Congress isn’t ready to end the war on terror.
An amendment to a defense bill, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, that would have sunset in a year the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, passed days after the 9/11 attacks, failed 191-231 Thursday in the Republican-controlled House.
The 14-year old law has been used as a legal basis for everything from indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay to drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. Yet the 2001 AUMF was focused on the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. is now engaged in counterterrorism operations against groups that didn’t even exist at that time.
Some lawmakers have proposed repealing the 2001 AUMF entirely, while others have suggested revising it to better fit current U.S. military activities. Civil liberties groups fear that the 2001 law has essentially authorized a war without end.
Schiff said the purpose of his amendment was to compel Congress to reconsider the law in light of new realities. Repealing the law in a year, Schiff said Wednesday on the House floor, would provide “time for the administration to consider what authorities are needed to protect the nation. A more narrow authorization constrained in focus and duration may very well be necessary.”
President Obama himself called on Congress to “to refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 authorization a year ago. But when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Wednesday, administration officials called to testify struggled to say what exactly they had in mind – or even what repealing the 2001 law would change.
Nevertheless, Republicans took to the floor to criticize Schiff’s effort.
“We would be left with no authority to take action against terrorists bent on killing Americans,” Texas Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry said Wednesday, criticizing Schiff’s proposal. “They just opened the 9/11 museum in New York in the last few days. Have we forgotten so quickly about what this AUMF is all about?”
Schiff’s amendment was voted down Thursday morning, with only 27 Republicans crossing the aisle to support his amendment. Thirty Democrats opposed it.
Congress isn’t ready to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, either. Shortly before the vote on Schiff’s proposal, the House voted down an amendments put forth by Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith that would have shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and lifted the restrictions on transfers of detainees into U.S. prisons.
The White House has threatened to veto the defense bill over the transfer restrictions, but it has backed down from doing so in the past.