Letter to Congress: Repeal the AUMF

May 19, 2014

Letter to Congress: Repeal the AUMF

To: Senators and Representatives
Re: Repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force

Dear Senators and Representatives,

As the House and Senate deliberate over the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, Amnesty International, with over three million members, urges Congress to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF has been interpreted by successive administrations in a manner that has contributed to multiple violations of civil liberties and human rights.

A US federal judge called the AUMF, "the most far-reaching bestowal of power upon the Executive since the Civil War...The broad language of the AUMF, literally construed, gives the President carte blanche..." The AUMF forms the domestic legal underpinning for a US theory of a global "war" against al-Qa’ida that involves an unacceptably unilateral and wholesale departure from the very concept of the rule of law generally, and the limited scope of application of the law of armed conflict in particular, as it has existed to date.

The negative consequences for human rights and civil liberties are immense. The message sent is that a government can ignore or jettison its obligations to respect rights and replace them with rules of its own whenever and wherever it deems the circumstances warrant it.

Exploiting the AUMF, among other things, the US government has resorted to human rights violations including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, enforced disappearances and secret detention, indefinite detention without charge or trial and a military commission system that does not meet international fair trial standards, as well as to a drone strike policy that has radically redefined and expanded the concept of "imminence" and appears to permit extrajudicial executions. As the AUMF has become entrenched, oversight, truth and accountability have been sacrificed.

Amnesty International recognizes the US government’s duty to take robust action to protect the life and physical integrity of people within its jurisdiction, and to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes, including the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, a crime against humanity.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have pointed to respect for human rights as being an integral part of their national security or counterterrorism strategies, but the AUMF has been an integral part of the failure to meet such promises. Without the USA implementing and abiding by its international human rights obligations, the AUMF cannot be part of achieving justice for 9/11 and security from future attacks. The US Constitution and international law, without the AUMF, allow for effective counterterrorism measures that respect, rather than violate, civil liberties and human rights.

The world awaits a clear message from the USA that it will finally put human rights at the core of its national security efforts and end reliance on an expansive resolution passed with little substantive debate and that has been interpreted in a manner that has facilitated human rights violations. The AUMF can and should be repealed as part of a new start in which the USA applies the same international human rights standards to itself that it so regularly demands of others.