A controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Bill that would “affirm” the President’s supposed power to wage perpetual war anywhere on Earth against undefined enemies – including Americans in the United States – is attracting fierce criticism from across the political spectrum.
The language was inserted into the bill by Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who unveiled it last week. President Obama never even requested the sweeping powers. In fact, the administration believes it already has all the authority it needs to wage the terror war.
But a coalition of advocates is now furiously attempting to downplay the measure’s significance, claiming it simply re-affirms the executive branch’s power to carry on the “War on Terror” for as long as there might be “terror” in the world. From the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal, establishment media outlets are painting the proposed language as a harmless statement acknowledging that the terror war is legal.
But the reality is that the provision in question is extremely dangerous, according to critics. And it is also very different from past authorizations to use military force.
The provision would, for example, purport to give the President unchecked power – maybe even the duty – to attack unspecified countries, organizations, and people no matter where in the world they might be located. All with no limitations whatsoever. It purports to cede “the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force” to the executive branch in its never-ending battle against unnamed countries, organizations, and people.
The military could even be used to go after Americans in America. And the targets would not even have to represent a national security risk to the United States – real or otherwise – based on the language in the bill. So-called “belligerents,” Americans included, could be detained without trial until the end of hostilities. And that “end” may never come. Even “substantially supporting” somebody or some group the government deemed an enemy could get a person jailed indefinitely with no charges.
Of course, opposition to the provision is growing rapidly. A coalition of almost two dozen groups – human-rights, anti-war, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and other organizations – recently sent a strongly-worded letter to the Armed Services Committee urging it to stop the proposal.
“This monumental legislation – with a large-scale and practically irrevocable delegation of war power from Congress to the President – could commit the United States to a worldwide war without clear enemies, without any geographical boundaries,” noted the letter, pointing out that it would permit the use of military force within America. There would be no boundaries related to time or objectives to be accomplished.
“At minimum, Congress should hold hearings and follow regular order before even considering such sweeping legislation,” the organizations wrote. “The proposed new Declaration of War would be without precedent in the scope of war authority or duties transferred by Congress to the President.… If Congress broadly turns over to the President the power that Article I of the Constitution provides to Congress to declare war, it very likely will never get the power back.”