White House report details Obama’s military force rules

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The White House on Monday released a lengthy report compiling the Obama administration’s policies governing the use of military force and related counterterrorism issues, such as detention and interrogation policies.

{mosads}In concert with the release, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum encouraging future administrations to build on the report and asking the National Security Council to update it annually.

“Through this report, I hope to enhance the public’s understanding of the legal and policy principles that have guided U.S. national security operations, and to reinforce the fact that we defend our interests at home and around the world in a manner consistent with the laws, values, and traditions that are the source of our greatest strength,” Obama wrote in an introduction to the report.

The release of the 66-page report and memo come a day before the president will deliver a victory-lap speech on his counterterrorism strategy before leaving office.

Monday’s report contains no new information, but it is the first time the policies have been collected in one location.

The policies outlined in the report are based on executive orders, legal decisions, legislation and international law on drone strikes, civilian casualties, terrorist detention and other issues.

“Decisions regarding war and peace are among the most important any President faces,” Obama wrote. “It is critical, therefore, that such decisions are made pursuant to a policy and legal framework that affords clear guidance internally, reduces the risk of an ill-considered decision, and enables the disclosure of as much information as possible to the public, consistent with national security and the proper functioning of the government, so that an informed public can scrutinize our actions and hold us to account.”

The report also makes clear the extent of the administration’s use of the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to justify its military operations. The administration uses it for six theaters — Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — the report says.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, commended the release, even as he said he does not agree with all the legal justifications contained therein.

“I do not agree with all of the legal and policy positions outlined in this important memoranda — and I will continue to urge the Congress to put the fight against terrorism on a stronger legal footing by updating the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) — but the document provides a high standard of transparency and adherence to the law that should be emulated by other administrations and nations,” he said in a statement.

He also said the report should act as a blueprint for President-elect Donald Trump.

“It may be tempting to look at this report simply as a chronicle of a soon-to-be former administration; instead it should be seen as a benchmark from which to evaluate the Trump Administration’s commitment to transparency and the rule of law,” he said in a statement.

“Given the profound uncertainty over the President-elect’s views on our foreign policy challenges and the introduction of force, and his expressed willingness to reintroduce torture, this document sets a crucial and principled example regarding the proper uses of force.”

Trump has said he would bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot of worse,” but also said in a recent New York Times interview that he was surprised to hear his pick for Defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, say torture is an ineffective interrogation method.

Human rights groups praised President Obama for the transparency the report brings to his policies.

“We welcome today’s report that helps provide a comprehensive picture of the Obama administration’s legal and policy approach to countering terrorism,” Raha Wala, director of national security advocacy at Human Rights First, said in a statement. “The administration’s approach has laudably aimed to reflect a commitment to the rule of law, human rights norms, and American ideals.”

Wala also expressed hope Trump will continue with the policies laid out in the report.

“We hope President-elect Trump will see the wisdom in continuing key aspects of this administration’s counterterrorism policy that enhance our security by upholding human rights,” Wala said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also welcomed the report and praised its acknowledgment that torture is always illegal under domestic and international law.

“But we are sorely disappointed that even as it imposes policy limitations, the administration continues to claim broad authority to kill abroad, invoking the laws of war where they do not apply and doing so without any congressional authorization,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU national security project, added in a statement. “In the next administration, we will continue our work to rein in overbroad and unlawful claims of executive authority to kill.”

— Updated at 6 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump

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