July 24, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Reviewing Authorities for the Use of Military Force

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on "Reviewing Authorities for the Use of Military Force", with witness testimonies from The Honorable David Hale, under secretary for political affairs at the Department of State, and Mr. Marik String, acting legal adviser at the Department of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

"Today we meet once again to review the authorities for the use of military force, or AUMF. Matters of war and peace are among the most sobering topics with which this committee and Congress are charged. I take this issue and I think we all take this issue and our committee’s oversight of this issue very seriously. I know it is of great importance to all of us here. I would like to thank Senators Young and Kaine in particular for their persistence on this matter.

"This issue is one of the most vexing issues that I have dealt with in my years in the United States Senate, and I have sat through scores of hours of testimonies and opinions from lawyers and wrestling with how we actually deal with this issue, the pragmatics of this issue. It is important that we debate this issue and search for a path forward. There is broad agreement that Congress ought to pass a new AUMF, but the problem is that there are 535 ideas of what that should look like – and even more views in the executive branch. I’ve been working on this issue for more than a decade and have found that the practical aspects and the legal aspects are incredibly difficult to reconcile. There are many different lawyers with many different opinions, and no clear consensus on what Congress should do, although all of us have strong opinions on what Congress should do.

"One problem we have to address, is that many of us have grown up thinking about war as military conflict between nation states. But, over the last twenty years, we have learned that our enemies are not necessarily state actors. Today, we face rapidly evolving threats without boundaries. Acts or threats of aggression can occur with virtually no warning, often asymmetrically, requiring swift responses to keep our nation safe. 

"We are blessed with the greatest military force in the world, indeed the greatest military force the world has ever seen, and we do all that we can to be prepared for acts of aggression. Our president needs to be able to respond as quickly as threats materialize. Whatever we do, we should not politicize the AUMF issue, and we should not support an AUMF with irresponsible restrictions on our commander-in-chief, or on the commanders in the field. This is truly not a political problem this is an issue in which all Americans are concerned.

"Whether we agree with it or not, the 2001 AUMF provides the basis for our most important counter terrorism activities abroad against al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and associated terrorist groups. Consecutive defense secretaries, spanning both Democrat and Republican administrations, have reiterated that our counterterrorism operations – those activities that keep Americans safe – rely on the 2001 AUMF.  

"Many recent legislative proposals, however, include the repeal of the 2001 AUMF. Any efforts to repeal an AUMF must also include efforts to pass a suitable replacement. That has proven difficult.

"As unfortunate as it is, the threat from terrorism persists. If there is a path forward on this issue, we cannot let it jeopardize the hard-fought gains we have made over nearly two decades, the safety of the American homeland, nor the laws that provide key detention authorities.  Indeed, some of the most hardened terrorists are kept off the battlefield under this authority.

"Turning our attention toward Iran, I’m increasingly concerned with Iran aggression. Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged vessel in international waters is a clear violation of international norms. That said – maximum pressure is working. The Iranian economy will remain hobbled until the regime chooses to behave as a responsible member of the international community.   

"Iran should take note – despite all of the debate on legal authorities, one thing remains clear:  Article II of the Constitution provides the commander-in-chief with authority to use force to defend the United States and its citizens against attacks – this includes our men and women serving in harm’s way.  We owe them and their families no less.   

"I look forward to hearing from the two administration witnesses on this issue today, and to the discussions with the members of this committee regarding this complex issue. It deserves a robust discussion, which I know this committee is up to.

"With that, Senator Menendez."

The Honorable David Hale and Mr. Marik String's testimonies are available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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