Debating the Legal Basis for the War on Terror

A top Pentagon official said Thursday that the evolving war against Al Qaeda was likely to continue “at least 10 to 20 years” and urged Congress not to modify the statute that provides its legal basis.

 

“As of right now, it suits us very well,” Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said, referring to the “authorization to use military force,” often referred to as the A.U.M.F., enacted by Congress in 2001.

 

The statute authorized war against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who harbored them — that is, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

Lawmakers are considering enacting a new authorization, because the original Qaeda network has been largely decimated, while the current threat is increasingly seen as arising from terrorist groups in places like Yemen that share Al Qaeda’s ideology but have no connection to the 2001 attacks.

 

In 2011, Congress enacted a statute declaring that the 2001 authorization allowed the indefinite detention of members and supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, even if not linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. But a judge has blocked the statute, questioning whether mere supporters and associated forces are covered by it. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling.