Nobody in the corporate media mentions it, but the war in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama just ramped up by 50 percent this year, with the dispatch, first of 17,000 troops last spring and now with another 30,000 troops, to begin deployment on Christmas, is being fought on the shaky legal basis of a hastily passed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) voted by Congress back in October 2001, more than three years before Obama was even elected to the Senate.
That AUMF was the handiwork of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and it was rammed through House and Senate with almost no debate in the wake of the 9-11 attacks and then used to justify most of the subsequent assaults on the Constitution and Bill of Rights that are still haunting America and the world today.
While Congress saw the 2001 AUMF as an authorization to launch an attack on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (an attack that quickly toppled the Taliban government, but that famously failed to crush Al Qaeda, thanks to its being called off half a year later so troops could be shifted to a new war in the making against Iraq), Bush and Cheney interpreted it as a “declaration of war” in a “global war on terror,” which they claimed had no border, no end, and which they even tried to claim extended to within the boundaries of the US.
So anxious were Bush and Cheney to be permanent wartime generalissimos, unfettered by Constitutional constraints, that just minutes before the measure went to the Senate for a vote, according to then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, they sought to add the words “in the United States” after the phrase “appropriate force” in the language of the resolution. As Daschle, who wisely refused their request, notes, “This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens.”
The point though, is that the 2001 AUMF was in fact an authorization to use military force to go after terrorism. It was not an authorization to conduct a full-scale war against another nation, or to become enmeshed in a civil war in another nation, which is what is going on in Afghanistan today. That, in fact, is why even Bush felt he needed a second AUMF to authorize his invasion of Iraq.
President Obama is trying to finesse this by falsely claiming, with a straight face, that Afghanistan is the “epicenter or terrorist activity” in the world. He is deliberately trying—and getting full support from the complicit corporate media—to conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda to justify his absurd claim, too, by also falsely claiming in his speech that several unnamed “terrorists” have been apprehended in the US who were sent here recently from some ill-defined terror central inside of Afghanistan.
The truth is that not one act of terrorism outside of Afghanistan has been attributed to the Taliban of Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban, while admittedly a brutal, reactionary, fundamentalist group of militant Islamists, are not global jihadis bent on wreaking havoc in the Western world or even in the rest of the Islamic world. They are a domestic Afghan military and political movement that is seeking to return to power in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda, the organization that was the target of the Congressional AUMF resolution in 2001, has long since abandoned Afghanistan for safer, greener pastures.
This being the case, Obama’s war in Afghanistan, and especially his decision to intensify it dramatically, is being conducted illegally, without any actual authorization from Congress, as required by the Constitution.
If the president wants to mire the US further and more deeply in a civil war in Afghanistan at this point, aimed at defeating the Taliban in that country, he should at least be required to obtain a new resolution in Congress authorization that action.
As a constitutional lawyer, the president knows that he is acting illegally, which is why he was so careful in his speech to West Point cadets on Tuesday to make the bogus claim that Afghanistan remains the epicenter of terrorism. But governing by lies is no way to govern, and the American people will eventually realize that they have been lied to. Indeed, the fact that a majority of Americans, according to polls, want to see the Afghan War ended, shows that even given the biased pro-war media, most people understand this on some level.
The Bush/Cheney administration did much to undermine and wreck Constitutional government during their eight years in office. Many people had hoped that Obama was serious when he said during his campaign that he wanted to restore Constitutional governance if elected. But by his latest move, putting the US into a full-scale war in Afghanistan on the basis of a lie and without any genuine war resolution from Congress, he has joined his predecessor in further debasing both the Constitution and language itself.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at thiscantbehappening.net