By Ryan Boysen
(TRNS) – Lawmakers expressed frustration and incredulity on Wednesday as Obama administration officials were consistently unable to lay out where exactly the legal authority to prosecute the U.S.’s wide-ranging war on terror comes from — and whether or not Congress has any say at all in the matter.
The hearing, “Authorization for the Use of Military Force After Iraq and Afghanistan,” was intended to flesh out the details of how the 2001 AUMF could be pared down in keeping with President Obama’s stated desire to take the nation off a permanent wartime footing.
The AUMF was passed by Congress just days after the 9/11 attack, and is widely understood to provide the bulk of the legal authority with which Presidents Bush and Obama have prosecuted the wide-ranging “Global War on Terror” since then.
But lawmakers were shocked at a series of statements by Administration officials suggesting legal authority vested in the President by the Constitution — and not the AUMF — might be sufficient to wage the worldwide combat operations that constitute the war on terror as it currently stands.
“I’d just like to know, yes or no, if the 2001 AUMF was undone, can the President carry out the activities that he’s carrying out right now?” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), after Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) asked the same question and received a response in what Corker derisively dubbed “legalese.”
“Yes, I believe he could,” said Mary Mcleod, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser at the Department of State.
“So we really as a Congress don’t need to be involved in this subject at all?” Corker said.
Mcleod and her co-witness Stephen W. Preston, General Counsel at the Department of Defense, said the Obama Administration is committed to winding down the war on terror, and for that reason favors an eventual repeal of the AUMF.
But lawmakers grew increasingly frustrated as the witnesses were unable to answer questions in a straightforward manner.
“I think the Administration is totally unprepared to discuss this issue,” Corker said. “You discredit our country with statements like those you just made.”
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) expressed concern about the open-ended nature of the legal authority the Administration officials seemed to be implying existed with or without the AUMF.
“The Executive is comfortable with a carte blanche,” Kaine said. “Why wouldn’t they be? They’re not going to move as expeditiously to reign in a carte blanche as [Congress] probably needs to.”
“So if there’s going to be action taken here, it’s up to Congress to take it,” Kaine added.