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Republicans Pushing for Permanent War on Terror

May 18, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

One might think the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan would lead to more talk in Congress about winding down the war in Afghanistan, and to some extent it has. Rep. Chellie Pingree [D, ME-1], for example, is petitioning for an accelerated withdrawal. But the Republican House leadership, which is really the locus of Congress’ decision-making as a whole, is pushing in the other direction. They are using the must-pass 2012 Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to expand the President’s authority to use military force against virtually anybody suspected of terrorism, anywhere in the world, at any time.

The language was added to the Defense bill last week by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon [R, CA-25] via the chairman’s mark. It’s taken verbatim from his “Detainee Security Act,” a bill designed primarily to restrict detainees held under suspected terrorism from attaining legal counsel or trials outside of military courts. The language added to the Defense bill “reaffirms” that the President has congressional authority to engage in armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and anyone who is part of or substantially supporting "associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States.” This is clearly an expansion of the 2001 war authority from Congress, which authorized military force only against people and organizations that were involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to the ACLU, the expansion…

…would allow a president to use military force wherever terrorism suspects are present in the world, regardless of whether there has been any harm to U.S. citizens, or any attack on the United States, or any imminent threat of an attack. The legislation is broad enough to permit a president to use military force within the United States and against American citizens. The legislation contains no expiration date, and no criteria to determine when a president’s authority to use military force would end. [link]

It also gives the military power to detain “belligerents” until the “termination of hostilities.” Of course, the language seems to authorize a perpetual war with very little chance of termination, so this seems to authorize indefinite detention of suspects, including U.S. citizens. This, of course, is what congressional war hawks have been aiming for for years.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers [D, MI-14] and 32 Democrats have written to the Republican leadership asking them to remove the language from the bill. The language “By declaring a global war against nameless individuals, organizations, and nations ‘associated’ with the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as those playing a supporting role in their efforts, the language] would appear to grant the President near unfettered authority to initiate military action around the world without further congressional approval,” the Democrats write. Some Republicans have begun pushing back too. On Facebook, Rep. Justin Amash [R, MI-3] called the provisions “among the most dangerous […] ever proposed.” In a comment he added: “Who are ‘associated forces’? What are ‘hostilities’? There’s a reason our Constitution requires Congress to declare war—to prevent one person, a President, from making all of these judgments unilaterally.”

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