If Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) really want to bring this Bush/Cheney administration to heel, they should be calling not for revocation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), but for the revocation of the 2001 AUMF.
The 2002 AUMF is the resolution Congress passed, in a panicky moment of electoral fear in October 2002, essentially giving Bush support for his war plans against Iraq. It wasn’t really a war resolution, as it contained conditionals, such as getting the backing of the UN Security Council, which the president never obtained, but nonetheless, Bush has cited it as the “declaration of war” that justified his invasion of Iraq fully five months later (probably the longest gap between a war declaration and an actual war in the history of government and warfare).
Revoking this sorry AUMF might be a moral victory for a legislative body that has an oxymoronic relationship with the M word, and might provide some cover to cowardly politicians like Clinton, who chose to support the resolution despite clear evidence that the president was lying through his teeth about the alleged threat posed by Iraq. But it won’t end the war. With troops already in harm’s way in Iraq, the president doesn’t need an AUMF to keep them there. So it’s all symbolic.
The 2001 AUMF is something else altogether.
Passed on September 18, just a week after the 9-11 attacks, the 2001 AUMF was Congress’ authorization for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and to go after Al Qaeda.
Bush, however, has used that resolution as the justification for his whole global “War” on terror. He has claimed, with no real justification or grounding in the Constitution, that this AUMF, by supposedly making him a commander in chief in time of “war,” has also conferred on him “unitary executive” powers that he and his hack lawyers argue render the Constitution temporarily suspended. He cites this AUMF as giving him the right to violate at will federal laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the right to invalidate and ignore laws passed by the Congress, the right to ignore court orders, to erase the right of habeas corpus, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, and the right to torture and kidnap anyone he decides to declare an “enemy combatant” or “unlawful combatant.”
All these claims are bogus, of course. There is nothing in the Constitution about “unitary executive” powers. Moreover, the term “commander in chief” in Article II of the Constitution is specifically limited to making the president the top military officer in the land. It confers no powers over Congress or the Courts or over civilians. Indeed the Founding Fathers were clear in stating that it was precisely in wartime that they most feared the danger of a president becoming a tyrant. They saw war as the gravest threat to the survival of constitutional government, and presidents as the potential villains.
That said, it is clear that Congress should act to remove the basis for the president’s bogus claims, and for his six years of Constitutional rape and pillage. The 2001 AUMF should be rescinded.
There is, in any case, no longer any need for that resolution.
Presidents don’t need an AUMF to combat terrorism. Terrorism has, after all, always been with us. Did President Clinton need an AUMF when the Murrah Building was bombed? Of course not. And as for the war in Afghanistan-it’s over. The Taliban government was overthrown in weeks and by 2002, that country had a new government, which has invited NATO forces-not the US military-to defend it against any resurgence of the old regime. America doesn’t need an AUMF to send its forces into police actions under NATO command.
All that revocation of the 2001 AUMF would do is put an end to the president’s bogus claim that he has dictatorial powers.
So why is nobody in Congress calling for revoking the 2001 AUMF? It should have been the first thing the Democrats did on opening day of the 110th Congress.
Could it be that the Democrats are so confident of winning the White House in 2008 that they want to keep this anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional legislation in place so a Democratic president, too, can ignore Congress and the courts and run roughshod over the rights of American citizens?
We should all–Republicans, Democrats and independents–be very troubled by the Democrats’ unconscionable inaction on this issue, five full months into their assumption of control of the Congress.
Every Democratic legislator in Washington DC should be deluged with constituent calls demanding that they revoke the 2001 AUMF, and every Democratic presidential aspirant should be compelled to demand its revocation, and to disavow the validity of Bush’s “unitary executive” claims.
If Congress wants to revoke the 2002 AUMF too, that’s fine, but let’s start with the real danger: the 2001 AUMF.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org