POLITICS
05/22/2014 12:59 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2014

House Rejects Bid To End The Endless War On Terror

WASHINGTON -- With U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan and gone from Iraq, Congress reaffirmed America's endless war Wednesday, with the House of Representatives voting against an amendment to end the authorization to use military force, or AUMF, that was passed in the wake of Sept. 11.

The provision, offered by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), would have given the authorization a sunset date of a year from the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which Schiff was trying to amend.

"Without a sunset, I am convinced that a year from now, we will be exactly where we are today, continuing to rely on increasingly legally unreliable AUMF," Schiff said in floor debate Wednesday night.

Numerous lawmakers on the left and right have been arguing since at least last year that the AUMF, which targeted al Qaeda, its affiliates and any supporters linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, is being stretched beyond its original intent to strike at groups all over the globe, including with drone strikes in places like Yemen.

Yet Congress has failed to address the issue. Schiff had hoped that by giving a year's notice, his colleagues would be forced to act.

"I have confidence that spurred on by the necessity of acting -- and we're not requiring that we act tomorrow, we give a deadline from a year from enactment that should not be too much to ask of this Congress -- Congress will step up to its responsibility," he said.

But opponents had no such confidence, and said that Schiff's proposal would be dangerous, arguing that the authorization would more likely expire in a year, leaving the nation in an even more legally dubious position.

"The last thing we need is to get all balled up in court after we repealed the AUMF with nothing to take its place," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

"We should be having a conversation about how to update the authorization of the use of military force, but we still have to protect the country while we're having that discussion," Thornberry said. "Unfortunately, this puts the cart before the horse deciding to repeal [AUMF] before we know what will be used to replace it."

"The world is still dangerous," he added. "The terrorists are still coming for us. We need to keep this in place."

Even if the measure had passed the House, the Senate is similarly ambivalent about taking on the AUMF, which also provides the legal basis for detaining terror suspects indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told HuffPost in an interview that his committee was not looking at a similar provision as it debates its own version of the NDAA bill this week.

"It's a very complex issue," Levin said. "If there's no AUMF, what do you do with guys like Khalid Sheik Mohammed? If there is an AUMF, we have a right to keep people under the laws of war until that's over."

Levin admitted he was at a loss as to what to do.

"I'm the first one to acknowledge there's a real intellectual problem here as to when is the war on terror over, or when does that authorization end," Levin said. "It's a huge issue. It needs to be debated. There needs to be hearings on it. I don't know the answer to the question. Maybe if I knew the answer to the question I'd be a little more sure about an amendment. But I don't know what the answer is to the question."

He echoed Thornberry about the ongoing risk of terrorism.

"There continues to be a threat from the same threat or an associated source that existed when we passed the AUMF. That threat continues," Levin said.

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

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