- There are signs that the Trump administration might attempt to cite a law passed just three days after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks to use military force against Iran.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has attempted to link al Qaeda and Iran, which would allow the US to invoke the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to take military action against Iran.
- The AUMF gave the president broad authority to pursue those responsible for 9/11, and has paved the way for multiple administrations to wage war across the globe over the past 18 years.
- Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing back against attempts to invoke the AUMF to go to war against Iran amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.
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The Trump administration appears to be laying the ground work to use a law passed in the days following the September 11, 2001, attacks to justify a conflict with Iran.
Lawmakers have said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the case that the US might be able to launch a war against Tehran under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
The AUMF – passed on September 14, 2001, with only one dissenting vote – authorised the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organisations, or persons he determines planned, authorised, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organisations or persons.”
The law was originally intended to give former President George W. Bush the power to go after those deemed responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks – al Qaeda and the Taliban.
But since it was passed the AUMF has seen the US go after terror groups linked to al Qaeda everywhere from Somalia to Pakistan, and the law has been stretched well beyond its initial purpose.
Indeed, the AUMF has granted multiple presidents broad authority to wage war across the globe – it has been referenced in justification for conflict dozens of times in at least 18 countries.
Many in the foreign policy community point to the AUMF as the primary reason the US is locked in a “forever war.”
And it now appears the Trump administration might look to the law as a path toward another conflict in the Middle East, this time over attacks on tankers and worries that Iran could develop nuclear weapons.
Pompeo has been trying to convince lawmakers there’s a link between Iran and al Qaeda
In the context of recent tensions between the US and Iran, Pompeo has been attempting to convince lawmakers there are ties between Iran and al Qaeda, meaning the AUMF could be invoked to justify military action against the Middle Eastern country.
“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to al Qaeda is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda, they have permitted al Qaeda to transit their country,” Pompeo said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in April. “There is no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda. Period, full stop.”
Correspondingly, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders, and Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, last week both said Pompeo in a classified briefing that war against Iran could be authorised without Congress under the AUMF.
“We were absolutely presented with a formal presentation on how the AUMF might authorise war on Iran,” Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, said at a House Armed Services Committee session.
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‘Congress has not authorised war with Iran’
Iran is a majority Shia state and al Qaeda is a radical Sunni group, which means they are fundamentally at odds based on their interpretations of Islam. This helps explain why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and experts have long been sceptical of those claiming the two have links.
A 2018 study from the New America think tank – based on hundreds of documents obtained from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan – cast further doubt on the notion Iran and al Qaeda are closely linked.
“The examined documents provide no evidence of cooperation between [al Qaeda] and Iran on planning or carrying out terrorist attacks,” the study states.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing back against the Trump administration’s case for potentially employing the AUMF to take action against Iran.
“They are looking to bootstrap an argument to allow the president to do what he likes without coming to Congress, and they feel the 2001 authorization will allow them to go to war with Iran,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, told The New York Times.
Kaine and two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, on Tuesday sent a letter to the president stating, “Congress has not authorised war with Iran and no current statutory authority allows the U.S. to conduct hostilities against the government of Iran.”
This came after the US on Monday announced it’s deploying an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East amid tensions with Iran.
“If [the president] wants to use military force against Iran (or any nation) he must first make his case to Congress & seek authorization. It’s time to repeal the 2001 AUMF so this POTUS & future admins can’t use shaky legal footing to drag us into conflict [without] proper authorization,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, an Air Force veteran, said in a tweet last week.
The issue also came up on Tuesday during a 2020 presidential town hall hosted by INSIDER with Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, an Iraq war combat veteran who served in the US Marine Corps. Moulton said it’s “absolutely” time for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for a new authorization for the use of military force.
“It is just literally against the Constitution that we are carrying out wars overseas based on an authorization because of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on America back in 2001,” Moulton went on to say.
The House on Wednesday voted to repeal the AUMF and Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee – the sole lawmaker to vote against the law in 2001 – led the charge. This marked the first time a repeal of the AUMF has passed in the House in the nearly two decades since the law was enacted. The AUMF is still in effect, but this was a major development in its long, controversial history.
Anthony Fisher contributed reporting.