STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And the House yesterday rejected the latest effort to set an end date for the president's authorization for the use of military force. Congress approved the measure shortly after 9/11, which allowed the president to pursue terrorists at home and abroad, in Afghanistan and many other places. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California thinks that authorization should be made to expire at the end of this year. He thinks that, even though he voted for the original measure in the emotional days after 9/11, a measure with no expiration date.
Reconstruct that moment for me. Were people just not thinking about the timeframe? It was right after 9/11, and the attitude was: We need to do whatever we need to do right now.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF: Well, that was exactly the attitude that we needed to be united as a country in the face of the single-most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor. And there were efforts to change the language. In fact, part of the language was changed, it was narrowed, but none of us thought this would become the longest war in U.S. history. At the same time, there was nothing preventing the Congress at any time from changing that AUMF, from repealing it, from amending it. Nothing has held our hands except for our own dysfunction.
INSKEEP: Help us understand how this has been used. It was used to authorize the war in Afghanistan, of course.
INSKEEP: What else?
SCHIFF: Well, it's been used ever since to go after terrorist groups, organizations like AQAP, for example, that's operating in Yemen, probably one of the most grave threats to the United States, responsible for several airline bomb plots against the United States.
INSKEEP: So when there's a drone strike in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, that's done under this authorization for the use of military force from 9/11?
SCHIFF: Well, it's complicated. It may be done under that authority. And I'm not sure that I can get into a lot of detail on that. Part of it may have to do with who is utilizing force in any given place.
INSKEEP: Oh, whether it's the Pentagon or the CIA, it might be a different authorization. Is that what you mean?
SCHIFF: That's not something that I can discuss. But, you know, I can say that it has been used for far longer and in a far more expansive way than I think any of us would have foreseen more than a decade ago. It is also, I think, one of the legal foundations upon which Guantanamo has been built, and that may be one of the more difficult complications of the AUMF. What continued authority do we have to detain people at Guantanamo. In the future or indefinitely, or once the conflict in Afghanistan is over or once we withdraw our forces, we are still going to have to wrestle that problem to the ground.
INSKEEP: Are you concerned about the number of times that this authorization has been invoked for the use of military force around the world?
SCHIFF: You know, look, I think it's been regrettably necessary to take action to prevent people from attacking the United States. And this is less about a dispute over whether the administration is taking appropriate action to defend the country and more a question of whether we are still operating under an authority that has become legally very precarious and whether the Congress is fulfilling its institutional responsibility not only to declare war, but also to define the confines of that conflict. And I think we've abdicated. I think we have been content to rely on something increasingly inapplicable, that's a poor description of the nature of the fight we're in, because fixing it is too difficult.
INSKEEP: Congressman Schiff, thanks for coming by.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.