Senator McCain says Pentagon has “carte blanch” in America’s war on terror

Senator John McCain expressed his concern to Pentagon officials on their  interpretation of the rights they have to conduct America’s “war on terror.” He said, however, that he “doesn’t blame them,” because “basically you’ve got carte blanche as to what you are going to do around the world.”

The criticism of Senator McCain and other senators, was directed Pentagon officials and their interpretation of the 9/11 legislation that the “war on terror” is one that conceivably has no end in sight.

In testimony before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services on Thursday,  Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan stated that the  “war on terror” legislation enacted by Congress after 9/11 gives them the power to wage war anywhere in the world, even in the United States, without the necessity of having previous Congressional authorization

The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks, means in the view of Sheehan and others that the global campaign of drone strikes and the implementing of future “wars on terror” are legal, and do not require renewed authorization from Congress.

Sheehan said  “In my judgment, this is going to go on for quite a while, yes, beyond the second term of the president … I think it’s at least 10 to 20 years.”

The concept of what “terror” means and which groups are “terrorist groups” is nebulous and open to interpretation. The difficulty of defining exactly what a “war on terror” means has even led officials in some countries to call people in the US government, like President George W. Bush and President Obama,  “terrorists.”

Article 1, section B of the US Constitution declares: “The Congress shall have power … to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

Sheehan’s interpretation of the AUMF legislation is not exactly a rejection of the US Constituion, but is based on the belief that the 9/11 legislation takes precedence over it.

Author George Orwell in his science fiction novel 1984 wrote about a similar situation, a world where a war against nebulously defined enemies from other countries continued for decades.

Pentagon officials are bringing Orwell’s fictional future closer to reality through their assertion that under the AUMF legislation they can launch limitless wars at will. What’s more, their “war on terror,” allowed under the  AUMF, they assert, can extend to people within the United States, and it allows them to unilaterally invade other countries and wage war inside the United States.

Senator Lindsey Graham asked the Pentagon’s acting general counsel, Robert Taylor, “Would you agree with me, the battlefield is anywhere the enemy chooses to make it?” Taylor said that yes, it did.

Another Senator who questioned Pentagon officials, Senator Angus King, said:  “You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here … You guys have invented this term, associated forces, and it renders the war powers of Congress null and void.” He added, “I’m just a little old lawyer from Brunswick, Maine, but I don’t see how you can possibly read this to be in comport with the Constitution.”

Under the Pentagon’s current interpretation of the 9/11 legislation, even with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, the United States’ “war on terror” could last for decades longer.


Written by: Douglas R. Cobb

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