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Professor’s Book Examines Terror Authorization Act

By Antoaneta Tileva

SIS News Terror Authorization Book

Professor Shoon Murray’s new book The Terror Authorization: the History and Politics of the 2001 AUMF, asks whether it is time to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) act and explores how two presidents have used this "war" authority.

The authorization, passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, grants the president the authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided" the September 11 attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.  

“The AUMF was passed in haste and in a state of shock and emergency,” says Murray. “It was not meant to be used indefinitely, yet it is still in place and being used in ways that go far beyond what any Congressman could have intended.” 

Murray, an expert on U.S. foreign policy, outlines how President Bush used the AUMF to justify his administration’s domestic national surveillance program, which would have contradicted statutes already in place. The notion of “war” allowed for actions that would have violated previously established principles. For example, it was used to justify military tribunals and controversial actions such as indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay. The “war” rhetoric meant that arrests with no warrants were “detaining the enemy” and drone strikes were “targeting the enemy.” 

Under the Obama administration, what was initially limited to Al Qaida by the AUMF (which referred specifically to the perpetrators of 9/11), soon grew to apply to other groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. Essentially, the AUMF became the authority invoked to underwrite drone attacks and attacks in Yemen and Somalia on non-state actors labeled as terrorists. 

The Terror Authorization traces how the passage of the AUMF fits within the general history of war authority. It also traces how two presidents have used this authority in ways that are unexpected and increasingly controversial and perhaps even unaccountable. The book makes a case for repealing the AUMF now that combat operations in Afghanistan are winding down and Al Qaeda has been weakened. 

Murray explains, however, that it would be difficult to repeal the AUMF since it essentially gives the president powers that any president would be loath to relinquish. Proponents argue that such authority is needed in the event that new threats emerge. 

“The AUMF allows the President to use force in a routine manner without ever having to deal with Congress and it should not go on endlessly. Otherwise, Congress is abdicating its role and allowing for a permanent war with no end to take place,” says Murray.