JFP 3/11: NYT, APN slam AIPAC's "Back Door to War"
Just Foreign Policy News, March 11, 2013
NYT, APN slam AIPAC's "Back Door to War"
Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
Here Comes AIPAC, Lobbying for War
Over 17,000 people have taken action on our alert to Congress, urging Congress to oppose AIPAC's bills for war with Iran. We've modified our alert so it now sends the New York Times editorial (#1 below) and the APN statements on the Senate and House bills (#2 and #3 below.)
If you've written Congress, please call.
FCNL has offered the use of its toll free number, 1-855-68-NO WAR. Urge your Senators and Representative not to cosponsor AIPAC's bills for war with Iran. Mention the New York Times editorial and the APN statements (#1-3 below.) More information, and a place to report your call, here:
What Rand Paul & Ted Cruz Exposed About the Drone Strikes
Rand Paul and Ted Cruz's questioning about what the Administration claims would be legal in the U.S. brings public attention to the extraordinary claims of the Administration about what it is legal to do in other people's countries.
Why Do Senators Boxer and Wyden Want to Bomb Iran?
Why did Senator Boxer and Senator Wyden - two of the remaining nine Senators who voted against the Iraq war - agree to be original cosponsors of AIPAC's bill that tries to "pre-approve" U.S. participation in an Israeli attack on Iran?
Al Jazeera: Israel launches segregated bus service
"Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan," Jessica Montell, director of the B'Tselem rights group, said on Army Radio. "This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding."
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1) Just as Iran and the major powers made some small progress in talks and agreed to meet again, two measures were introduced in Congress that could harm negotiations, writes the New York Times in an editorial. A Senate resolution sponsored by Graham and Menendez says that if Israel "is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military and economic support to the government of Israel." The AIPAC-promoted resolution would increase pressure on Obama by putting Congress on record as backing a military operation initiated by Israel at a time of Israel's choosing. It could also hamper negotiations by playing into Iranian fears that America's true intention is to promote regime change, the NYT says.
AIPAC's House bill would pile on tougher sanctions just as the two sides are trying to create trust after decades of hostility, the NYT says. Congress needs to give the talks time to play out and not make diplomatic efforts even harder, the paper says.
2) Americans for Peace Now has serious concerns about S. Res. 65, an AIPAC-backed resolution in the Senate nicknamed the "Backdoor to War" resolution, since it effectively gives a green light for Israeli military action against Iran that, if carried out, would almost certainly require the U.S. to join the fight, writes Lara Friedman for APN. APN is urging Senators to refuse to cosponsor S. Res. 65, and to also refuse to permit S. Res. 65 to be ramrodded through the Senate. Documents circulated at the AIPAC conference make clear that in the context of Iran, "Israeli self-defense" includes taking preventive military action, Friedman notes.
3) Americans for Peace Now has serious concerns about HR 850, an AIPAC-backed Iran sanctions bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives, Lara Friedman writes for APN. APN is urging House members to refuse to cosponsor HR 850, and to refuse to permit HR 850 to be ramrodded through Congress.
The timing of HR 850 undermines efforts to achieve a negotiated solution, APN notes. More sanctions now, at a time when international negotiations are once again taking shape, send the message that Congress doesn't support a negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, putting it at odds with the Obama Administration and leading Israeli security officials.
4) There is "bipartisan interest" within the House Judiciary Committee in subpoenaing the Justice Department's legal memos that justify the Obama administration's targeted killing program, the Huffington Post reports. Several committee aides said they expected the committee would eventually issue subpoenas unless the administration provides more information voluntarily. "All we are seeking is information to which we are entitled," said Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
5) Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to Senator Rand Paul saying that the President does not have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil raises more questions than it answers, writes NYT law professor Ryan Goodman in the New York Times. What, exactly, does the Obama administration mean by "engaged in combat"? Public statements and documents suggest that the Administration considers "terrorist financiers" and "drug traffickers" as "enemy combatants" who could be killed - a definition that stretches the laws of war beyond recognition.
By declining to specify what it means to be "engaged in combat," the letter does not foreclose the possible scenario of a military drone strike, against a United States citizen, on American soil, Goodman writes.
6) The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has been used by President Obama to claim an unconstitutional power to kill American citizens in other countries based only on suspicion that they are or might become terrorist threats, writes the New York Times in an editorial. The right solution is for Congress to repeal the 2001 authorization, the NYT says. Congress could repeal it now, effective upon withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the NYT notes.
7) The Obama administration is debating whether the legal basis for its targeted killing program can be extended to militant groups with little or no connection to the organization responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials said administration lawyers are increasingly concerned that the law is being stretched to its legal breaking point.
The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to "associated forces" of al-Qaeda, the Post notes. But officials said legal advisers are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called "associates of associates." One official noted that "You can't end the war if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy."
8) Mandatory Pentagon budget cuts may bring an opening to argue for deep reductions in programs long in President Obama's sights, and long resisted by Congress, the New York Times reports. On the list are not only base closings but also an additional reduction in deployed nuclear weapons. Also being considered is yet another scaling back in next-generation warplanes, starting with the F-35, the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history.
9) By claiming immunity against a lawsuit filed on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti, the UN effectively is claiming impunity, attempting to cut off all legal venues for redress for causing an epidemic that has killed more than 8,000 people, writes CEPR's Dan Beeton in a letter to the Boston Globe. Impunity never leads to reform; it leads to more abuses, Beeton argues. Had the UN been held to account for an outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe that killed more than 4,000, the UN might not have carelessly allowed Nepalese troops to go to Haiti without proper cholera screening, leading to the epidemic that continues to kill.
1) Congress Gets in the Way
Editorial, New York Times, March 8, 2013
If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran, President Obama needs Congress to support negotiations. But negotiations and compromise are largely anathema in Washington, with many lawmakers insisting that any deal with Iran would be unacceptable - a stance that would make military action by Israel and the United States far more likely.
Last week, just as Iran and the major powers made some small progress in talks and agreed to meet again, two measures were introduced in Congress that could harm negotiations.
One is a Senate resolution sponsored by Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican. It says that if Israel "is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military and economic support to the government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people and existence." No one doubts that the United States would defend Israel if it was attacked by Iran; that commitment has been made repeatedly by President Obama and his predecessors. The nonbinding resolution, promoted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group, would not authorize any specific action, but it would increase political pressure on Mr. Obama by putting Congress on record as backing a military operation initiated by Israel at a time of Israel's choosing. It could also hamper negotiations by playing into Iranian fears that America's true intention is to promote regime change.
The second measure, a bipartisan bill, would pile on tougher sanctions just as the two sides are trying to create trust after decades of hostility. The bill would further restrict business dealings with Iran, widen the list of blacklisted Iranian companies and individuals, and potentially block Iran's access to foreign bank assets held in euros. It could unravel the international coalition against Iran by penalizing countries - like Turkey, India, South Korea and China - that have not done enough to enforce sanctions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told the annual Aipac conference this week that there must be a "credible military threat" against Iran. Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. also assured the group that Mr. Obama would use force if needed.
The best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement. It is a very long shot. But Congress needs to give the talks time to play out and not make diplomatic efforts even harder.
2) APN Objections to S. Res. 65
Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now, March 5, 2013
[Friedman is Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now.]
Americans for Peace Now has serious concerns about S. Res. 65, an AIPAC-backed resolution recently introduced in the Senate that has been nicknamed by some the "Backdoor to War" resolution, since it effectively gives a green light for Israeli military action against Iran that, if carried out, would almost certainly require the U.S. to join the fight.
APN is urging Senators to refuse to cosponsor S. Res. 65.
Given the gravity of the issues at stake, APN is urging Senators to also refuse to permit S. Res. 65 to be ramrodded through the Senate according to a timetable defined by AIPAC - or any outside group.
We are urging Senators to instead call for a serious deliberation process, including committee hearings and markups during which concerns about S. Res. 65 can be aired and deficiencies in the resolution can be addressed.
Specific Objections to S. Res. 65
S. Res. 65 has been nicknamed by some the "Backdoor to War" resolution. Supporters of S. Res. 65 are quick to point out that the resolution is non-binding and includes a "rule of construction" stating that the measure is not an authorization of the use of force or a declaration of war. This is indeed the case, but is also irrelevant.
Nobody is suggesting that the resolution green lights U.S. military action against Iran. Rather, it green lights Israeli military action against Iran that, if carried out, would almost certainly compel the U.S. to join the fight - thus making it a "backdoor" to war. In this respect, the resolution is clear. It seeks to put Senators on the record giving unqualified, unconditional, advance approval for Israeli military action against Iran, including Israeli-defined preventive self-defense. It also represents an implicit vote of no-confidence in the Obama Administration over its efforts to resolve the Iran challenge through sanctions and diplomacy.
Those who doubt this interpretation of the legislation would do well to consult the Iran pamphlet circulated at this year's AIPAC Policy Conference entitled "Iran's Nuclear Threat - An American Strategy for Prevention." That pamphlet makes clear that in the context of Iran, Israeli self-defense includes taking preventive military action:
"Should sanctions fail [no definition is provided for what constitutes failure in this context] and Israel feels compelled to undertake defensive military action to stop Iran, the Jewish state must know that it will have the diplomatic, economic, and military support of the United States."
It should be recalled that in August 2012, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey explicitly expressed concerns about an Israeli attack on Iran and his concern that the U.S. not be "complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it." With this resolution, the Senate is being asked to formalize such complicity, in defiance of the Obama Administration's policy and in defiance of the judgment of top U.S. military leaders.
In addition, the resolution misrepresents U.S. policy regarding Iran, stating, "the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability..." [emphasis added]. In fact, the policy of the Obama Administration is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. This mis-statement of policy reflects the continued effort by AIPAC and others to shift the "red line" with respect to Iran and lower the bar for war. This vague formulation, which has been previously promoted in Congress by AIPAC and others, has once again been left deliberately ambiguous - a self-evidently negligent approach that clearly lowers the bar for war.
3) APN Objections to HR 850
Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now, March 5, 2013
Americans for Peace Now has serious concerns about HR 850, an AIPAC-backed Iran sanctions bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives.
APN is urging House members to refuse to cosponsor HR 850.
Given the gravity of the issues at stake, APN is urging House members to refuse to permit HR 850 to be ramrodded through Congress according to a timetable defined by AIPAC - or any outside group.
We are urging House members to instead call for a serious deliberation process, including committee hearings and markups during which concerns about HR 850 can be aired and deficiencies in the bill can be addressed.
Specific Objections to HR 850
1. The timing of HR 850 undermines efforts to achieve a negotiated solution. More sanctions now, at a time when international negotiations are once again taking shape, send the message that Congress doesn't support a negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, putting it at odds with the Obama Administration and leading Israeli security officials. As the New York Times commented on HR 850, "While sanctions are an important element of American strategy, piling more on at this moment could harm, rather than advance, the chances for a negotiated deal with Iran."
2. Sanctions targeting the Iranian people, like those in HR 850, are immoral and ineffective. While smart, targeted sanctions can be a useful element of a broader foreign policy strategy, sanctions targeting the civilian population of Iran are patently immoral, making the imposition of misery and hardship on innocent and vulnerable civilians a U.S. foreign policy goal. Such sanctions are also self-evidently ineffective - not in terms of sowing misery (in that respect they are quite effective), but in terms of causing the regime's collapse or forcing a change in the regime's behavior. Indeed, Israel's former foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, recently wrote: "The diplomacy of sanctions, ostracism and brinkmanship has failed resoundingly." Decades of experience with sanctions of this kind demonstrate they don't work: not in Iran, Iraq, Cuba, or Gaza. The often-cited exception, South Africa, only bolsters this point: in the South African context, such sanctions were adopted in support of a local population fighting for its own self-defined policy goal, rather than as part of an effort to transform the local population into an instrument of a U.S. foreign policy goal.
3. The approach of HR 850 risks undermining international cooperation and consensus on Iran. The sanctions laid out in HR 850 target countries like Turkey, India, South Korea, and China. In doing so, they risk undermining multilateral sanctions efforts - the most important sanctions in terms of convincing Iran to get serious in negotiations - and risk harming international consensus and cooperation in dealing with Iran.
4. HR 850 raises serious concerns about the provision of critical humanitarian goods to Iranian civilians. HR 850 would exacerbate an existing medical crisis in Iran, caused in large part by previous rounds of sanctions, the result of which is a shortage of medications that must be imported for patients with cancer, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, thalassemia, and certain other grave conditions. The bill does nothing to fix the existing problem and will make it worse by forcing other countries to reduce all commerce with Iran, including food and medicine sales, in order to obtain a sanctions waiver.
5. HR 850 seeks to lower the bar for war. HR 850 recklessly seeks to create an artificial "red line" for military action against Iran. It does so by seeking to force the Obama Administration to shift from a policy predicated on the declaration that Iran will not be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon, to one predicated on a declaration that Iran will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons capability. This vague formulation, which has been previously promoted in Congress by AIPAC and others - and consistently rejected by leading American security experts - clearly seeks to lower the bar for war.
6. HR 850, by seeking to compel the Obama Administration to designate an element of the Iranian government as a "foreign terrorist organization" (FTO), seeks to further lower the bar for war. HR 850 seeks to compel the Secretary of State to designate the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, distinct from Iran's existing U.S. designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. If this occurred, it would be the first time the U.S. has designated an element of a sovereign government as an FTO. Past efforts in this same vein have raised concerns that such a designation would effectively constitute an authorization of the use of military force against Iran - including concerns articulated by then-Senator Obama.
4) Subpoenas For Drone Memos From House Judiciary Committee Has 'Bipartisan Interest'
Preston Maddock and Will Wrigley, Huffington Post, 2/27/2013
Washington -- There is "bipartisan interest" within the House Judiciary Committee in subpoenaing the Justice Department's legal memos that justify the Obama administration's targeted killing program, the Republican chairman of the committee told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) held a hearing on Wednesday morning on the Obama administration's legal justification for the drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Members from both sides of the aisle expressed frustration that the administration has ignored their requests for more information.
Goodlatte cautioned that "no decision had been made" about whether to issue subpoenas for the documents, but added that such a move had "a lot of bipartisan interest," since the Obama administration isn't cooperating.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post that such discussions had been "very preliminary," but several committee aides added that they expected the committee would eventually issue subpoenas unless the administration provides more information voluntarily.
The administration has thus far provided only a few of the DOJ's 11 reported memos to those members of Congress on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The Judiciary Committees, which have oversight over the Justice Department, have been left out of the loop.
"All we are seeking is information to which we are entitled," said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "We hope to convince the administration that this is not personal or political."
5) The Drone Question Obama Hasn't Answered
Ryan Goodman, New York Times, March 8, 2013
[Goodman is a professor of law and co-chairman of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University.]
The Senate confirmed John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Thursday after a nearly 13-hour filibuster by the libertarian senator Rand Paul, who before the vote received a somewhat odd letter from the attorney general.
"It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' "the attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., wrote to Mr. Paul. "The answer to that question is no."
The senator, whose filibuster had become a social-media sensation, elating Tea Party members, human-rights groups and pacifists alike, said he was "quite happy with the answer." But Mr. Holder's letter raises more questions than it answers - and, indeed, more important and more serious questions than the senator posed.
What, exactly, does the Obama administration mean by "engaged in combat"? The extraordinary secrecy of this White House makes the answer difficult to know. We have some clues, and they are troubling.
If you put together the pieces of publicly available information, it seems that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has acted with an overly broad definition of what it means to be engaged in combat. Back in 2004, the Pentagon released a list of the types of people it was holding at Guantánamo Bay as "enemy combatants" - a list that included people who were "involved in terrorist financing."
One could argue that that definition applied solely to prolonged detention, not to targeting for a drone strike. But who's to say if the administration believes in such a distinction?
American generals in Afghanistan said the laws of war "have been interpreted to allow" American forces to include "drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list," according to a report released in 2009 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then led by John Kerry, now the secretary of state.
The report went on to say that there were about 50 major traffickers "who contribute funds to the insurgency on the target list." The Pentagon later said that it was "important to clarify that we are targeting terrorists with links to the drug trade, rather than targeting drug traffickers with links to terrorism."
That statement, however, was not very clarifying, and did not seem to appease NATO allies who raised serious legal concerns about the American targeting program. The explanation soon gave way to more clues, and this time it was not simply a question of who had been placed on a list.
In a 2010 Fox News interview, under pressure to explain whether the Obama administration was any closer to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, Mr. Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, said that "we have gotten closer because we have been able to kill a number of their trainers, their operational people, their financiers." That revelation - killing financiers - appears not to have been noticed very widely.
As I have written, sweeping financiers into the group of people who can be killed in armed conflict stretches the laws of war beyond recognition. But this is not the only stretch the Obama administration seems to have made. The administration still hasn't disavowed its stance, disclosed last May in a New York Times article, that military-age males killed in a strike zone are counted as combatants absent explicit posthumous evidence proving otherwise.
Mr. Holder's one-word answer - "no" - is not a step toward the greater transparency that President Obama pledged when he came into office, but has not delivered, in the realm of national security.
By declining to specify what it means to be "engaged in combat," the letter does not foreclose the possible scenario - however hypothetical - of a military drone strike, against a United States citizen, on American soil. It also raises anew questions about the standards the administration has used in deciding to use drone strikes to kill Americans suspected of terrorist involvement overseas - notably Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Is there any reason to believe that military drones will soon be hovering over Manhattan, aiming to kill Americans believed to be involved in terrorist financing? No.
But is it well past time for the United States government to specify, precisely, its views on whom it thinks it can kill in the struggle against Al Qaeda and other terrorist forces? The answer is yes.
The Obama administration's continued refusal to do so should alarm any American concerned about the constitutional right of our citizens - no matter what evil they may or may not be engaged in - to due process under the law. For those Americans, Mr. Holder's seemingly simple but maddeningly vague letter offers no reassurance.
6) Repeal the Military Force Law
Editorial, New York Times, March 9, 2013
Three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress approved the Authorization for Use of Military Force. It was enacted with good intentions - to give President George W. Bush the authority to invade Afghanistan and go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban rulers who sheltered and aided the terrorists who had attacked the United States.
But over time, that resolution became warped into something else: the basis for a vast overreaching of power by one president, Mr. Bush, and less outrageous but still dangerous policies by another, Barack Obama.
Mr. Bush used the authorization law as an excuse to kidnap hundreds of people - guilty and blameless people alike - and throw them into secret prisons where many were tortured. He used it as a pretext to open the Guantánamo Bay camp and to eavesdrop on Americans without bothering to obtain a warrant. He claimed it as justification for the invasion of Iraq, twisting intelligence to fabricate a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.
Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama does not go as far as to claim that the Constitution gives him the inherent power to do all those things. But he has relied on the 2001 authorization to use drones to kill terrorists far from the Afghan battlefield, and to claim an unconstitutional power to kill American citizens in other countries based only on suspicion that they are or might become terrorist threats, without judicial review.
The concern that many, including this page, expressed about the authorization is coming true: that it could become the basis for a perpetual, ever-expanding war that undermined the traditional constraints on government power. The result is an unintelligible policy without express limits or protective walls.
Last Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the president would soon shed more light on his "targeted killing" policy. Mr. Obama needs to. In the last few weeks, confusion over these issues has been vividly on display. On one hand, the administration has said it would use lethal force only when capturing a terrorist was impossible, and it did arrest Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who once served as a spokesman for Al Qaeda, and arraigned him on Friday in federal court in Manhattan. The Washington Post reported last week that counterterrorism officials considered using the authorization law as the basis for the government's authority to kill Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a militant leader in Algeria and Mali, but decided it did not apply because he was not part of Al Qaeda or an associated group.
But the administration still has not fully disclosed to Congress the legal documents on which the targeted killing program is based. And in that same article, The Post said the administration was debating whether it could stretch the law to make it apply to groups that had no connection, or only slight ones, to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
A big part of the problem is that the authorization to use military force is too vague. It gives the president the power to attack "nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 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."
Making the law more specific, however, would only further enshrine the notion of a war without end. And, as Jeh Johnson, then counsel to the defense secretary, said in a speech last November, "War must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs."
The right solution is for Congress to repeal the 2001 authorization. It could wait to do that until American soldiers have left Afghanistan, which is scheduled, too slowly, for the end of 2014. Better yet, Congress could repeal it now, effective upon withdrawal.
7) Administration debates stretching 9/11 law to go after new al-Qaeda offshoots
Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, March 6
A new generation of al-Qaeda offshoots is forcing the Obama administration to examine whether the legal basis for its targeted killing program can be extended to militant groups with little or no connection to the organization responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. officials said.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by Congress three days after the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has served as the legal foundation for U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda over the past decade, including ongoing drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen that have killed thousands of people.
But U.S. officials said administration lawyers are increasingly concerned that the law is being stretched to its legal breaking point, just as new threats are emerging in countries including Syria, Libya and Mali.
"The farther we get away from 9/11 and what this legislation was initially focused upon," a senior Obama administration official said, "we can see from both a theoretical but also a practical standpoint that groups that have arisen or morphed become more difficult to fit in."
The waning relevance of the 2001 law, the official said, is "requiring a whole policy and legal look." The official, like most others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
The authorization law has already been expanded by federal courts beyond its original scope to apply to "associated forces" of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called "associates of associates."
The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda's agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill-or-capture missions involving U.S. troops.
Officials said they have not ruled out seeking an updated authorization from Congress or relying on the president's constitutional powers to protect the country. But they said those are unappealing alternatives.
The debate comes as the administration seeks to turn counterterrorism policies adopted as emergency measures after the 2001 attacks into more permanent procedures that can sustain the campaign against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as other current and future threats.
The AUMF, as the 2001 measure is known, has been so central to U.S. efforts that counterterrorism officials said deliberations over whom to put on the list for drone strikes routinely start with the question of whether a proposed target is "AUMF-able."
The outcome of the debate could determine when and how the war on terrorism - at least as defined by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks - comes to a close.
"You can't end the war if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy," said a person who participated in the administration's deliberations on the issue.
Administration officials acknowledged that they could be forced to seek new legal cover if the president decides that strikes are necessary against nascent groups that don't have direct al-Qaeda links. Some outside legal experts said that step is all but inevitable because the authorization has already been stretched to the limit of its intended scope.
"The AUMF is becoming increasingly obsolete because the groups that are threatening us are harder and harder to tie to the original A.Q. organization," said Jack Goldsmith, an expert on national security law at Harvard University and a former senior Justice Department official.
He said extending the AUMF to groups more loosely tied to al-Qaeda would be "a major interpretive leap" that could eliminate the need for a link between the targeted organization and core al-Qaeda.
The United States has not launched strikes against any of the new groups, and U.S. officials have not indicated that there is any immediate plan to do so. In Libya, for example, the United States has sought to work with the new government to apprehend suspects in the Benghazi attack.
Still, the administration has taken recent steps - including building a drone base in the African country of Niger - that have moved the United States closer to being able to launch lethal strikes if regional allies are unable to contain emerging threats.
The administration official cited Ansar al-Sharia as an example of the "conundrum" that counterterrorism officials face.
The group has little if any established connection to al-Qaeda's leadership core in Pakistan. But intercepted communications during and after the attack in Benghazi indicated that some members have ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network's main associate in North Africa.
"Certainly there are individuals who have an affiliation from a policy, if not legal, perspective," the official said. "But does that mean the whole group?"
Other groups of concern include the al-Nusra Front, which is backed by al-Qaeda in Iraq and has used suicide bombings to emerge as a potent force in the Syrian civil war, and a splinter group in North Africa that carried out a deadly assault in January on a natural-gas complex in Algeria.
The debate centers on a piece of legislation that spans a single page and was drafted in a few days to give President George W. Bush authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against al-Qaeda.
The law placed no geographic limits on that power but did not envision a drawn-out conflict that would eventually encompass groups with no ties to the Sept. 11 strikes. Instead, it authorized the president to take action "against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks."
The authorization makes no mention of "associated forces," a term that emerged only in subsequent interpretations of the text. But even that elastic phrase has become increasingly difficult to employ.
In a speech last year at Yale University, Jeh Johnson, who served as general counsel at the Defense Department during Obama's first term, outlined the limits of the AUMF.
"An 'associated force' is not any terrorist group in the world that merely embraces the al-Qaeda ideology," Johnson said. Instead, it has to be both "an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al-Qaeda" and a "co-belligerent with al-Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."
8) Cuts Give Obama Path to Create Leaner Military
David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 10, 2013
Washington - At a time when $46 billion in mandatory budget cuts are causing anxiety at the Pentagon, administration officials see one potential benefit: there may be an opening to argue for deep reductions in programs long in President Obama's sights, and long resisted by Congress.
On the list are not only base closings but also an additional reduction in deployed nuclear weapons and stockpiles and a restructuring of the military medical insurance program that costs more than America spends on all of its diplomacy and foreign aid around the world. Also being considered is yet another scaling back in next-generation warplanes, starting with the F-35, the most expensive weapons program in United States history.
None of those programs would go away. But inside the Pentagon, even some senior officers are saying that the reductions, if done smartly, could easily exceed those mandated by sequestration, as the cuts are called, and leave room for the areas where the administration believes more money will be required.
These include building drones, developing offensive and defensive cyberweapons and focusing on Special Operations forces.
Publicly, at least, Mr. Obama has not backed any of those cuts, even though he has deplored the "dumb" approach of simply cutting every program in the military equally.
Still, Pentagon officials are starting to examine targeted ways to cut their budget. "What we've learned in the past year is that the politics of dumb cuts is easy, because no one has to think through the implications of slicing everything by 8 percent," said one senior defense official who has been deeply involved in the planning process. "The politics of cutting individual programs is as hard as it's always been."
Last week, a group of five former deputy defense secretaries - essentially the Pentagon's chief operating officers - called for a "bottom up" review that reassesses the need for each major program and weapons system, saying this was an opportunity to accomplish cuts that have long been delayed, after a decade in which the American national security budget has nearly doubled.
In their more candid moments - almost always when speaking with a guarantee of anonymity - the Pentagon's top civilian and military leaders acknowledge that the painful sequestration process may ultimately prove beneficial if it forces the Defense Department and Congress to reconsider the cost of cold-war-era systems that are still in inventory despite the many changes made to the military in the last 10 years.
"Sequester is an ugly experience, but it could grow up to be a budget discipline swan," said Gordon Adams, a former senior budget official in the Clinton administration who is now at the Stimson Center, which studies defense issues. "It could provide the planning discipline the services and the building have been missing since 2001."
To take the politics out of base closings, Congress in the past has established a commission to identify underused facilities, creating a list that it could either vote up or down on but could not amend.
But with many of the targeted bases now fairly obvious to members of Congress, they are reluctant even to establish a new commission.
Cuts in the nuclear arsenal face a different political imperative. Mr. Obama has been sitting for months on a proposal, agreed to by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that could trim the number of active nuclear weapons in America's arsenal by nearly a third and make big cuts in the stockpile of backup weapons. But he has not signed off on it.
Rather than act unilaterally, the administration is hoping it can negotiate similar cuts with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia - and do it without a treaty that would surely set off another battle with defense hawks in the Senate. But that prospect is doubtful, senior officials say.
Even if Mr. Obama wins his strategic argument that the arsenal is far too large for America's future defense needs, it is not clear how big the savings would be. The easiest weapons to cut - those based in silos in the middle of the country - are also the cheapest to keep in the field.
The most expensive nuclear weapons to operate are carried aboard submarines; they are also the most invulnerable to attack, and thus Pentagon and White House strategists want to preserve them the longest.
Moreover, operating a production base for nuclear weapons, the Defense Department's insurance policy in case the country ever needed to produce more, is very costly - though the administration is looking for ways to cut an $80 billion commitment to remake America's nuclear laboratories.
The biggest target of all is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new jet for the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, and the largest single line item in the Pentagon's budget. Between $55 billion and $84 billion has already been spent, but the estimates of final production costs run close to $400 billion.
9) To break pattern of wrongdoing, UN must be held accountable
Dan Beeton, Letter to the Editor, Boston Globe, March 10, 2013
[Beeton is international communications director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.]
Washington - Juliette Kayyem presented dubious reasons as to why the United Nations was right to claim immunity against a lawsuit filed on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti ("UN's cold, but correct, call on Haiti," Op-ed, Feb. 28). The UN effectively is claiming impunity, attempting to cut off all legal venues for redress and justice for causing an epidemic that has killed more than 8,000 people. This threatens to undermine the UN's mandate itself.
Impunity never leads to reform; it leads to more abuses because there are no consequences for wrongdoing. In fact, according to Al Jazeera, an investigation has revealed that the UN previously covered up another cholera outbreak in 2008 in Zimbabwe that killed more than 4,000 people.
There were no consequences for the UN in that case. Had there been, the organization might not have carelessly allowed Nepalese troops to go to Haiti without proper cholera screening, leading to the epidemic that continues to kill. If the UN is not given an incentive to prevent recurrence of such negligence in the future, it is likely to happen again.
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