The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday that Congress should overhaul the 2001 authorization for the use of military force to encompass the use of drones for targeted killings.
Weighing in on an issue of both national security and civil liberties, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the law passed days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks needs to be revised to deal with emerging threats and ensure greater congressional oversight.
"For far too long, Congress has failed to fully exercise its constitutional responsibility to authorize the use of military force, including in the current struggle against al-Qaida, so I urge the committee to consider updating current anti-terrorism authorities to adapt to threats that did not exist in 2001 and to better protect our nation while upholding our morals and values," Corker said at the start of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on counterterrorism.
The law gave President George W. Bush the authority to launch the invasion of Afghanistan and target al-Qaida, saying the commander in chief has the authority to attack "nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
Since then, President Barack Obama has used the law's authority to target terrorists with fatal drone strikes, including Americans overseas.
The issue came to the forefront in recent weeks as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., waged a nearly 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's nomination for CIA director over the president's authority to use drones in the United States. The Senate eventually confirmed Brennan.
Corker said the Foreign Relations Committee, which has jurisdiction, should put "in place specific policy guidance for how and when the president can use these authorities, including lethal action and the use of drones, in regular consultation with Congress, so we can restore the appropriate balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government while maintaining flexibility for the president to respond swiftly under threat of attack."
Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., now the president of The Wilson Center, told the committee that she never imagined that 12 years after the law that it would be used against disparate enemies.
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, on Wednesday also raised questions about the law, which will be the subject of a hearing on drones at a Judiciary panel's hearing next month.
"I don't believe many, if any, of us believed when we voted for that — and I did vote for it — that we were voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and putting a stamp of approval on a war policy against terrorism that, 10 years-plus later, we're still using," Durbin said in a breakfast interview at The Wall Street Journal.
Among the questions, Durbin said, was whether drones could be used as a lethal weapon and against whom. "Is this a wide-open opportunity for any president to use lethal force anywhere against anyone?" he asked.