Two House Republicans are in a turf battle over how to give President Obama the authority to kill the terrorists who killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
More than a year after the attack, one of the most persistent questions aimed at administration officials is why the perpetrators, who have been charged by the Justice Department, are still free.
In closed-door testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services in October, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, provided part of the answer: The 2001 law known as Authorization of Use of Military Force allows the U.S. to kill/capture al Qaeda — but not the terrorists in Benghazi, where they would have to be arrested, presumedly with Libya’s consent.
With that testimony, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, introduced an amendment to grant the commander-in-chief use of military force powers for Benghazi. He got more than 20 co-sponsors and waited for last week’s mark-up of the 2015 defense budget/policy bill by the Armed Services committee, on which he sits.
But a phone call scuttled that plan.
Mr. Hunter spoke with Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs. Under parliamentary rules, his committee also controls use-of-force resolutions.
A Hunter aide said Mr. Royce would not waive joint jurisdiction, so Mr. Hunter withheld his amendment.
“Royce, as committee chairman, has every prerogative to say, ‘No, you can’t do it,’” the aide said. “We’re all about getting to the heart of the matter and insuring the president has the authority.”
The strategy is this: The Democratic-controlled Senate would not likely ever take up such a bill. By putting the amendment in the House’s defense legislation, it would go to conference with the Senate and could then emerge in the final 2015 authorization act, the aide said. Otherwise, it would die in the Senate as a standalone bill.
Mr. Hunter left the mark-up with a new plan: to bring it up for full House debate. House rules allow him to present it as an amendment once the Pentagon bill hits the House floor the week of May 19.
“Using that vehicle improves the chances that something will get done,” the staffer said.
But Mr. Royce apparently is not acceding to that plan, either.
A Foreign Affairs committee spokesman said the Hunter bill is now with Mr. Royce’s committee.
The spokesman provided a statement to The Washington Times:
“Chairman Royce believes the president has the authority, to say nothing of the responsibility, to bring these killers of Americans to justice. However, some in the administration have questioned the president’s authority to target the Benghazi terrorists. The Hunter proposal was referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee, according to House rules, where it will be acted upon with the support of the chairman or moved as a floor amendment.”
While the amendment’s fate is uncertain, the House is gearing up for an investigation by a newly appointed panel on Benghazi. It is sure to touch on why the Benghazi attackers remain at large, as well as investigate the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, State Department aide Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two former SEALs operating as CIA security officers.
Mr. Obama has not sought authority to kill Benghazi terrorists, whom the intelligence community concluded were linked to al Qaeda. In fact, he vowed in a landmark speech at Fort McNair last year not to sign any law that expands the use of military force.
Still, the president has not been shy about using the law to allow missile-armed drones to kill al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other locations. But last year, at Fort McNair, he urged Congress to scale back the use-of-military-force law he has embraced over the past five years and ultimately repeal it.
A White Houses spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Hunter’s amendment.
The first public explanation of why there has been no Benghazi strike came from Gen. Dempsey. His testimony in closed session last year was declassified by the Pentagon and released by the Armed Services committee earlier this year.
Asked by Rep. Michael Conaway, Texas Republican, why the U.S. has not gone after the Benghazi culprits, the four-star general said:
“Well, first of all, the individuals related in the Benghazi attack — those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it — are not [subject to] authorized use of military force. In other words, they don’t fall under the AUMF authorized by the Congress of the United States. So we would not have the capability to simply find them and kill them, either with a remotely-piloted aircraft or with an assault on the ground. Therefore, they will have to be captured, and we would when asked provide capture options to do that.”
That testimony ultimately prompted Mr. Hunter’s amendment, which reads:
“The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons the president determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2012, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States … ”
At Fort McNair, Mr. Obama portrayed the use-of-military-force law as antiquated.
“Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” he said.
“I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end,” the president said.
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