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Down With the AUMF

by on October 16, 2020

Effective October 16, 2002, the 107th Congress passed the Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq. Signed by George W. Bush on that day the act has remained in force – pun intended – for the last eighteen years with Congress repeatedly updating and approving what has been called the Iraq Resolution.

President George W. Bush, surrounded by leaders of the House and Senate, announces the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, October 2, 2002. – From Wikipedia

An authorization of use of military force (AUMF) is meant to provide temporary, limited, ability to conduct war. This differs from a complete, or total war; the war is meant to limited in scope. Clearly, the length of a limited war (oops, authorization of force) differs; and article posted recently by Heather Brandon-Smith of the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation reminds us that since the U.S declared war on Romania in 1942 during WWII, “the wars in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all been authorized by AUMFs.”

There have been efforts to repeal the 2002 authorization of use of military force, including efforts during the present, 116th, Congress. And article by Tess Bridgeman of Just Security, coordinated by the Reiss Center on Law and Security at the NY School of Law, reports that an amendment by Barbara Lee to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would entirely repeal the AUMF.

The 2002 AUMF is not needed, Bridgeman says.

Unlike the 2001 AUMF, the United States is not solely relying on the 2002 AUMF for any ongoing military operations. While the Obama and Trump administrations have included the 2002 AUMF as an alternate or additional basis to support operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the executive branch is primarily relying on a different force authorization, the 2001 AUMF, to fight ISIS. And the 2001 AUMF would be sufficient to authorize those operations in the view of the executive branch.

Things just got complicated. There is in fact a 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force Act. Bridgeman of Just Security tells us “the 2001 AUMF has served as the source of domestic legal authority for an ever-expanding set of operations against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, their ‘associated forces’ (like AQAP in Yemen and al-Shabaab in Somalia), and most recently ISIS”. Or, as the article by Friends’ Committee on National Legislation puts it,

the 2001 AUMF authorized force against all who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.’ It is often referred to as the blank check‘ for endless war.

The purpose of the 2002 AUMF, again according to the Bridgeman at Reiss Center on Law and Security, was to remove Saddam Hussein. The AUMF has no longer has a purpose. She add that the 2002 AUMF was rarely invoked, and even when Obama invoked it in 2014, the administration said the 2002 AUMF should be later repealed. Nonetheless, the 2002 AUMF has been used by “to justify 41 operations in 19 countries by claiming that the 2001 AUMF applies to ‘associated forces’ of al Qaeda and the Taliban;” a term that appears “nowhere in the law” Brandon-Smith points out.

Although the 2002 AUMF “wasn’t intended to be, and shouldn’t be read as, a permanently available force authorization to address any threat that might relate to Iraq, recent events have given reason to fear the executive branch could use it that way,” Bridgeman added. Daesh, commonly known as ISIS, didn’t exist when the 2002 AUMF was approved, and although it goes beyond the scope of the bill the 2002 law has been used to fight ISIS, and some worry that the law could be invoked for a war against Iran.

Barbara Lee’s amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which called for the repeal of the 2002 AUMF has broad support. The Friends’ Committee on National Legislation says that “more than 130 members of Congress have cosponsored Rep. Lee’s stand-alone bill to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF, H.R. 2456”. Further, a bill in the Senate, In the Senate, S.J. Res. 13 from Sens. Tim Kaine (VA) and Todd Young (IN) “would repeal both the 2002 Iraq AUMF and the 1991 Gulf War AUMF, passed to authorize a military response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.”

I would go beyond an important amendment, which calls for the repeal of the use of force act of 2002, to the NDAA. There’s also no reason to have in force the 2001 AUMF, which was propelled into existence by September 11, 2001. The 2002 AUMF was inspired by the false claims that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We can no longer remember or justify why we have a limited authorization of use of force in Iraq – which has been justified for other “limited” operations. The correct course of action is to repeal and end all authorization of use of force.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on The Dole Blog and commented:

    In 2021 the House of Representatives “voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF and has now included this repeal in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023.”
    The catch, of course, is that the Senate also has to vote to repeal the AUMF, and then the repeal is signed into law by the president.
    President Biden, according to the FCNL petition, is in favor of signing to repeal the AUMF. To get there the Senate must actl the FCNL petition helps you send a pre-written letter to your Senators.
    Besides being a bad idea, the AUMF also seems to me to be illegal. It is Congress, not the president, who can declare war.
    Contact your representatives – in this case the Senate – to ask them again to repeal the AUMF

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