endures precisely because of the open-ended nature of the hastily written law. As the Post explains:
The [AUMF] placed no geographic limits on that power but did not envision a drawn-out conflict that would eventually encompass groups with no ties to the Sept. 11 strikes. Instead, it authorized the president to take action “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.”
The authorization makes no mention of “associated forces,” a term that emerged only in subsequent interpretations of the text. But even that elastic phrase has become increasingly difficult to employ.
According to the Post:
The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to “associated forces” of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called “associates of associates.”
The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda’s agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill-or-capture missions involving U.S. troops.
And, as Glenn Greenwald wrote recently:
The polices adopted by the Obama administration just over the last couple of years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war apparatus that has been relentlessly strengthened over the last decade. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.
Does that sound to you like a government anticipating the end of the War on Terror any time soon? Or does it sound like one working feverishly to make their terrorism-justified powers of detention, surveillance, killing and secrecy permanent? About all of this, the ACLU's Executive Director, Anthony Romero, provided the answer on Thursday: "President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended."
Put in the context of a new US drone base being built in the west African nation of Niger and a recent declaration by US Attorney General Holder that the president could, in theory, target US citizens suspected of terrorist activity for extrajudicial killing, the US faces a scenario in which "permanent" policies would dramatically alter long-held understandings of civil liberties, international law and constitutional authority.
In addition, by making the "war power authority" permanent, such policies would subject the US economy to continued lavish spending on a military apparatus and set of practices—such as drone attacks amid civilian populations—that many experts contend are making US citizens less, not more, secure.
According to the Post:
The outcome of the debate could determine when and how the war on terrorism — at least as defined by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks—comes to a close.
“You can’t end the war if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy,” said a person who participated in the administration’s deliberations on the issue.