Bin Laden's Dead, But the War on Terror Expands

Some of us naive folk thought that the death of Osama bin Laden, combined with the supposedly crippled state of Al Qaeda in the last few years, might induce political leaders to consider something they've rarely, if ever, considered before: An actual plan to end the War on Terror. Instead, congressional leaders may just fundamentally expand terror-fighting authority to a new high, forever.

The legal basis for the War on Terror is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against Terrorists, which passed Congress on September 14th, 2001 and was signed into law shortly thereafter. It granted the president authority to go after those behind the September 11th attacks explicitly:

IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 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.

The Bush administration tried to use this language as its legal foundation for all the other extraneous crap it did, like warrantless wiretapping and the first round of military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, too. The Obama administration has hardly pushed to reverse these authorities, because executives like having lots of power to do anything they want.

But now Congress wants to "update" the original language of the AUMF, according to the language in an early draft of the 2012 defense authorization bill. Instead of just granting authority to go after those behind the 9/11 attacks, it would now basically apply to anyone, you know, "over there."

Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports:

While the original Authorization tethered the war to those directly or indirectly responsible for 9/11, the new language authorizes "an armed conflict with al-Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces," as "those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens." [...]

"Associated forces" could place the U.S. at war with terrorist entities that don't concern themselves with attacking the United States. Think Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group aligned with al-Qaida that pulled off the Mumbai bombings of 2008. Under the House language, there's nothing to stop Obama or his successors from waging war against them. It comes close to "terrorism creep," says Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University.

In a sense this just legally cements what we've been doing for years with the drone war in Pakistan and the occasional strikes in Yemen. On the other hand, it means that we're expanding the War on Terror even after killing Osama bin Laden, to whom its entire basis will no longer be tethered. If killing bin Laden didn't "change anything" with regards to the ongoing War on Terror, as you've probably heard many glib commentators say in the last week, then you have to wonder why we even bothered doing it.

[Image via AP]