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Obama to Congress: rubber-stamp my perpetual war

By Marjorie Cohn - posted Thursday, 19 February 2015

As President Barack Obama presented his proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to Congress, he declared, "I do not believe America's interests are served by endless war, or by remaining on a perpetual war footing." Yet Obama's proposal asks Congress to rubber-stamp his endless war against anyone he wants, wherever he wants. Obama has launched 2,300 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since August 8, 2014. In his six years as president, he has killed more people than died on 9/11 with drones and other forms of targeted killing in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - countries with which the United States is not at war.

Obama's proposed AUMF contains some purported limitations, but their vagueness amounts to a blank check to use US military force in perpetuity.

"Associated Persons or Forces"


The president's proposal authorizes force against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and its "associated persons or forces." They are defined as "individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."

This proviso contains no geographical limitation. It would authorize the use of military force anywhere in the world. "[T]he executive branch could interpret this language to authorize force against individuals far from any battlefield with only some remote connection to the group - potentially even in the United States itself," according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

No "Enduring Offensive Operations"

Obama's AUMF "does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations." This provision contains no definition of "enduring." Does this mean one month? One year? Three Years? Or perhaps six months with a break, then another six months?

This provision is riddled with exceptions. The 3,000 US military personnel currently in Iraq are exempted from the limitation. So are special operations forces, as well as those collecting intelligence, involved with "kinetic strikes, or the provision of operation planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces." These exemptions are so vague, they can justify just about any US troops.

Nor is the term "offensive" defined in the proposal. By labeling operations defensive, Obama or his successor could use increasing numbers of ground troops. What if any of the US personnel currently serving in Iraq are attacked? Under Obama's AUMF, the United States could deploy thousands of US troops and call it a defensive operation.


2001 AUMF Still in Force

The three-year sunset provision in Obama's proposal is rendered meaningless by the continued existence of the AUMF Congress gave President George W. Bush in 2001. Obama claims he already has authority to wage his wars under the 2001 AUMF, which authorizes the president to use "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."

But the 2001 AUMF's license is limited to those connected with the 9/11 attacks. In fact, when Bush asked for authority "to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States," Congress refused. Yet Obama has used the 2001 AUMF to justify his ongoing drone war and his invasion of Iraq and Syria, in spite of the absence of any connection with the 9/11 attacks.

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This article was first published on TruthOut.

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About the Author

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her latest book is "The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse." See

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