growing number of Congressional Democrats say it is time to revise or end a law that gives the president unlimited authority to start wars around the world.
Two US administrations have used the existing Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to justify military actions around the world.
The law– passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks under George W. Bush’s administration– has been a justification for military invasions, indefinite detention (including at Guantanamo Bay), torture and drone assassination by the US government for more than a decade.
Some lawmakers are currently considering revising or ending the AUMF as part of an effort to shift these operations onto a more permanent foundation.
In testimony before Congress on Wednesday, top administration officials asserted that the president has unlimited war powers without seeking Congressional authorization.
Top Pentagon lawyer Stephen Preston and Mary McLeod, a high-ranking State Department legal advisor – struggled to justify the resolution’s continued usefulness.
McLeod and Preston indicated that Article II of the US Constitution gives the president unlimited executive power and that there are in fact no additional powers that the president has as a result of the AUMF.
“I am not aware of any foreign terrorist group that presents a threat against this country that the president lacks authority to defend against simply because they are not covered by the AUMF. If the group presents a threat the president does have authority to take steps against that threat,” Preston said.
When asked by Republican Senator Bob Corker whether the president could continue to “carry out the counter-terrorism activities he is carrying out today” if the AUMF were repealed, McLeod replied, “Yes, I believe he could.”
“The US has the authority to target individuals, including Americans, who pose an imminent threat to attack our country,” McLeod added.
Opponents, however, argue that the law has the potential to mire the US in low-intensity warfare for another 20 to 30 years.
“We’re still operating in a war declared on 9/14/01 and both the Bush and Obama administrations have determined that that war can be carried out against members of al- Qaeda, against anyone who associates with affiliates or associates of al-Qaeda, no matter when those associates pop up,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is leading a Senate push to review the resolution.
Kaine said last month that the law allows the commander-in-chief to wage military action against any al-Qaeda affiliate that has an “evil design” against any member of an international coalition that could number as many as 58 countries.