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Congress Eyes End To Endless War, Repeal Of 9/11 Authorization To Use Military Force

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WASHINGTON -- When Congress granted President George W. Bush authority to go to war against the perpetrators of 9/11 and their supporters shortly after the 2001 attacks, most lawmakers probably didn't think that amounted to a blank check for endless war.

But 13 years later, that has been essentially the effect of that authorization, with two presidents relying on it to conduct strikes far from the battlefield in Afghanistan, and for the ongoing, indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.

Some lawmakers tried last year to repeal or update the law, but failed, even as President Barack Obama pushed Congress to make revisions.

Next week, exactly one year after Obama made his pitch, lawmakers in both chambers intend to try again.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) plans to hold a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with the primary goal of figuring out how to update the law. Corker and a number of other Republicans, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, have argued that tactics like drone strikes on far-flung targets and against groups that didn't even exist in 2001 exceed the scope of the Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF.

In the House, perhaps the most broadly supported idea is to sunset the law and grant Congress a year to debate whether a new authority needs to be created to fight a so-called global war on terror.

That plan, advocated by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), failed last year on a vote of 185 to 236, as 30 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the measure and make it a bipartisan effort.

Schiff began circulating a letter this week among his colleagues to build support for another try, possibly as soon as next week, when the House could begin to consider the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015.

Schiff notes that the AUMF granted the administration broad powers to strike those who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored them."

"But Congress never intended to authorize a war without end, and the 2001 authorization no longer properly encompasses the scope of military action that we are taking in the ongoing fight against terrorism," Schiff wrote.

"It has been used to sanction targeted strikes against groups and militants with little if any relation to al Qaeda or the individuals who planned, authorized, and perpetrated the attacks on September 11, 2001," he wrote. "Congress can reassert its constitutional duty and authority to oversee the use of military force and to properly define the enemy we face."

The need to address the aging law will become more acute as the U.S. winds down the war in Afghanistan, and it is still facing questions as to how to deal with the 154 detainees who are being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The White House remains supportive of the efforts to revise the law, and in a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden noted many of the same points made by Schiff and Corker.

"As we work with the government of Afghanistan to identify an appropriate U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014; as we continue to make progress towards the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; and as we continue to work with our friends and partners around the world to provide assistance and training for others to take firm and effective measures against al Qaeda and other terrorists, we expect to engage further with Congress and the American people on efforts to ensure that the legal authorities for our counterterrorism and detention operations are appropriately tailored," Hayden said.

"At this stage, we are discussing this issue and look forward to engaging the Congress more robustly as our thinking progresses. They will be a critical partner in getting us to the President's goal of refining and ultimately repealing the AUMF," she said.

But that process is likely to be extremely difficult. While many lawmakers agree that the law needs to change, many do not agree on how: In addition to those who see no need to replace it, others want its power expanded to cover incidents like the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Also, many Republicans have steadfastly opposed moving detainees from Gitmo, and ending the AUMF would remove the primary legal justification that allows them to be held.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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