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Green Shadow Cabinet: Obama’s misuse of AUMF is unconstitutional, unconscionable

Published on the Green Shadow Cabinet’s website:

May 21, 2013
Leah Bolger & Ben Manski

The following is a joint statement of Green Shadow Cabinet officers Leah Bolger, Secretary of Defense, and Ben Manski, Chief of Staff, regarding the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (2001 AUMF):

This past Thursday, Obama administration officials testifying before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee verified what had been unspoken up until now: that the executive branch intends to continue waging war indefinitely, and claims the power and authority to do so.

The topic for the hearings was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which was passed in a rush to reaction mere days after the 9/11 attacks. Together with the Patriot Act, the 2001 AUMF defied both the U.S. Constitution and international law and dealt a series of blows to the separation of powers, civil liberties, and accepted legal norms. Because most Americans were so stunned and frightened by the attacks of 9/11, they hardly questioned the legality or constitutionality of the AUMF at the time.

In one respect, the 2001 AUMF was written in extremely broad, encompassing language, giving George W. Bush carte blanche to attack any country or any person he suspected of having ties to the 9/11 attacks. Broadly, the AUMF gave Bush the power 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, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

But in another respect the AUMF had specific boundaries. It defined the enemy specifically as those connected with and responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Over the past 12 years, this authorization has been redirected into giving the green light for military action, extraordinary rendition, and even assassination of anyone who is considered a significant threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The testimony last Thursday of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Michael Sheehan, and Robert Taylor, the acting General Counsel for the Department of Defense, made clear that the Obama administration has adopted and expanded the Bush doctrine of preemptive and endless war. Assistant Secretary Sheehan stunned some senators while gratifying others when he said that the military currently has the appropriate authority to put “boots on the ground” in Yemen or the Congo, or “any (battlefield) that the enemy chooses to make it,” as suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham.

The Bush and Obama administrations have relied on the 2001 AUMF to use military force in countries that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and against people who weren’t even born at the time. The AUMF is purportedly the authorization being used to justify drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia that have killed thousands of people, 98% of whom were not affiliated with al-Qaeda, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Obama administration even believes that the 2001 AUMF authorizes the killing of American citizens, as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaqi and his 16-year old son, who were murdered by Hellfire missiles launched from drones. These actions were never specifically authorized by a vote of Congress, and they were not authorized even under the sweeping terms of the 2001 AUMF.

In its abuse of the directives of the 2001 AUMF, the Obama administration has made a mockery of Congress. Yet the truth remains that that authorization was itself unconstitutional from the beginning.

Congress may not delegate its war powers to the executive branch. The constitutional power to declare war and to authorize military action is that of Congress and Congress alone. To authorize the executive branch to take military action wherever, whenever, and against whomever it chooses is by definition to delegate all war power authority to the executive.

That only one member of Congress – Representative Barbara Lee – stood up in 2001 to vote against the AUMF, says much about the lack of integrity and courage among those sitting in Congress at that time. But it does nothing to change the fact that even with a unanimous vote the AUMF would have been unconstitutional. A Congress of cowards does not constitutionalize an imperial presidency.

Either the AUMF of 2001 was as broad as the Obama administration claims, in which case it was and remains unconstitutional, or that AUMF was limited, in which case the Obama administration has violated it hundreds if not thousands of times already.

In the 12 years since 2001, the federal government has killed hundreds of thousands of people, captured tens of thousands, made refugees out of millions, and injured or otherwise harmed uncountable numbers in the “Global War on Terror.”

This kind of unending and unchecked war is the very thing the Revolutionaries of 1776 sought to prevent when they limited the power of the presidency and of the U.S. military. They called standing armies “the bane of liberty” and a threat to the promise of the new American states.

Instead, today, the President pursues a foreign policy that creates enemies through the murder of the innocent, aggressive wars of choice, and the flouting of international law. There seems no other explanation for these policies except that the Global War on Terror by its very design is intended to go on forever.

It is time for the American people, the courts, and Congress to strike down the 2001 AUMF. And because Congress and the courts have so far failed us, it is time for the people themselves to take up the question of who decides about war. To do so, we must hold accountable President Obama, his administration and Congress for violating their oaths of office. And we must move the war declaring power from Congress to a referendum of the American people, as proposed by Senator Ludlow in the 1930s and Congressman Dellums in the 1970s.

About Post Author

Krzysztof Lesiak

I've been a contributor for IPR since January 2013. I consider myself to be a paleoconservative. I'm also the founder of American Third Party Report. Email me at