AUMF

Breaking: Four Senators Rediscover Congress Has Oversight Role for Committing Troops

Don’t look for this important bit of news in the New York Times or Washington Post. At least at the time I started writing this, they hadn’t noticed that Senators Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) put out a press release yesterday calling for a Congressional vote on whether to authorize keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. President Barack Obama and the Pentagon have been bargaining with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for over a year now to get a Bilateral Security Agreement that will authorize keeping US troops there after the current NATO mission officially ends at the end of this year, but we have heard almost nothing at all from Congress. Well, we did have some hypocrisy tourists calling for Karzai to sign the agreement immediately or suffer the financial consequences, but they didn’t call for using their Constitutional role in authorizing use of troops.

This bipartisan group had some pretty strong language about the push to exclude Congress from the decision-making on keeping troops in Afghanistan:

Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) announced the introduction of a bipartisan resolution calling for Congress to have a role in approving any further United States military involvement in Afghanistan after the current mission ends on December 31, 2014. The Administration is reportedly negotiating an agreement that could keep 10,000 American troops or more in Afghanistan for another ten years.

“The American people should weigh in and Congress should vote before we decide to commit massive resources and thousands of troops to another decade in Afghanistan,” Merkley said. “After over 12 years of war, the public deserves a say. Congress owes it to the men and women in uniform to engage in vigorous oversight on decisions of war and peace.”

“After over a decade of war, Congress, and more importantly the American people, must be afforded a voice in this debate,” Lee said. “The decision to continue to sacrifice our blood and treasure in this conflict should not be made by the White House and Pentagon alone.

“After 13 years, more than 2,300 American lives lost and more than $600 billion, it is time to bring our brave warriors home to the hero’s welcome they deserve and begin rebuilding America, not Afghanistan,” Manchin said. “We do not have an ally in President Karzai and his corrupt regime. His statements and actions have proven that again and again. Most West Virginians believe like I do money or military might won’t make a difference in Afghanistan. It’s time to bring our troops home.”

“The power to declare war resides in the hands of Congress,” Paul said. “If this President  or any future President has the desire to continue to deploy U.S. troops to this region, it should be done so only with the support of Congress and the citizens of the United States.”

After 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the Administration has declared that the war in Afghanistan will be wound down by December 31, 2014. However, the Administration is also negotiating an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan that would set guidelines for U.S. troops to remain in training, support, and counter-terrorism roles through at least 2024.

In November, the Senators introduced this bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, but it wasn’t allowed a vote. In June, the House of Representatives approved a similar amendment to the NDAA stating that it is the Sense of Congress that if the President determines that it is necessary to maintain U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, any such presence and missions should be authorized by Congress.  The House amendment passed by a robust, bipartisan 305-121 margin.

But Merkley added yet another zinger. From the AFP story on the move, as carried in Dawn (emphasis added):

“We are introducing a bipartisan resolution to say before any American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine is committed to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, Congress should vote,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley told reporters.

Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war.

Wow. What a concept. Continue reading

On the Growing Fight Against America’s Secret Enemies

Cora Currier describes the absurd response she got when she asked for a list of our enemies.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.

The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”

“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”

Thing is, this is not entirely new. At least until February, the government had been refusing to give Ron Wyden a list of every country in which we’ve used lethal force. And he’s on the Intelligence Committee!

Indeed, Currier suggests one reason this might be classified would be if Obama was fighting these enemies under Inherent Authority.

The AUMF isn’t the only thing the government relies on to take military action. In speeches and interviews Obama administration officials also bring up the president’s constitutional power to defend the country, even without congressional authorization.

But, as Jack Goldsmith notes, something else seems to be going on here, because the response Currier got suggests the list is classified Secret, not whatever Top Secret compartment the government maintained for a year Wyden couldn’t access.

The language of the DOD release suggests that at least a few more groups (or elements of groups), and maybe many more groups (or elements), are on the AUMF “list.”  The existence of a “list” (which was unclear in the May 2013 AUMF hearing), and the fact that there may be at least a few groups (or elements of groups) on it, is itself news in the AUMF-watcher world.  It is also consistent with suggestions and implications in reports, such as in Mark Mazzetti’s book, that the AUMF is being invoked in various ways by DOD Special Operations Forces for non-covert military activities in many countries around the globe.

Third, it is entirely unclear why the USG can acknowledge some groups without unduly “inflating” them, and not others.  And this in turn makes me skeptical of the notion of “inflation.”  To be sure, some groups that are AUMF-able (such as, perhaps, the Haqqani network, a known but not acknowledged U.S. target) perhaps cannot be named because the operations are covert actions and involve deals of non-acknowledgment with foreign governments (or elements of foreign governments).  But that cannot be a comprehensive explanation for DOD’s secrecy.  By stating that disclosure of groups on the list would “reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security,” DOD has tipped off that the list is classified only at the secret (as opposed to top secret) level.  (See Section 1.2 of E.O. 13,256.)  Covert actions are typically classified at the top secret level.  This implies (but does not prove) that some if not all of the AUMF-groups in question are not subjects of covert actions.

But remember: There are two other instances where the government has refused to clarify who is, and is not, an enemy.

When a bunch of people who have talked to, but not assisted, terrorists sued to stop the NSAA’s provisions allowing indefinite detention, the government refused (until it became convenient) to say whether they could be detained or not.

Then, as part of the Bradley Manning charges, the government kept one of the enemies it was going to prove he had aided classified (but ultimately didn’t argue he had aided that enemy in court).

Prosecutors accuse him of “aiding the enemy,” and three in particular: al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a “classified enemy” referred to by a Bates number, which is a form of legal document identification.
Three professors of military law – Yale Law School’s Eugene Fidell, Duke University School of Law’s Scott Silliman and Texas Tech University School of Law’s Richard Rosen – told Courthouse News they had never heard of a case involving a “classified enemy.”
After being informed that the phrase stumped the professors, a military spokeswoman insisted that the confusion stemmed from a misunderstanding, because “who the enemy ‘is’ is not classified.”
“What ‘is’ classified is that our government has confirmed that this enemy is in receipt of certain compromised classified information, and that the means and methods of collection that the government has employed to make that determination are classified,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

One thing about all these instances — refusing to share a list of lethal force targeted countries with Ron Wyden, sharing a classified list with Carl Levin only on request, refusing to tell Americans (and one member of parliament from Iceland) whether they are counted as enemies, and refusing to tell Manning which enemy he supposed aided — is that they provide the executive maximum flexibility. That may not be the only thing this extreme secrecy about enemies does. But it is one thing it does do, along with hiding how broad the unilaterally declared war under Inherent Authority is.

It sure does make things confusing, though!

We Have Always Been at War with Eastasia Adherents

Back on September 18, 2001, here’s who we declared war against.

the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons,

On March 13, 2009, here’s how Obama expanded that AUMF to include “associated forces.”

The President has the authority to detain persons that the President determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks. The President also has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act, or has directly supported hostilities, in aid of such enemy armed forces. [my emphasis]

Here’s how, on Monday, the White House described the speech Obama will make tomorrow on counterterrorism.

On May 23, the President will give a speech at the National Defense University on the Administration’s counterterrorism policy. In his speech, the President will discuss our broad counter-terrorism policy, including our military, diplomatic, intelligence and legal efforts. He will review the state of the threats we face, particularly as al Qaeda core has weakened but new dangers have emerged; he will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones; he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and he will frame the future of our efforts against Al Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents. [my emphasis]

Now, in point of fact, this war against “adherents” is not new. Denis McDonough invoked it in a speech on March 6, 2011.

Preventing radicalization that leads to violence here in America is part of our larger strategy to decisively defeat al Qaeda. Overseas, because of the new focus and resources that the President has devoted to this fight, the al Qaeda leadership in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is hunkered down and it’s harder than ever for them to plot and launch attacks against our country. Because we’re helping other countries build their capacity to defend themselves, we’re making it harder for al Qaeda’s adherents to operate around the world.

Here at home, we’ve strengthened our defenses, with improvements to intelligence and aviation screening and enhanced security at our borders, ports and airports. As we’ve seen in recent attempted attacks, al Qaeda and its adherents are constantly trying to exploit any vulnerability in our open society. But it’s also clear that our dedicated intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security personnel have disrupted many more plots and saved many American lives.

[snip]

For all these reasons—our stronger defenses at home; our progress against al Qaeda overseas; the rejection of al Qaeda by so many Muslims around the world; and the powerful image of Muslims thriving in America—al Qaeda and its adherents have increasingly turned to another troubling tactic: attempting to recruit and radicalize people to terrorism here in the United States.

[snip]

But with al Qaeda and its adherents constantly evolving and refining their tactics, our understanding of the threat has to evolve as well.

Obama invoked adherents, sort of, shortly thereafter.

Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents.

And John Brennan invoked adherents in speeches on June 29, 2011, September 16, 2011, April 30, 2012, and October 26, 2012.

So the Administration has been at war against al Qaeda adherents (and affiliates, another new category) for some time.

But if I’m not mistaken, tomorrow will mark the most detailed discussion in which the President describes this war that no one declared against adherents. And given that Congress has shown newfound interest in the scope of the AUMF that includes neither adherents nor associated forces, it will be interesting to see how the President describes this expanded war.

Declaring “Wars” the President Didn’t Ask For

I’ll probably have a few posts on Harold Koh’s speech opposing what he calls the “Forever War” at the Oxford Union. For now, I want to look at his argument against a new Authorization to Use Military Force.

I strongly disagree with those who claim that new legislation is now necessary to authorize the Administration to fight against new enemies. The burden of proving that such legislation would be either necessary or wise should fall on the proponents. As a lifelong international and constitutional lawyer who has worked on these legal issues for a decade, I see no proof that the U.S. lacks legal authority to defend itself against those with whom we are genuinely at war or who pose to us a genuine and imminent threat. Significantly, Congress has never declared war against an enemy when the President has not asked for such a declaration. Nor would adopting new domestic legislation make actions in preemptive self-defense lawful under international law. And unless we can clearly define just who the new enemies are–and why existing legal authorities are insufficient to defend ourselves against them–we have no basis for passing new laws that would perpetuate the Forever War against shadowy foes whose association with those who have attacked us on 9/11 cannot be proven.

It’s hard to tell where the boundaries between good faith and deception lie here. After all, in several places in the speech — including this passage purportedly distinguishing what Obama has done from what Bush did — Koh’s language admits the possibility that Congressional sanction for military force is not the only authority Obama is working with (though he does admit that Congressional authority is one source of authority).

First, the Obama Administration has not treated the post-9/11 conflict as a Global War on Terror to which no law applies, in which the United States is authorized to use force anywhere, against anyone. Instead, it has acknowledged that its authority under domestic law derives from Acts of Congress, not just the President’s s vague constitutional powers.

And so when he says things like “I see no proof that the U.S. lacks legal authority to defend itself against those with whom we are genuinely at war or who pose to us a genuine and imminent threat,” it seems likely he’s preserving the ability to rely on Article II authority for something called an “imminent threat.” The same is true when he invokes “existing legal authorities” when he talks about fighting people who are clearly not Al Qaeda.

In other words, even while he seems to be opposed to treating our newer enemies as war opponents, he also seems to be reserving the right to rely on Article II authority to go after them. Which is not necessarily a better proposition for those who truly value other tools rather than killing.

That’s why I’m struck by this sentence.

Significantly, Congress has never declared war against an enemy when the President has not asked for such a declaration.

What Koh seems to be worried about is shifting the balance of the Youngstown test — whether Presidential power is expansive or limited — of the AUMF itself (Koh pretends authorizing military force is the same thing as declaring war, but in any case, last I checked, the authority to declare war belonged to Article I).

That’s true, first of all, because the way the existing AUMF was written — which allows the President to determine the enemy and has been interpreted consistently but wrongly as authorizing war powers here in the US. A new AUMF might (though probably wouldn’t) explicitly clarify the limits to war powers in the US or at least with US citizens.

But as even the 2012 NDAA showed, it can work the other way, with Congress requiring that Obama default to military detention and commissions with any new terrorist suspects. Mind you, Obama took the limits on what he could do in Gitmo far, far more seriously than he did the requirement that DOD give every one of its detainees a meaningful review, so he’s already picking and choosing what legislative requirements he fulfills. But in theory at least, Congress can mandate the President treat certain targets as enemies of war, rather than criminals.

But that, it seems to me, is ultimately what this debate about a new AUMF comes down to. Koh and, presumably, others who have served the President won’t want Congress to change the delicate balance that offers the President a great deal of flexibility to operate under both the AUMF and Article II. And to some degree, they’re right to worry about what batshit stuff the Lindsey Grahams of the world will mandate. But I suspect they’re just as worried that a new AUMF will put real limits to the President’s current fairly unlimited authority.

Look, I don’t trust Congress to write a new AUMF either. If they do one, it’s going to contain all manner of batshittery.

But bizarrely, in our crazy world, passing a new one might actually be a more effective way to limit what the President can and can’t do as anything else that has been tried. If we want to force the Executive Branch to stop waging war against Americans in America, we’re going to have to do so explicitly.

The Folks Who Brought You Military Detention in the NDAA Are Rewriting the AUMF

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced a hearing to revisit the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. In addition to a bunch of DOD figures (but not the recently departed Jeh Johnson, the DOD-connected person who said the most interesting things about the AUMF), it’ll have (I’ve linked their most salient comments on the AUMF):

Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Geoffrey Corn, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law

Jack Goldsmith, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Charles Stimson, Manager, National Security Law Program, The Heritage Foundation

Curiously, John Bellinger who (as far as I understand) started the discussion of a new AUMF is not slated to testify. Also note that the Deputy Director of Special Operations for Counterterrorism will testify, but no one from CIA is scheduled to; while JSOC can operate under the President’s inherent authority, it likely prefers the legal cover of an AUMF (and therefore may be one of the entities pushing for an AUMF that matches reality on the ground).

Politico reports that this hearing is more than speculative: Levin and no-longer-SASC-Ranking-Member-but-he-might-as-well-be John McCain are planning to rewrite the AUMF, with help from Bob Corker, Dick Durbin, and Lindsey “all detainees must be military” Graham.

And if the inclusion of Graham in that group doesn’t scare you, remember that this crowd is substantively the same one that enshrined military detention in 2012′s NDAA. While that effort might be regarded as “reasonable” Carl Levin and John McCain’s attempt to present something more reasonable than House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon was pushing for, and while the NDAA originally included exceptions for US citizens, in the event, the White House pushed Carl Levin to effectively rubber stamp its claims to unlimited authority, including detaining (or killing) US citizens.

And if that doesn’t have you worried enough about this effort, consider this quote, which mocks the contributions Rand Paul or Ted Cruz might make to this debate.

“Can you imagine what Paul or Cruz would do with this?” said one top Democratic aide. “It could be a disaster. And it would be worse in the House.”

As a threshold matter, a top aide who can’t distinguish between Paul’s more heartfelt libertarianism from Cruz’ authoritarianism pretending to be libertarianism is a concern. But to call the influence of both as “a disaster” is troubling.

Ultimately, though, what is likely to happen with this debate is that all players will be unwilling to discuss openly what we’ve actually been doing in the name of war against al Qaeda, up to and including waging war in the “homeland.”  That’s one thing the 2001 AUMF was written to exclude. And I can almost guarantee you, it’s an authority the President — and the top Democratic aides who mock Rand Paul — will want to preserve.

Zoe Lofgren Didn’t Vote to Let Presidents Wage Unlimited War, But John Yoo Did

As a series of Presidents continue to claim the September 18, 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force authorizes fairly unlimited power on an unlimited battlefield, I keep coming back to this Tom Daschle op-ed, in which he described how Congress refused to extend the AUMF to US soil.

Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words “in the United States and” after “appropriate force” in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas — where we all understood he wanted authority to act — but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.

The op-ed is, as far as I know, the only public statement describing how Congress narrowed a breathtakingly broad claim for military force.

Until Wednesday’s drone hearing, that is.

In response to a comment from John Bellinger that it was appropriate for the Executive Branch to refuse to share its OLC memos with Congress, Zoe Lofgren suggested (1:36 and following) the President was exceeding the terms of the AUMF (she comes very close to saying the President broke the law, but stops herself). She refers to — as Daschle did — negotiations leading up to the AUMF that actually did get passed.

Lofgren: If you take a look at the Authorization to Use Military Force, which all of us voted for — those of us who were here (there was only one no vote in the House) — it says “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.” Now, are we to believe that everyone on this list was responsible for the 9/11 attack? I mean, is that the rationale?

Bellinger: No, your exactly right. All four of us agree with you that the 2001 AUMF, which was only about 60 words long — I was involved in drafting it literally almost on the back of an envelope while the World Trade Center was still smoldering — now is very long in the tooth. The good government solution, while extremely difficult and controversial, would be for Congress to work together with the Executive Branch to revise that AUMF. It’s completely unclear about what it covers, who it covers, where it covers.

Lofgren: If I may, I think it’s not as unclear as you suggest. There are — this was a limitation, and there were big arguments about it as you’re, I’m sure, aware, there was a prior draft that was  much more expansive. There was a prior draft that was much more expansive and it was narrowed so we could get bipartisan consensus and it was narrowed for an important reason. And I guess I — yes, the Executive has the ability to keep his legal advice confidential, that’s a long-standing principle, but since it looks like — at least, questions are raised — as to whether the executive is complying with the law, then if he feels he is, then I feel it would be a very positive thing for the Administration to share that legal advice with this committee and with the American people. Continue reading

New Global Terrorism Index Demonstrates US War on Terror Is Abject Failure

Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace released a study (pdf) today in which they have tabulated terrorist attacks over the past ten years. They have developed a Global Terrorism Index which, on a country by country basis, quantifies attacks by number of fatalities, number of injuries and property damage incurred and allows for trends over time. The top three countries in the index are, in order, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the US has spent the bulk of its efforts in the Great War on Terror since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The fact remains that after over ten years of effort, over a trillion dollars spent and thousands of US troops killed, terrorism remains at greatly elevated levels in those countries compared to the level at the beginning of the study in 2002. There has been a slight plateauing of the number of attacks since its peak in 2007, but there is no real trend toward lower numbers of attacks. The top ten countries, from the report:

What qualifies as terrorism differs greatly depending on the definition employed. The definition employed here is:

the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation

The study notes that in this context, drones are excluded:

This definition excludes perceived acts of state terror, such as drone attacks resulting in civilian casualties.

It should be noted that the scale employed is logarithmic and so small differences in the terror index number reflect large differences in the numbers of attacks and fatalities. For 2011, there were 1228 incidents in the top country Iraq with 1798 fatalities while the number nine country Russia saw 182 incidents with 159 fatalities. An interactive map of the data can be found here.

As mentioned above, attacks increased greatly from 2002 through 2007 and then plateaued. The trend of attacks over time can be seen here:

The study looked at the data in an attempt to find potential causes of terrorism (emphasis in original):

Analysis has also been carried out against a range of socioeconomic data to determine what factors may be associated with terrorism. The factors that correlated the strongest with the GTI were group grievances, intergroup cohesion, human rights, and political stability.

Interestingly, even though the US embarked on its Great War on Terror in response to an attack by al Qaeda, the study found only one incident in 2011 attributed to it. However, there are many offshoots of the group which remain active:

According to GTD data, however, the al-Qa’ida organization itself was responsible for only one incident – a kidnapping – out of the 5000 terrorist incidents in 2011, while 11 of the most 20 [sic] active groups globally were al-Qa’ida linked.

So while the primary al Qaeda organization is essentially defunct with regard to terror attacks, its offshoots remain active.  In terms of fatalities, the top three groups for the time period 2002 through 2001 were the Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq. Despite all the effort by the US, its targets remain the most effective actors in global terrorism in terms of deaths.

In a rational world, this report would prompt long, careful review in Washington and a reassessment of how our country goes about trying to stop terrorism. Instead, it is more likely to result in allocation of even more lives and treasure to tactics and strategies that have proven completely useless.

Jeh Johnson on the “Military’s Domestic Legal Authority”

In addition to suggesting that the 16 year old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a legitimate military target, Jeh Johnson spoke yesterday about the “military’s domestic legal authority.” Now, rest assured, Johnson said the Administration does not rely on aggressive interpretations of such authority.

Against an unconventional enemy that observes no borders and does not play by the rules, we must guard against aggressive interpretations of our authorities that will discredit our efforts, provoke controversy and invite challenge.

He acknowledges that posse comitatus requires express authorization from Congress before extending the reach of the military onto US soil.

As I told the Heritage Foundation last October, over-reaching with military power can result in national security setbacks, not gains.  Particularly when we attempt to extend the reach of the military on to U.S. soil, the courts resist, consistent with our core values and our American heritage – reflected, no less, in places such as the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Third Amendment, and in the 1878 federal criminal statute, still on the books today, which prohibits willfully using the military as a posse comitatus unless expressly authorized by Congress or the Constitution. [my emphasis]

Then he proceeds directly from describing the express authorization required from Congress to a discussion of the AUMF–as the basis for the “military’s domestic legal authority.”

Second: in the conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces, the bedrock of the military’s domestic legal authority continues to be the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by the Congress one week after 9/11.[2]  “The AUMF,” as it is often called, is Congress’ authorization to the President to:

use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Ten years later, the AUMF remains on the books, and it is still a viable authorization today. [my emphasis]

Then Johnson describes how the Administration–with no express authority from Congress until the NDAA–stretched an authorization limited to those people and groups with ties to 9/11 to include those “associated with” such groups. And, again with no express authorization from Congress, expanded it to include those who “engaged in hostilities” with coalition partners.

In the detention context, we in the Obama Administration have interpreted this authority to include:

those persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.[3]

This interpretation of our statutory authority has been adopted by the courts in the habeas cases brought by Guantanamo detainees,[4] and in 2011 Congress joined the Executive and Judicial branches of government in embracing this interpretation when it codified it almost word-for-word in Section 1021 of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, 10 years after enactment of the original AUMF.[5]  (A point worth noting here: contrary to some reports, neither Section 1021 nor any other detainee-related provision in this year’s Defense Authorization Act creates or expands upon the authority for the military to detain a U.S. citizen.)

Johnson doesn’t mention, of course, that the government is using the same interpretation to extend the military’s domestic legal authority to non-detention areas. Those applications are secret, you see.

Note, in this passage, how Johnson gracefully re-specifies that he’s talking about the 2001 AUMF, and not the 2002 AUMF, which also remains in effect?

But, the AUMF, the statutory authorization from 2001, is not open-ended.  It does not authorize military force against anyone the Executive labels a “terrorist.”  Rather, it encompasses only those groups or people with a link to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, or associated forces.

That’s important because the government at least used to–and presumably still does (otherwise they wouldn’t have panicked when Congress considered repealing the AUMF authorizing a war that is supposed to be over)–rely on the Iraq AUMF to target “anyone the Executive labels a ‘terrorist.’”

Given that the Iraq AUMF has been used to go beyond the definitions in the 2001 AUMF, I’ll skip the paragraphs were Johnson talks about how narrow the government’s interpretation of “associated forces” is.

Particularly because this paragraph is my very favorite bit in this entirely disingenuous speech.

Third: there is nothing in the wording of the 2001 AUMF or its legislative history that restricts this statutory authority to the “hot” battlefields of Afghanistan.  Afghanistan was plainly the focus when the authorization was enacted in September 2001, but the AUMF authorized the use of necessary and appropriate force against the organizations and persons connected to the September 11th attacks – al Qaeda and the Taliban — without a geographic limitation.

Pretty comprehensive, huh, Jeh? Neither the wording of the AUMF or the legislative history limits the AUMF, right?

Continue reading

Obama Issues Veto Threat on Forever War

The Administration just issued its official position on the House Armed Services Committee Defense Authorization bill. In it, Obama issues veto threats on several issues, including an extra engine for the Joint Strike Fighter and limits on START nuclear reductions (but not, it must be said, on any delay of DADT repeal, though he did oppose efforts to delay repeal).

Most interesting, though, is the veto threat on the forever war (see Ben Wittes for a good summary of most of these sections):

Detainee Matters:  The Administration strongly objects to section 1034 which, in purporting to affirm the conflict, would effectively recharacterize its scope and would risk creating confusion regarding applicable standards.  At a minimum, this is an issue that merits more extensive consideration before possible inclusion.  The Administration strongly objects to the provisions that limit the use of authorized funds to transfer detainees and otherwise restrict detainee transfers and to the provisions that would legislate Executive branch processes for periodic review of detainee status and regarding prosecution of detainees.  Although the Administration opposes the release of detainees within the United States, Section 1039 is a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical Executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests.  It unnecessarily constrains our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts and would undermine our national security, particularly where our Federal courts are the best – or even the only – option for incapacitating dangerous terrorists.  For decades, presidents of both political parties – including Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush – have leveraged the flexibility and strength of our Federal courts to incapacitate dangerous terrorists and gather critical intelligence.  The prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is an essential element of our counterterrorism efforts – a powerful tool that must remain an available option.  The certification requirement in section 1040, restricting transfers to foreign countries, interferes with the authority of the Executive branch to make important foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur.  The Administration must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting its negotiations with foreign countries.  Section 1036 undermines the system of periodic review established by the President’s March 7, 2011, Executive Order by substituting a rigid system of review that could limit the advice and expertise of critical intelligence and law enforcement professionals, undermining the Executive branch’s ability to ensure that these decisions are informed by all available information and protect the full spectrum of our national security interests.  It also unnecessarily interferes with DoD’s ability to manage detention operations.  Section 1042 is problematic and unnecessary, as there already is robust coordination between the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Intelligence Community on terrorism-related cases, and this provision would undermine, rather than enhance, this coordination by requiring institutions to assume unfamiliar roles and could cause delays in taking into custody individuals who pose imminent threats to the nation’s safety.  If the final bill presented to the President includes these provisions that challenge critical Executive branch authority, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.

While I would have preferred a full-throated rejection of the forever war, this is a neat approach that, given realistic assumptions of what we can expect from Obama, pushes back in an interesting fashion.

What the Administration has done is list five different provisions:

  • 1034: redefining the AUMF to be a forever war (and also giving the President the power to detain people in the forever war)
  • 1039: barring the use of funds for civil trials
  • 1040: imposing certification requirements on the Secretary of Defense to transfer detainees
  • 1036: codifying an indefinite detention system, with fewer detainee rights than Obama’s own EO calls for
  • 1042: requiring the Attorney General ask permission from the DNI and Secretary of Defense before prosecuting “terrorist offenses” in civilian courts

And then said, generally, if “these provisions that challenge critical Executive branch authority” remain in the bill, his advisors would recommend a veto.

Of course, on its face, the forever war section doesn’t “challenge critical Executive branch authority,” unless you argue that by granting the President the ability to constantly redefine this war, you’re infringing on his authority to do so without a grant of such authority from Congress. That’s not how I understand the Constitution, but you can never be too sure anymore about the people who run our war machines.

Nevertheless, Obama is including that with a bunch of other restrictions (some of which passed in similar form on other laws, to which he responded with a non-signing statement signing statement, and some of which are new), so as to be able to say his opposition is grounded in separation of power concerns rather than the judgment that Congress shouldn’t mandate a forever war the President hasn’t asked for.

Again, I’d rather have a loud denunciation of the forever war. I’d rather have a clear argument about how we will start moving away from a war footing in our opposition to terrorism.

But I’m not going to get that, so I’ll take this graceful veto threat instead.

John Bellinger: If the War Is Illegal, Just Change the Law

John Bellinger has been publicly suggesting the Obama Administration had exceeded the terms of the AUMF for some time. So it is unsurprising that he took the opportunity of a Republican House, the incoming Armed Services Chair’s explicit support for a new AUMF, and the Ghailani verdict to more fully develop his argument in an op-ed. It’s a well-crafted op-ed, such as in the way it avoids explicitly saying the government has been breaking the law in its pursuit of terrorism, when he pretends the only people we’ve been targeting in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are al Qaeda leaders.

The Bush and Obama administrations have relied on this authority to wage the ground war in Afghanistan; to exert lethal force (including drone strikes) against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; and to detain suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.

In fact, the targets include a heck of a lot of grunts and many people with terrorist ties, but not direct affiliation with al Qaeda. Oh, and a bunch of civilians, but I guess we’re to assume the government just has bad aim.

Then there’s this game attempt to pretend that everyone will find something to love in the Forever War.

Nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Obama administration, congressional Republicans and Democrats, and civil liberties groups all have an interest in updating this aging legislation. Republicans should be willing to help the president ensure that combatant commanders and intelligence agencies have ample legal authority to kill or capture terrorists who threaten the United States today. Many Republicans also want to give clearer statutory direction to federal judges regarding who may be detained and for how long. For their part, civil liberties groups and their Democratic supporters in Congress can insist that terrorist suspects who are U.S. nationals receive additional protections before being targeted and that persons detained now or in the future under the laws of war have a right to adequate administrative or judicial review.

As if Republicans weren’t already clamoring for more war and more war powers. As if there would be any doubt that Republicans would answer the “who may be detained and for how long” with any answer but, “Forever War, Baby!” As if dubbing the new AUMF “the al-Awlaki and PETA law”–putting some limits on the targeting of American citizens that presumably already exist–would be enough to entice civil libertarians (whom, Bellinger seems to suggest, only have support among Democrats).

And did you notice how Bellinger slipped in giving intelligence agencies the legal authority to kill terrorists? One of the problems–though Bellinger doesn’t say this explicitly–is that we’re increasingly using non-military personnel to target drones, which raises legal questions about whether they’re not unprivileged combatants in the same way al Qaeda is.

In any case, the lawyer did his work on this op-ed.

But here’s what I find to be the most interesting detail in it:

For at least five years, lawyers in and outside the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized the need to replace this act with a clearer law. The Bush administration chose not to seek an update because it did not want to work with the legislative branch.

Which I translate to read, “Back in 2005, several lawyers in the Bush Administration and I [I'm assuming Comey and Zelikow and Matthew Waxman] told the President he was breaking the law and should ask for an updated AUMF. But in spite of the fact that Congress was at that very moment passing the Detainee Treatment Act, the Bush White House claimed it couldn’t work with Congress to rewrite the AUMF to try to give the war they were already fighting some legal cover.”

Though of course, in 2005, Bush’s lawyers may have been trying to pretty up the fact that their illegal wiretap program–which constituted the use of military powers within the United States against US citizens–some kind of pretty face before it was exposed.

We’ve been fighting the Forever Whoever War since at least 2005. And now this clever lawyer wants to make sure the Forever War is legally sanctioned for the foreseeable future.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV Achy breaky doctor. #Sharknado2TheSecondOne
2mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @OKnox @shaneharris I knew it!!
10mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz RT @Familylawcourts: @bmaz @nycsouthpaw @Clarknt67 @MurrietaClerk Best teenager! Pays off parents mortgage. Oh, they're immigrants! http://…
10mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Noooo! The shark got @wilw! #Sharknado2TheSecondOne
10mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Pay no attention to the shark outside the window. #Sharknado2TheSecondOne
16mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Twilight Zone scene! Awesome. Needed Shattner though. #Sharknado2TheSecondOne
17mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Keep your hands and arms inside the shark at all times. #Sharknado
23mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @onekade What's the worse that could happen? They'll ground your president's plane in any case.
27mreplyretweetfavorite
July 2014
S M T W T F S
« Jun    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031