How 60 Words Created a 'War Without End'

A law approved after 9/11 has greatly expanded the president's powers
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2014 10:06 AM CST
How 60 Words Created a 'War Without End'
This Sept. 11, 2001 file photo shows smoke rising from the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center after hijacked planes crashed into the towers, in New York City.    (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

In the haze of 9/11, lawmakers empowered the US president to fight back—and may have given him more power than they bargained for, writes Gregory Johnsen at BuzzFeed. Congress overwhelmingly approved a 60-word law called the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which empowered President George W. Bush to retaliate against anyone behind the 9/11 attacks. Interpretation of the law has since expanded to include all military action, including capture and detention, against "associated forces" of the 9/11 attackers. The law "is like a Christmas tree," said a former Bush administration official. "All sorts of things have been hung off of those 60 words."

Johnsen's article looks at the AUMF's tangled history, from its hurried drafting to its 420-1 House vote and its surprising resilience under President Obama—despite his pledge to repeal it. Lawmakers have questioned the AUMF, as Politico reported last year, and now Obama really does plan to kill it off, a top administration official tells the Wall Street Journal. But a dozen years after 9/11, Obama is still ordering drone attacks and secret raids—often against people who were children when the Twin Towers fell. "Let the congressional debate begin," said Rep. Barbara Lee, the one lawmaker who voted against the AUMF. "If people think it's worth it, for whatever reason, then let their member of Congress vote for it. That’s the point." Click for Johnsen's full article. (More 9/11 attacks stories.)

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