The US government is encountering opposition in its attempts to update the woefully outdated Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has enabled the US to pursue those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.
Yesterday former Attorney General Michael Mukasey sent a letter to Representative Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in which Mukasey notes his support for the update to the AUMF and expresses his dismay at opposition to the bill. The text of the letter is below, in full [an orginal copy of the letter can be downloaded here].
Dear Mr. Chairman:
The legislation you have proposed to update and clarify the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in September 2001 in the wake of the attacks on the United States that occurred that month, is both timely and constructive.
Since its passage, the AUMF has not been updated to reflect the evolving nature and origin of the Islamist threat against this country. Indeed, there are organizations, including the Pakistani Taliban, that are arguably not within its reach, and although we have fought and detained thousands of enemy fighters captured not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, and continue to detain hundreds, the AUMF does not even refer to detention, let alone prescribe standards for detention. As a result of this inaction, we have simply allowed policy makers and judges to improvise how we deal with the evolving terrorist threat and how we treat those we encounter on the battlefield. The increased use of remotely piloted aircraft – drones – has allowed us to strike lethally, but because dead men tell no tales and records destroyed in drone attacks cannot be exploited, we may unconsciously be defaulting toward strategies that do not allow us to act as effectively as we might if we captured terrorists instead of killing them.
Your new legislation would not confer new powers, but rather would add order and rationality to what has been an improvisational exercise overseen by judges who do not have the fact-finding resources of Congress, or the accountability that comes from being responsible for protecting the national security. I cannot for the life of me understand the opposition to this measure that is coming from people who profess to be concerned with civil liberties and the rule of law, and yet seem to prefer an improvisational arrangement that does not make us face up to the fact that we are detaining people. If anything, such a system creates the occasion for oftloading our detention responsibility to countries that will treat detainees much less humanely than we would, or killing instead of capturing, which can hardly be said to present a humane alternative or one governed by legal principles. I would welcome the opportunity to provide whatever help and input I can.
For more information on the Obama administration’s focus on killing rather than capturing terrorists, see this article from The National Journal [note: my quote in there is taken somewhat out of context; I said the media give President Obama a pass, but did not suggest it was because he is a Democrat].
Attorney General Mukasey makes a key point about the shortcomings of a kill-only strategy: it ultimately can deprive the intelligence community of critical information about the target organization. Thomas Joscelyn’s excellent work in analyzing the Guantanamo documents demonstrates the importance of capturing and interrogating high-value targets. These documents shed light on how the terror groups cooperate amongst themselves and also reveal the significant role that state support plays in sustaining the terror groups. And the interrogations of several high-value al Qaeda and Taliban leaders ultimately led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
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