US rethinks 9/11 law on militarism

US rethinks 9/11 law on militarism

WASHINGTON - The Associated Press
US rethinks 9/11 law on militarism

Emerging threats and the use of unmanned drone strikes, have raised questions about the relevance of 9/11 law. AP photo

The U.S. Congress is rethinking the broad authority it gave presidents to wage a war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in light of how President Barack Obama has used the power to target suspected terrorists with lethal drone strikes.

Senior Defense Department officials insisted May 16 that the law should remain unchanged as the nation remains in armed conflict with al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But Republicans and Democrats fear that they have given the president unrestricted power to use military force worldwide.

“This authority ... has grown way out of proportion and is no longer applicable to the conditions that prevailed, which motivated the United States Congress to pass the authorization for the use of military force that we did in 2001,” Sen. John McCain, an opposition Republican, said during a Senate hearing. He told Pentagon officials that “basically you’ve got carte blanche as to what you are doing throughout the world.”

When McCain asked whether the law gave the administration the authority to use lethal force against al-Qaeda associates if they are identified in Mali, Libya and Syria, the Pentagon’s acting general counsel, Robert Taylor, said the United States had this authority.

Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that for the war against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force “serves its purpose.”

“Ultimately, [al-Qaeda] will end up on the ash heap of history, as with other groups ... but that day, unfortunately, is a long way off,” Sheehan said.

‘Voting for the longest war’

Congress enacted the law days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It gave President George W. Bush the authority to launch the invasion of Afghanistan and target al-Qaeda, saying the commander in chief had the authority to attack “nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 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.”

Emerging threats beyond the borders of Afghanistan, and the president’s use of unmanned drone strikes, have raised questions about the relevance of a law nearly 12 years later. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, summed up the frustration of many in Congress who backed the law in 2001 but now wonder whether they went too far.

“I don’t believe many, if any, of us believed when we voted for that - and I did vote for it - that we were voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and putting a stamp of approval on a war policy against terrorism that, 10 years-plus later, we’re still using,” Durbin said.