When it was learned US forces had killed Osama bin Laden, many observers quickly concluded this signaled the end of the “war on terror”; because our primary objective in bringing those directly responsible for 9/11 had been satisfied.
Unfortunately, those of us seeking to start scaling back the “war on terror” – so costly in term money, lives and civil liberties here at home – may have a long wait. In fact, if the House Armed Services Committee has its way, the “war” will actually expand.
According to a report by Eli Lake at the Washington Times, this committee – led by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) – has added language to the defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year that “would define the current war on al Qaeda to include the Taliban and affiliated armed groups.”
House Republicans argue that since bin Laden is out of the picture, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed just days following the September 11, 2001 attacks, needs to be “updated.” This would justify our continued occupation of Middle Eastern countries and the open-ended approach to the current “war.” It also allows continued detention of “enemy combatants” without trial.
This is not McKeon’s first attempt to expand the AUMF. Last November, for example, he declared publicly that Congress “should ensure no court in the land questions the legal authority for our forces to prosecute this war.”
At least some House Democrats are resisting. The Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, sent a letter to McKeon urging public hearings on the implications of this proposed policy expansion. Conyers wrote, “[b]y declaring a global war against nameless individuals, organizations, and nations ‘associated’ with the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as those playing a supporting role,” the legislation actually expands the president’s authority to prosecute actions anywhere without further congressional approval.
Conyers also takes issue with the indefinite detention of terror suspects and military tribunals, noting they are “mired by legal problems and controversy.” Unfortunately these concerns are falling largely on deaf ears.
What this latest language does is give the Obama Administration and its successors preemptive permission to use military force against an alleged terrorist group, or even a country harboring them, based on some arbitrary, alleged association with al-Qaeda or the Taliban. While the Obama Administration has not asked for these expanded powers, neither is it offering firm opposition.
In a March 2011 exchange with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) – a frequent critic of expansive US military actions — Jeh Johnson, General Counsel for the Defense Department, explained why such expansion was not necessary. He said, “I think that the current legal interpretations of the AUMF that we have and that we’ve used, which are solid, are sufficient to address the existing threats that I have seen and that I have evaluated. So, I think that it’s worked so far.” Johnson went on to say there should at least be a debate on the proposal.
Many Americans are war weary; and understandably so. What should have been a series of focused, covert and Special Forces operations in Afghanistan to dismantle Taliban and al Qaeda units responsible for the 9-11 attacks, has turned into a decade-long, nation-building occupation. Iraq has likewise evolved into a trillion-dollar exercise in nation building. We are now involved militarily in Libya.
Congress should be looking for ways to reduce our military presence abroad, not expand it. We cannot afford both the cost in lives lost of our men and women in uniform, and the fiscal implications of open-ended nation-building. Nor can we afford continued use of even the original AUMF to justify all manner of questionable or openly unlawful actions, such as torture of suspects and warrantless surveillance of American citizens’ phone and e-mail communications.
The McKeon proposal should not only be debated; it should be rejected.
by Bob Barr — The Barr Code