Many politicians are rightly concerned about the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which intimated that the military had the power to detain U.S. citizens. Sen. Mike Lee made a noble bipartisan effort to insert language into the latest NDAA that would restrict this authority, but his proposal failed. Even if it had succeeded, however, it probably would not have solved the problem. This is because the military's power to detain U.S. citizens doesn't come from the NDAA. It comes from the military force authorization.
Congress has the power to declare a war through the AUMF, but it probably doesn't have the power to tell the president and commander in chief how to make tactical decisions about whom to detain while prosecuting that war. In the end, the best way to prevent the military from detaining U.S. citizens is to repeal the authorization.
In addition to detention, many on the left and the right have become increasingly concerned with the use of armed drones. Since the enactment of the AUMF, drone strikes have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. Using drones as weapons, however, is completely legal in an armed conflict. The only way to effectively restrict the president's use of this disturbing weapon is to repeal the AUMF.
Finally, repealing the AUMF will keep this country from devolving into a constant state of low-grade war. I think it would surprise many Americans to know that this is a popular idea among legal scholars and national security experts. For example, Afsheen John Radsan, a former CIA lawyer and now a law professor, has argued that the AUMF should actually be expanded, not repealed. He recognizes that it originally was tied only to the Sept. 11 attacks, but laments that there are still so many other bad guys it would be nice to kill.
Admittedly, the case for repeal of the AUMF is not black and white. Repeal would take away tools the United States has relied upon for the past decade to hunt and kill terrorists. Radsan is correct that there are still many bad people out there who wish to harm and kill Americans.
The fact that the world is a dangerous place, however, cannot justify endless war. A state of absolute security can never be achieved, and a state of perpetual war is too costly and too corrosive to the liberties and ideals to which our country aspires.
It is time to ensure that the military will not detain U.S. citizens. It is time to limit the use of armed drone strikes around the globe. It is time to demand an end to this perpetual state of war. It is time to repeal the AUMF.
Marshall Thompson is an Iraq war veteran (Army, 2005-2006) who walked the length of Utah in 2006 to call for a responsible troop withdrawal. He is currently studying law at BYU, focusing on the law of armed conflict and human rights law. He lives in Provo.