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Harvard National Security Journal: After the AUMF

Authors: Jennifer Daskal, and Stephen I. Vladeck
January 2014


"Calls for a new framework statute to replace the [2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force] are unnecessary, provocative, and counterproductive; they perpetuate war at a time when we should be seeking to end it."

On September 18, 2001, one week after the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history, President George W. Bush signed into law the Authorization for Use of Military Force ("AUMF"). The AUMF authorized the President:

to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Although its delegation of power to the President was sweeping, the AUMF in fact reflected a compromise between Congress and the Bush Administration, which had sought an even broader and more open-ended grant of authority. Even as fires continued to burn at Ground Zero, Congress pushed back, only authorizing military force against those who could be tied to the groups directly responsible for the September 11 attacks.2 Thus, despite widespread misrepresentations to the contrary,3 Congress pointedly refused to declare a "war on terrorism." The use of force Congress authorized was instead directed at those who bore responsibility for the 9/11 attacks—namely, al Qaeda and the Taliban. It was also for a specific purpose: preventing those "nations, organizations, or persons" responsible for the September 11 attacks from committing future acts of terrorism against the United States.

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