Twenty years ago, a short bill was introduced in Congress. It passed that same day, and was signed by President Bush four days later. It was only 60 words, but it ushered in a 20 year-long global war on terror at home and abroad.
That 2001 AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), understood to be authorizing the use of force against Afghanistan, was actually a blank check for war abroad and at home. It has been used to justify military actions in at least nineteen countries, AND repression at home including warrantless surveillance, detention of US persons without trial, and the indefinite detention and even torture of men at the Guantatnamo Bay prison camp.
And the scars from that AUMF go deeper. As Rep. Barbara Lee, the lone vote against that bill just wrote:
Additionally, Washington has become set in a way of thinking that militarizes every problem in our society — such as arming our police with surplus military weapons or detaining children seeking safety at our borders. Inevitably, it is Black and brown people who bear the heaviest burden from this emphasis on war-fighting. Our adversarial mind-set treats neighbors as enemies and forces our police into the guise of an occupying army.
It is beyond time to repeal the 2001 AUMF, and put into place protections that will prevent another blank check for war at home and abroad.
Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced bi-partisan legislation to do just that.
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The National Security Powers Act (S.2391) would not only sunset both the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, but it creates strong protections against Executive overreach. The bill would automatically cut off funding for any hostilities not proactively approved by Congress within twenty days, and outlines requirements for future AUMFs, including a clearly defined mission and operational objectives, the identities of groups or countries targeted, and a two-year sunset. A subsequent authorization is required to expand the list of objectives, countries or targeted groups.
Beyond reining in presidential war powers, the bill also makes important reforms to prevent presidents from exploiting a crisis to increase executive authority using Emergency Powers. Under existing law, the President can unlock a vast array of “emergency powers” by simply declaring a national emergency. This legislation imposes important checks on those authorities.
More about the bill:
(From Senator Murphy’s office):
Title I: War Powers Reform
- Defines key terms left undefined in the original War Powers Resolution (WPR), especially the term “hostilities”, which over the years has been interpreted so narrowly by the Executive branch that key aspects of the WPR became almost meaningless. Defining “hostilities” is necessary to make the War Powers Resolution, and especially the termination clock, meaningful.
- Shortens the 60-day “termination clock,” after which the President must terminate hostilities that aren’t authorized by Congress. Shortening the period before automatic termination from 60 days to 20 days makes it harder for the Executive branch to start hostilities that are not defensive in nature.
- Adds teeth to the WPR by automatically cutting off funding if the President does not secure the necessary congressional authorization. Under current law, Congress must seek a veto-proof majority to terminate an unauthorized military action; this legislation ‘flips the script’ so that funding automatically cuts off unless the President secures authorization from Congress.
- Outlines requirements for future authorizations for use of military force, including a clearly defined mission and operational objectives, the identities of groups or countries targeted, and a two-year sunset. A subsequent authorization is required to expand the list of objectives, countries or targeted groups.
- Sunsets existing AUMFs, and specifies that future authorizations must meet the requirements in this legislation.
Title II: Arms Export Reform
- Requires an affirmative vote to approve certain types of arms sales. Under current law, all arms sales are approved automatically unless veto-proof majorities of both Houses of Congress pass a resolution to block the sale. This legislation requires Congress to affirmatively authorize foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of the most destructive and potentially destabilizing weapons that reach a certain monetary threshold.
- § Air to ground munitions of $14,000,000 or more
- § Tanks, armored vehicles, and related munitions of $14,000,000 or more
- § Firearms and ammunition of $1,000,000 or more
- § Fixed and rotary, manned and unmanned aircraft of $14,000,000 or more
- § Services and training above a certain value of $14,000,000 or more
- Allows sales to be packaged together to minimize individual votes, but allows controversial items to be removed from a proposed package.
Title III: National Emergencies Reform
- Requires Congress to proactively approve emergency declarations. Currently, Congress cannot override a national emergency declaration without a veto-proof majority. This legislation requires Congress to approve (1) an emergency declaration and (2) specific emergency powers within 30 days.
- Prevents the President from exploiting a crisis to increase executive authority. Under existing law, the President can unlock a vast array of “emergency powers” by simply declaring a national emergency. This legislation requires that powers invoked must be related to nature of, and be used only to address, the declared emergency, and makes clear that powers may not be used to take actions Congress has considered and rejected.
- Ends “permanent” emergencies. There are currently 39 so-called “emergencies” on the books, some dating back to the 1970s. This legislation requires renewal of emergencies after one year to be approved by Congress, and imposes a 5-year total limit on states of emergency.
- Prohibits use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to impose tariffs, although it can still be used to bar imports entirely
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