Broad Support for Updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and Affiliated Terrorist Groups

May 18, 2011
Defense Drumbeat

Washington, D.C. (Permalink) -  Two major newspaper editorial boards and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution have decried accusations that a provision in the National Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 would expand the war on terrorism.

In an editorial Monday, A Conflict Without End, the New York Times accused the bipartisan group who support aligning congressional intent with the Obama Administration’s filings in federal court of promoting eternal conflict:

“This wildly expansive authorization would, in essence, make the war on terror a permanent and limitless aspect of life on earth, along with its huge potential for abuse.”

This is a factually incorrect, but wholly predictable, response from the Times. The provision does not alter the President’s existing authority pursuant to the 2001 AUMF. It simply reinforces such authority in the face of constant legal challenges in federal court and affirms that the 2001 AUMF allows for force to be used against groups who are part of or affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

The Times’ creative reading of the AUMF provision has been roundly rejected by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and a noted legal scholar:

  • The Post opined: “The United States has in fact been involved in a ‘worldwide war’ against terrorist groups intent on doing harm to the country, its allies and its interests. Two presidents from opposing parties have made clear that the United States would not stand idly by when other countries are unwilling or unable to ferret out the terrorists among them. The presidents were bolstered in their conclusions by the original Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and by international law, which recognizes a country’s inherent right to self-defense. The recent raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden was a product of such an approach.”
  • The Los Angeles Times concurred: “The New York Times sees the term ‘associated forces’ as so vague that it could include ‘anyone who doesn't like America, even if they are not connected in any way with the 2001 attacks. It could even apply to domestic threats.’ That is an exaggerated, if not paranoid, characterization of the language, which seems designed to cover groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
  • Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in international law had similar criticisms. “The Times editorial is shrill and ill-informed, contains several gross factual errors and misleading statements, and–apparently without any awareness of what it is doing–suggests that the Obama administration believes it has the power to attack Iran under the AUMF.”

112th Congress