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End the Blank Check for War

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This op-ed was co-authored by Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA):

This week, the House of Representatives will have the opportunity to erase the most dangerous sentence in American history.

It's the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or the "AUMF." Passed immediately after September 11, 2001, it contained only 60 words, yet its overly broad language handed the president -- any president -- a blank check for war. Congress passed this joint resolution nearly unanimously, even though the language failed to specify the enemy, set geographical boundaries, or indicate a timeline.

Reflecting on the nearly 13 years that have passed since Congress voted for the AUMF, the warning bells that few were ringing now appear prescient. In addition to providing the president the authority to wage war against anyone, anywhere, at any time, the single sentence of the AUMF serves as the legal justification for some of the most troubling U.S. policies. It is because of the AUMF that the government can conduct broad, warrantless wiretapping. It is because of the AUMF that nearly anyone, including American citizens, can be targeted for assassination by drone strike. And it is in part because of the AUMF that individuals can be indefinitely detained.

As reported recently in the Washington Post, after identifying a target for drone strike, this is the first question that officials ask: "are they AUMF-able?" In other words, does the AUMF allow us to target and kill this person? In the global battlefield created by the AUMF, the answer usually seems to be a resounding yes.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the AUMF has been publicly invoked over 30 times. This includes not only the war in Afghanistan, but also military excursions in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Georgia, and Yemen -- and these are just the instances that the American people and many of us in Congress know about. None of these missions were debated or specifically authorized by Congress, because they were all defensible by the sweeping AUMF.

For the two us, and many of our colleagues, this raises grave constitutional concerns that stretch across the aisle. Republicans and Democrats alike have noted that only Congress holds the power to declare war, and that unchecked executive war authority is inconsistent with the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution.

This is why we have gathered a broad, bipartisan coalition to introduce the War Authorization Review and Determination Act (WARD Act). This bill would require the president to report to Congress precisely what activities are being conducted pursuant to the AUMF. It would then allow Congress to continue any of those activities it determines necessary before ultimately sunsetting the overly broad AUMF language. The WARD Act does not affect the president's many other war powers, and it re-engages the constitutional framework through which the president may seek more authorization from Congress.

As the U.S. withdraws from its longest war, it is time to reflect on the world that the AUMF has created. As the House prepares to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, we look forward to having a long overdue opportunity to debate the AUMF and vote for its repeal.

There usually is not a lot the two of us can agree on -- but we do agree it is not too late to learn from our mistakes and change course for the betterment of our county, our citizens, and the world.

Congresswoman Lee represents California's 13th Congressional District. She is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, as well as the Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), where she serves as the Co-Chair of the CPC Peace and Security Task Force.

Representative Paul C. Broun, Jr. was elected in July of 2007 to serve the Tenth District of Georgia. Since his arrival in Congress, he has been appointed to the House Homeland Security Committee, the House Committee on Natural Resources, and currently serves as Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee for the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.