Congress Needs to Be Clear in Granting War Powers Against Islamic Militants, Groups Say

When Congress considers giving President Obama the power to conduct a war against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, it should make clear that earlier authorizations for the use of military force against al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein are not applicable to the current conflict, a coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum told key legislators.  The militants are sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

“We urge that any new legislation that does not repeal the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF state explicitly that neither of those laws authorizes the use of force against ISIL.  Members cannot be confident that any president will dutifully respect the letter and spirit of a new ISIL-focused force authorization if the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF go unattended,” the groups wrote in a letter organized by The Constitution Project and delivered to the Hill on November 19.

Obama began unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State forces in August, claiming constitutional authority to do so under Article II powers as commander-in-chief, and subsequently asserted that Congress had already authorized the military campaign through both the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF. But the groups categorically rejected the president’s contention, arguing that there is “no evidence” Congress intended the earlier grants of authority to extend to a new war that “at the time had not begun, was not foreseen, and involves parties who did not exist.

“If Congress fails to tackle the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 Iraq AUMF in any new ISIL-focused AUMF, it risks simply adding to a tangled and ambiguous web of war authorities from which a president could pick and choose without explanation,” the groups wrote.

Among the groups joining TCP in signing the letter to legislators were the ACLU, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights First, Liberty Coalition, National Security Network, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, and Win Without War.

The letter noted many of the groups had earlier suggested the need for Congressional action giving the president authority to act, as well as ways to narrowly tailor it.  Congress is not expected to debate new war-making authority until it returns next year.

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