#Congressional authorizations for military force are ticking time bombs

The nation recently observed the 22nd anniversary of the horrendous 9/11 attacks by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. Bin Laden died 12 years ago and, while there are still elements of his network in various locales around the world, al Qaeda no longer poses a direct threat to the American homeland.

After the 9/11 attacks, it made sense for Congress to authorize the president to respond — to seek out and neutralize the terrorists and their enablers. Congress has historically granted the executive branch the ability to conduct war through what is called authorization for use of military force (AUMF) in specified circumstances. They should obviously be narrowly targeted at the culprits and those in league with them, rather than granting virtually unlimited power to conduct warfare.

Unfortunately, the 2001 AUMF approved by Congress on Sept. 18, 2001, which initiated the country’s global war on terrorism, was not limited in time, geographic scope or circumstances. It is still very much alive today, even though the threat it was intended to address has largely dissipated.

There is good reason to believe that the carte blanche war-making power granted in the 2001 authorization was designed to include military action against Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were both part of an organization advocating the removal of Hussein well before George W. Bush was elected president.

Congress approved a 2002 authorization specifically directed against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the Bush administration had already decided in the fall of 2001 to invade Iraq. The 2002 war authorization was just handy window dressing. That no evidence turned up to justify the Iraq War was not the result of an intelligence failure. Rather, it likely resulted from a fabrication of intelligence.

Many American and Iraqi lives were lost because of the overly broad 2001 authorization and the totally unwarranted 2002 authorization. Nearly 4,600 U.S. service personnel and 3,650 American contractors died in the Iraq War and its aftermath. There have been between 280,771 and 315,190 Iraqi civilians killed by direct violence since the U.S. invasion. All of those deaths can be laid at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the other opportunists who took advantage of the 9/11 tragedy, twisting the nation’s grief and anger to further their personal political agenda of conquering Iraq.

In addition to the cost in human lives, the AUMFs imposed crushing economic burdens on American taxpayers. The cost for just the Iraq War was about $2 trillion. The total cost, past and future, for the global war on terror, has been estimated at $8 trillion, including almost $6 trillion for war and war-related outlays through fiscal year 2022.

Added to the cost in blood and treasure is the loss of trust in America’s leaders, both by our own people and by our allies across the world, the extreme wear and tear on our military from having to conduct two bruising wars simultaneously and the fact that we handed a great victory to Iran by disposing of Saddam Hussein, its arch enemy. It is unfortunate that Rumsfeld, Cheney and their enablers were not called to account in the criminal justice system for their misuse of the congressional war authorizations.

There is no reason for the 2002 authorization to remain on the books. It should be outright repealed. The Senate voted overwhelmingly for repeal in March and the issue is supposed to come before the House of Representatives soon. Americans should weigh in to see that it gets done.

The 2001 AUMF may have provided some initial benefits to the United States in Afghanistan but, overall, it has done more harm than good to the country. Because of its virtually limitless wording, it poses a much greater threat of potential misuse in the future. Legislation is pending in the House that would repeal the 2001 AUMF and replace it with a measure narrowly targeting existing terrorist threats. House Joint Resolution 2 also contains a sunset clause, so it would not be on the books forever. The public should demand quick and favorable action on this legislation.

Both congressional authorizations should be repealed because they are no longer needed and are ticking time bombs of potential abuse. Should future military action be necessitated, Congress must do its job — demand adequate justification for an AUMF, tailor it to the exact needs and limit its duration — rather than once again handing a president carte blanche authority to conduct a limitless war.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served 8 years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is a regular contributor to The Hill.

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