Disturbing": Obama Administration Claims Power to Wage Endless
War Across the Globe:
- Video -
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham questioning two Pentagon
officials, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense
in charge of special operations, and Robert Taylor, acting
general counsel, Department of Defense.
Gentlemen, Iíve only been here five months, but this is the most
astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that Iíve
been to since Iíve been here. You guys have essentially
rewritten the Constitution here today.
Posted May 17, 2013
is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
GONZŃLEZ: A Pentagon official
predicted Thursday the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates
could last up to 20 more years. The comment came during a Senate
hearing revisiting the Authorization for Use of Military Force,
or AUMF, enacted by Congress days
after the attacks. At the hearing, Pentagon officials
claimed the AUMF gives the president
power to wage endless war anywhere on the globe. Senator Angus
King, an independent from Maine, described the hearing as the
most, quote, "astoundingly disturbing" one he had been to since
taking office earlier this year. King accused Obama
administration of rewriting the Constitution.
We beginís todayís show with highlights from the hearing. In a
moment weíll hear Senator Angus King in his own words, but
first, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham questioning two
Pentagon officials, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of
defense in charge of special operations, and Robert Taylor,
acting general counsel, Department of Defense. This is Senator
Do you agree with me, the war against radical Islam, or
terror, whatever description you like to provide, will go on
after the second term of President Obama?
Senator, in my judgment, this is going to go on for quite a
while, and, yes, beyond the second term of the president.
And beyond this term of Congress?
Yes, sir. I think itís at least 10 to 20 years.
So, from your point of view, you have all of the
authorization and legal authorities necessary to conduct a
drone strike against terrorist organizations in Yemen
without changing the AUMF.
Yes, sir, I do believe that.
You agree with that, General?
I do, sir.
General, do you agree with that?
I do, sir.
OK. Could we send military members into Yemen to strike
against one of these organizations? Does the president have
that authority to put boots on the ground in Yemen?
As I mentioned before, thereís domestic authority and
international law authority. At the moment, the basis for
putting boots on the ground in Yemen, we respect the
sovereignty of Yemen, and it wouldó
Iím not talking about that. Iím talking about: Does he have
the legal authority under our law to do that?
Under domestic authority, he would have that authority.
I hope that Congress is OK with that. Iím OK with that. Does
he have authority to put boots on the ground in the Congo?
Yes, sir, he does.
OK. Do you agree with me that when it comes to international
terrorism, weíre talking about a worldwide struggle?
Absolutely, sir. [inaudible]
Would you agree with me the battlefield is wherever the
enemy chooses to make it?
Yes, sir, from Boston to the FATA.
I couldnít agree with you more. Weíre in aódo you agree with
Yes, sir. I agree that the enemy decides where the
And it could be anyplace on the planet, and we have to be
aware and able to act. And do you have the ability to act,
and are you aware of the threats?
Yes, sir. We do have the ability to react, and we are
tracking threats globally.
From my point of view, I think your analysis is correct, and
I appreciate all of your service to our country.
Gentlemen, Iíve only been here five months, but this is the
most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing
that Iíve been to since Iíve been here. You guys have
essentially rewritten the Constitution here today. The
Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, clearly says
that the Congress has the power to declare war. Thisóthis
authorization, the AUMF, is very
limited. And you keep using the term "associated forces."
You use it 13 times in your statement. That is not in the
AUMF. And you said at one point,
"It suits us very well." I assume it does suit you very
well, because youíre reading it to cover everything and
anything. And then you said, at another point, "So, even if
the AUMF doesnít apply, the
general law of war applies, and we can take these actions."
So, my question is: How do you possibly square this with the
requirement of the Constitution that the Congress has the
power to declare war?
is one of the most fundamental divisions in our
constitutional scheme, that the Congress has the power to
declare war; the president is the commander-in-chief and
prosecutes the war. But youíre reading this
AUMF in such a way as to apply
clearly outside of what it says. Senator McCain was
absolutely right: It refers to the people who planned,
authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks on
September 11. Thatís a date. Thatís a date. It doesnít go
into the future. And then it says, "or harbored such
organizations"ópast tenseó"or persons in order to prevent
any future acts by such nations, organizations or persons."
It established a date.
donít disagree that we need to fight terrorism. But we need
to do it in a constitutionally sound way. Now, Iím just a
little, old lawyer from Brunswick, Maine, but I donít see
how you can possibly read this to be in comport with the
Constitution and authorize any acts by the president. You
had testified to Senator Graham that you believe that you
could put boots on the ground in Yemen now under thisóunder
this document. That makes the war powers a nullity. Iím
sorry to ask such a long question, but my question is:
Whatís your response to this? Anybody?
Senator, let me take the first response. Iím not a
constitutional lawyer or a lawyer of any kind. But let me
talk to you a littleótake a brief statement about al-Qaeda
and the organization that attacked us on September 11, 2001.
In the two years prior to that, Senator King, that
organization attacked us in East Africa and killed 17
Americans in our embassy in Nairobi, with loosely affiliated
groups of people in East Africa. A year prior to 9/11, that
same organization, with its affiliates in Yemen, almost sunk
a U.S. ship, the U.S.S. Cole, a billion-dollar warship,
killed 17 sailors in the port of Aden. The organization that
attacked us on 9/11 already had its tentacles inóaround the
world with associated groups. That was the nature of the
organization then; it is the nature of the organization now.
In order to attack that organization, we have to attack it
with those affiliates that are its operational arm that have
previously attacked and killed Americans, and at high-level
interests, and continue to try to do that.
Thatís fine, but thatís not what the AUMF
says. You canóyou canówhat Iím saying is, we may need new
authority, but donítóif you expand this to the extent that
you have, itís meaningless, and the limitation in the war
power is meaningless. Iím not disagreeing that we need to
attack terrorism wherever it comes from and whoever is doing
it. But what Iím saying is, letís do it in a constitutional
way, not by putting a gloss on a document that clearly wonít
support it. It justóit just doesnítóit just doesnít work.
Iím just reading the words. Itís all focused on September 11
and who was involved, and you guys have invented this term
"associated forces" thatís nowhere in this document. As I
mentioned, in your written statement, you use thatóthatís
the key term. You use it 13 times. Itís the justification
for everything. And it renders the war powers of the
Congress null and void. I donít understand. I mean, I do
understand youíre saying we donít need any change, because
the way you read it, you canóyou could do anything. But why
not sayócome back to us and say, "Yes, youíre correct that
this is an overbroad reading that renders the war powers of
the Congress a nullity; therefore, we need new authorization
to respond to the new situation"? I donít understand whyóI
mean, I do understand it, because the way you read it,
thereís no limit. But thatís not what the Constitution
Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, speaking Thursday at a
Senate hearing on the presidentís war powers under the
Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Jeremy Scahill discussed the same topic when he appeared on
Democracy Now! last month. Jeremy is the author of the
new bestseller, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.
The concept of The World Is a Battlefield actually
is not something I thought up; itís a doctrine, actually, a
military doctrine called "Operational Preparation of the
Battlespace," which views the world as a battlefield. And
what it says is that if there are countries where you
predict, where the military predicts that conflicts are
likely or that war is a possibility, you can forward deploy
troops to those countries to prepare the battlefield. And
under both Bush and Obama, the world has been declared the
battlefield. You know, the Authorization for the Use of
Military Force that was passed after 9/11 is technically the
law that President Obama and his administration point to
when they say they have a right to drone strike in Yemen,
because these people are connected to the 9/11 attacks. But
in reality, one of the enduring legacies of the Obama
presidency is going to be that he solidified this
Cheneyesque view of the U.S. government, which says that
when it comes to foreign policy, that the executive branch
is effectively a dictatorship and that Congress only has a
minimal role to play in oversight. I mean, Cheney didnít
want Congress to have any role in it. Obamaís administration
plays this game with Congress: Certain people can go into
the padded room and look at this one document, but, oh, not
this other document, and youíre not allowed to bring in a
utensil to write with, and you canít ever tell anyone what
you said. Thatís congressional oversight on our
assassination program. But they have doubled down on this
all-powerful executive branch perspective. And thatís why we
see this stuff expanding.
Jeremy Scahill, author of the new bestseller, Dirty Wars:
The World Is a Battlefield. His film by the same title,
Dirty Wars, is coming out in June around the country. This
is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and
Peace Report. Iím Amy Goodman, with Juan GonzŠlez. Back in
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