Critics of President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force AUMF) against ISIS have been focused upon its deliberately obfuscatory and ambiguous language, which they rightly note would make it essentially a carte blanche from Congress allowing the president to go to war almost anywhere some would-be terrorist or terrorist copycat could be found who claims affinity with ISIS.
The critics have also complained that even if Congress were to reject his AUMF request, the president would continue his acts of war against the likes of ISIS, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, claiming he is acting under the aegis of the 2001 AUMF Congress passed to allow the Bush/Cheney invasion of Afghanistan.
It is for that reason that some critics of the latest AUMF are calling for repeal of the 2001 AUMF before the new AUMF can even be considered.
But these critics are ignoring the real reason that the 2001 AUMF must be repealed, which is that in declaring the “War on Terror” against Al Qaeda and “those who were behind the 9-11 attacks” as well as those alleged to have aided or sheltered them, and in declaring that the whole globe was the battlefield in this supposed “war,” including the United States, the 2001 AUMF became a justification for the federal courts and the US Supreme Court to essentially declare the president a dictator.
The legal “theory” cobbled together by the Bush/Cheney White House attorney-for-hire John Yoo and accepted by the Supreme Court majority is that during time of war, and particularly in a war zone, the Constitution makes the American president a “unitary executive” who has within his power not just executive, but also legislative and judicial authority to act on his own without restraint. This is the specious argument that has allowed President Obama, and President Bush before him, to override the Constitutional guarantee of a right to a fair trial by ones peers, and to simply decide whether to torture captives or whether an American should be killed in a drone strike for allegedly being a terrorist or terror supporter. It is the argument that allows the president to decide that it’s okay to torture someone, in violation of US and international law. It’s okay for the NSA and other federal agencies to spy on Americans under this unitary executive theory, too.
Essentially any outrage that the worst dictators through history have perpetrated — and the very things that British Colonial authorities in the 18th Century were doing to American colonists such as torture, imprisonment without charge, summary execution, etc., which sparked the American Revolution — are permitted, because the 2001 AUMF declares America to be a battleground and the country to be in a permanent state of war.
This situation, which continues to erode what fragile freedoms remain in this sad land — mostly through inertia or habit alone at this point — will continue to wreak havoc on our lives and the Constitution unless or until Congress acts to terminate the 2001 AUMF, or until the public rises up and tosses out the insouciant and complicit members of Congress who have sat on their hands all these years, and replaces them with freedom-loving representatives and senators who will, upon taking their seats in Congress, do their duty and overturn it.
An additional problem, however, is that the new proposed AUMF borrows much of the same dangerous language as the older one, with the only difference being that unlike the 2001 AUMF it has a three-year life-span, after which it would sunset and go out of effectiveness unless renewed. (Not that that provides much comfort: Just look at the USA PATRIOT Act, passed around the same time as the 2001 AUMF, which has been renewed by Congress multiple times, in some cases with added horrific provisions.)
The whole idea that fighting or defending against “terrorism” — itself a very broad and deliberately undefined term that has often been misused to the point of absurdity in order to lock certain people away for a long time — needs to be challenged. Terrorism, particularly inside the borders of the US, has been and remains an issue for police, not the military. There is no justification for defining the US as a “war zone” — much as todays militarized cops might pretend it is. In fact, terrorism is not an issue for the military anywhere in the world. If the past insane 14 years have shown us anything, it’s that armies don’t defeat terrorism. Rather, by indiscriminately killing innocents and causing angry relatives to seek revenge, they create terrorists.
Enough of this madness!
Instead of considering passage of a new authorization for this Nobel Peace Laureate president to launch yet another war against some poor third world population, congress should get rid of the treacherous AUMF we are still saddled with.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).