New Authorization of Worldwide War Without End?
In May 2011, the House of Representatives voted to approve a version of the National Defense Authorization Bill (NDAA) with a provision that that would authorize worldwide war, and worldwide imprisonment, in virtually any country where a terrorism suspect lives, even here in America itself.
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If passed, this “sleeper provision” could become the single biggest hand-over of unchecked war authority from Congress to the executive branch in modern American history.
President Obama has not sought new war authority. In fact, his administration has made clear that it believes it already has all of the authority that it needs to fight terrorism.
But Congress is considering monumental new legislation that would grant the president – and all presidents after him – sweeping new power to make war almost anywhere and everywhere. Unlike previous grants of authority for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the proposed legislation would allow a president to use military force wherever terrorism suspects are present in the world, regardless of whether there has been any harm to U.S. citizens, or any attack on the United States, or any imminent threat of an attack. The legislation is broad enough to permit a president to use military force within the United States and against American citizens. The legislation contains no expiration date, and no criteria to determine when a president’s authority to use military force would end.
Of all of the powers that the Constitution assigns to Congress, no power is more fundamental or important than the power “to declare War.” That is why, in 2002, when Congress was considering whether to authorize war in Iraq, it held fifteen hearings, and passed legislation that cited specific harms, set limits, and defined a clear objective. Now, Congress is poised to give unchecked authority to the executive branch to use military force worldwide, with profoundly negative consequences for our fundamental democratic system of checks and balances. Once Congress expands the president’s war power, it will be nearly impossible to rein it back in. The ACLU strongly opposes a wholesale turnover of war power from Congress to the president – and all of his successors.