This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the Authorization for Use of Military Force—the blank check that Congress wrote to George W. Bush in response to the attacks of September 11th. (See the op-ed by Michael Ratner, emeritus president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, on this anniversary)
It granted the President the authority “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 September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
The bill passed the Senate 98-0 and the House 420-1. Democrat Barbara Lee from California, to her eternal credit, was the only person in the entire Congress to vote against it.
Bush then used this sweeping authorization not only to attack Afghanistan but to justify his detention policies in Guantanamo and even his illegal domestic spying.
Now, ten years later, the Pentagon is claiming that the President still has the right to go attack anyone affiliated with Al Qaeda, including foot soldiers of groups with only vague connections. Under this view, the U.S. could use drone strikes anywhere in the world against thousands and thousands of people.
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This would greatly broaden the policy of summary execution—yeah, let’s call it what it is—that the Obama Administration has been pursuing in Pakistan and Yemen.
Republican members of Congress want to grant the President the statutory authority to do this.
It’s as though they’ve learned nothing from the overreach that the first authorization of military force prompted ten years ago.
The last thing any President needs is more unilateral authority to go kill people.