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Right Turn
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 05/12/2011

Updating war authorization — the left objects (of course)

Eli Lake at the Washington Times reports:

The House Armed Services Committee added language to the fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization bill on Wednesday that would define the current war on al Qaeda to include the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, affirming the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s interpretation of the 2001 war resolution.

The committee began marking up the bill on Wednesday. It sets out the guidance for the U.S. defense budget.

The provision, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, is key legislation used by lawyers for both President George W. Bush and President Obama as a legal basis for detaining terrorists without trial who are captured around the world. The legislation also was used to authorize U.S. drone strikes and special operations forces raids in countries where the United States is not formally at war.

Well that sounds fairly responsible, not to mention bipartisan given the current occupant of the the White House. But no, the predictable anti-sense left is hollering. Lake notes:

Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed new legislation is problematic because it does not envision an end date to the war on terror.

“What is the goal? Is the goal that there will [be] no terrorism suspects alive or outside of prison anywhere in the world?” he asked. “That can’t be the goal of the United States, that is an incredible proposition. But that appears to be the goal of the McKeon legislation. The result would be war everywhere and anywhere.”

Sorry to report wars don’t come with end dates. This is not new. When the Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln didn’t know when it would end either.

And the usual suspects in the blogosphere are very upset. TPM notes:

In response, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and his colleagues unveiled legislation intended to codify the intent of that executive order, and update the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force — the legal underpinning off the war on terrorism.

In a Tuesday letter to McKeon, obtained by TPM, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and 32 other, mostly progressive, Democrats questioned the AUMF expansion, and pressed the GOP to leave it out of the defense authorization bill so it can be considered separately. For now it looks like that won’t happen.

“Chairman McKeon welcomes the feedback from his fellow members,” says John Noonan, a spokesman for McKeon’s committee, in a statement to TPM.

Noonan says that the new language won’t amplify the already-broad powers Congress vested in the executive branch in the original AUMF. “To clarify, [the] AUMF simply affirms into law the President’s legal authority to effectively prosecute the fight against terrorists. It does not represent an expansion of the war, nor does it grant the President any superfluous powers. This is a pragmatic step that acknowledges that the nature of our enemy has changed in the 10 years since September 11, and allows our Commander-in-Chief to combat that enemy in a manner consistent with our Constitution and our values.”

In short, a Republican House aide tells me “Congress makes a modest, pragmatic legal argument to reaffirm Authorization for Use of Military Force from 2001. “The idea being that after 10 years of conflict, the nature of the enemy has changed slightly.” He says that it is unfortunate that it has “prompted gnashing of teeth” and unsupported allegations about “ ‘vastly expanding the war’ and codifying unending conflict.”

A reasoned analysis comes from Ben Wittes at the Brookings Institution who raised concerns about an earlier version of the bill. His analysis going through the proposed language is a welcomed relief from the hyperbole. On the military review system for detainees, for example, he writes:

McKeon’s review process is still different in material respects from the White House’s, and less generous, to be sure. On some matters, it is not the way I would do things. But it is not unreasonable either. It is, rather, a pole in a legitimate debate about how generous the review mechanisms should be for detainees who are lawfully held and whose release is therefore a discretionary act. Moreover, the value of the codification itself would be substantial. McKeon has moved very far and very constructively on this point. I should think that would be taken as a sign of good faith and that between his version of the review system and the administration’s, there is room for business to be done.

His bottom line: “All in all, McKeon deserves no small credit for the progress he has made on this bill. While it needs further work, it is approaching the point at which the value of its positive points will exceed the negative value of its downsides. The key questions now are how key senators such as Carl Levin will react, what position — if any — the administration will take, and whether Democrats will continue to engage constructively (as ranking member Adam Smith clearly has) or whether they will sit this one out under pressure from the base.”

But it’s so much easier to demagogue it, isn’t it?

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 05/12/2011

Categories:  National Security

 
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