Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two top national security officials opposed rewriting a 16-year-old law used by the government as a justification for the military operations against Islamist militants. According to them, the existing statute was sufficient.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Congress that if the law, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), is replaced, the lawmakers should not impose any time or geographic constraints on the government’s war powers, The New York Times reports.
On the other hand, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin considers that the 9/11 war authorization law and other military force authorization enacted in 2002 to pave the way for the Iraq war are now mere authorities of convenience for presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world.
“I think there needs to be more public discussion and light on these activities because I do not think the American people want the United States conducting a global, endless shadow war under the radar, covert and beyond scrutiny,” he said.
For years the Congress is in dilemma whether and how to update the law. Since Trump has taken the office, broader questions about the legal scope and limits of presidential war-making powers have taken on new urgency. The reasons for that are North Korea and the recent deaths of the American soldiers in Niger. Tillerson and Mattis said Trump doesn’t have permission from Congress to attack North Korea. Yet, they said that the U.S. Constitution gives him that power if there is an imminent attack against the U.S. Senator Chris Murphy asked if the act of possessing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the U.S. qualified as an imminent threat, but Tillerson and Mattis didn’t want to answer.
“The fact is, no president has unlimited power to start a war without congressional approval,” Murphy.
Murphy and several other Democrats are planning to introduce legislation that would prohibit Trump from starting a pre-emptive war against North Korea, lacking an imminent threat or without express authorization from Congress, The Associated Press reports.
The senators used the opportunity to press the witnesses about the deaths in Niger. Mattis said that the deployment was authorized under a separate law that allowed the military to carry out training and assistance missions. He added that Boko Haram had pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda and Trump could deem them covered by the 2001 war authorization law, but that hasn’t happened.
More and more congressional Republicans and Democrats demand a new war authorization because, as they say, the dynamics of the battlefield have shifted over the past years and it is time to replace the authorization to fight Al-Qaeda with a law that reflects current threats.