Policy & Strategy

House rolling back 9/11-era counter terrorism rules of war

House Armed Services Committee members on Monday also included legislation to dramatically increase lawmakers’ oversight of U.S. counter terrorism operations. 

{mosads}One of the two House proposals will require President Obama to notify the congressional defense committees each time a so-called “kill/capture” operation is launched against suspected terror targets. 

Those operations include drone strikes and night raids similiar to the Navy SEAL assault that killed al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011. 

The other proposal will force the Pentagon and White House to review all groups or individuals now characterized as “associated forces” under the 9/11 counter terrorism rules, known on Capitol Hill as the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Both measures were included in the House defense panel’s version of the fiscal year 2014 Defense Authorization bill. 

The Hill first reported details of the House panel’s efforts to reel in mandates in the AUMF last Friday. 

Individuals or groups with cursory ties to al Qaeda are now considered “associated forces,” and can be targeted in drone strikes just like members of terrorist cells or people with direct links to the terror group. 

The House-mandated review requires the Pentagon to specifically lay out whether those groups or individuals are directly tied to al Qaeda operations, and if they are engaged with ongoing or future terror plots against the United States or its allies.

Those pushing to change the rules argue the current definition of associated forces gives U.S. military and intelligence agencies far too much leeway in determining who can and cannot be targeted by U.S. forces in counter terrorism “kill/capture” missions. 

The rules of war under the AUMF provide a “frightening amount of power and it is counter to the rights enshrined in the United States Constitution,” House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith said in a statement Monday. 

“We have an opportunity, through this year’s bill, to protect constitutional rights and roll back this authority,” he added. 

The kill/capture notification called for in the Pentagon spending bill will “ensure that every [counter terrorism] action is consistent with our civil liberties and freedoms,” Rep Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), head of the House defense committee’s subpabel on emerging threats and intelligence, said in a statement last month. 

Thornberry, who introduced the proposal as a stand-alone bill in May, said the legislation has garnered widespread support on Capitol Hill. 

“There has been bipartisan support in the House and Senate for more … oversight of such operations to ensure they are carried out in ways that are consistent with the United States Constitution,” Thornberry said at the time. 

To that end, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) is weighing possible amendments to the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2014 budget plan as a vehicle to change the rules governing U.S. counter terrorism operations. 

The Obama administration’s aggressive counter terrorism campaign, highlighted by the increased use of armed drones, has “far exceeded [the] charter” set by the AUMF. 

“We will have to revisit it . . . the whole issue” McCain told reporters in May, saying the pending Pentagon budget bill may provide an opportunity for change. 

Senate defense lawmakers are expected to mark up their version of the defense budget blueprint in June. 

The debate in Cogress coincides with President Obama’s promise to repeal the standing rules of war on terror.

“I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s [Authorization for Use of Military Force] mandate,” Obama said in an address at the National Defense University in May. 

Obama argued that unless the 12-year-old rules are changed, Congress risked giving future presidents unbound powers.

“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands,” Obama said. 

Supporters of the current counter terror rules in Congress and at the Pentagon say the changes may weaken American efforts to stamp out al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Before Obama’s speech, Michael Sheehan, head of special operations and low-intensity conflicts at the Pentagon, told Congress he sees no need to change the current rules of war.

“At this point we’re comfortable with the AUMF as it is currently structured. Right now it does not inhibit us from prosecuting the war against Al Qaida and its affiliates,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. 

Tags Adam Smith John McCain

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