Bring the War on Terror to an End

It's time to repeal the authorization for the War on Terror.

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More than eleven years ago, Congress authorized the Iraq War. This week, the White House voiced its support for finally repealing that authorization, conceding that the law has outlived its usefulness. This is good news. But repealing the authorization for the use of force in Iraq is not enough. It's time to repeal the authorization for the War on Terror itself.

Immediately after the attacks of September 11, Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or the "AUMF." It was an incredibly short resolution – just one sentence. But the power it handed to the president was nearly limitless. And rather than fading out of use, its power seems to grow with time.

How can the National Security Agency maintain its sweeping, invasive spying program? The only justification is the AUMF. Where did the president get the authority to indefinitely detain people for over a decade without charge or explanation? The AUMF provides that power, of course. Can U.S. citizens be targeted by drones for assassination without due process? Sure, says the AUMF.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

It is doubtful that members of Congress envisioned the future they were creating when they voted "yes" for the AUMF in 2001. But now that future is the present world we live in, and it is time to re-examine it. Is it safer? Is it more secure? As Americans, do we have more liberty? As global citizens, are we leading by example to bring about justice and the rule of law? There is a strong case to be made that the answer to each of those questions is a resounding no, and it is directly because of the AUMF.

It is impossible to discuss the issues of warrantless wiretapping, the war in Afghanistan, the detention facility at Guantanamo or targeted drone strikes without discussing the AUMF. These troubling practices are only possible because they are considered "incidents of war" that are covered by the sweep of the AUMF's authority.

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

For the duration of the war, the AUMF provides the president full authority to continue or even enhance these practices. But how long will that be? By passing the AUMF, Congress essentially gave the president the ability to wage war anywhere, against anyone, at any time. As a result, acts of war have spread outside Afghanistan to places such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Individuals with tenuous ties not to al Qaida, but to vaguely-defined "associated forces" are the targets of drones and indefinite detention. The globe is the new battlefield, and all its citizens are potential targets.

This is the year to change that. In 2014, troops will at last withdraw from Afghanistan. It may be difficult to remember now, but the Afghanistan war was where this all started. Before Guantanamo, before the NSA scandal, before Americans were targeted by drones, there was the war in Afghanistan. This is what was originally imagined as the response to September 11. President Obama himself declared that "this war, like all wars, must end.  That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands." He then voiced his support for ultimate repeal of the AUMF.

The Afghanistan war is ending. The "incidents" of that war should also end. It may seem an intimidating task to scale back drone strikes, close Guantanamo and restore the privacies invaded by the NSA, but there is a simple and obvious first step. Repeal the AUMF.

Elizabeth Beavers is a policy assistant for foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

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