Under the guise of exercising supervisory power over the president’s ability to use military force, Congress is considering writing Donald Trump a blank check to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens with no criminal charges. Alarmingly, this legislation could permit the president to lock up Americans who dissent against U.S. military policy.
The bill that risks conveying this power to the president is the broad new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), S.J.Res.59, that is pending in Congress. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine (VA) introduced the bipartisan bill on April 16, and it has four additional co-sponsors.
This proposed 2018 AUMF would replace the 2001 AUMF that Congress gave George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks. Although the 2001 AUMF authorized the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” only against individuals and groups responsible for the 9/11 attacks, three presidents have relied on it to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, many of them unrelated to 9/11.
But the 2018 AUMF would codify presidential power to make war whenever and wherever he chooses.
S.J.Res.59 allows the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, al-Qaeda, ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Taliban and their “associated forces” anywhere in the world, without limitation.
However, the bill contains no definition of “co-belligerent.” A president may conceivably claim that a U.S. citizen who writes, speaks out or demonstrates against U.S. military action is a “co-belligerent” and lock him or her up indefinitely without charge.
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