The House Republican leadership has abolished an amendment that would have given President Obama the authority to kill the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, according to a legislative aide.
Some Republicans are wary of granting the president more power and, together with Democrats, could have defeated the measure on the House floor, the aide said on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Such a setback on the Benghazi issue would have been embarrassing, the congressional source said, just as Republicans are set to open the first special committee investigation into the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department aide Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
“They said they were not sure where everybody was on it, and they didn’t want to risk losing a Benghazi vote,” the source said.
The legislative intrigue played out in committee and then on the floor last week, as the House debated the 2015 defense authorization bill packed with budget numbers and policies.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, wanted to add language in committee to give Mr. Obama the kill-or-capture authority.
Mr. Hunter proposed the amendment after Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told Congress last year that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force does not cover the Benghazi attackers.
The 2001 legislation was written to apply to al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, and has been used to justify scores of lethal attacks on terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other locations.
Mr. Hunter ran into an immediate roadblock from fellow Republican Rep. Edward R. Royce of California, chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, who said his panel has jurisdiction in the matter.
Mr. Hunter retreated and planned to introduce the amendment on the House floor, but the congressional source said the Republican leadership had conveyed a message that the House Committee on Rules would deem the measure out of order.
The leadership would allow a “sense of Congress” amendment, which Mr. Hunter introduced. It won passage on a voice vote.
It states that “the failure to hold any individual responsible for these terrorist attacks is a travesty of justice and undermines the national security of the United States.”
The amendment also says the “uncertainty surrounding the authority of the president to use force against the terrorists undermines the president as commander-in-chief.”
The amendment goes further by trying to force the White House to disclose why it has charged but not apprehended the terrorist leaders in Benghazi.
It directs the White House to submit a report to Congress that identifies those who carry out the attacks and their whereabouts. It also requires a history of efforts the administration has taken to kill or capture the terrorists.
In addition, the amendment demands that the administration submit a strategy for countering the threat of radical Islam in Africa.
Mr. Hunter’s legislation now must survive a conference committee with senators over their version of the 2015 defense authorization bill.
Mr. Obama said in a speech last year that the core al Qaeda organization was headed toward demise and that the use of force law needs to be curtailed, not expanded. He wants the authorization to be repealed eventually.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told The Washington Times that the president does not need any more authority concerning Benghazi.
“The United States remains committed to using every lawful tool available to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks to justice,” Ms. Hayden said. “We believe we have adequate tools to meet that objective without taking the unnecessary step of creating a new authority. The president has made clear that he wishes to take America off a ‘permanent war-footing.’ He remains committed to engaging with Congress and the American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF.”
Pentagon General Counsel Stephen Preston told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last week that, if a “concrete situation” arises in terms of acting against the Benghazi terrorists, “we’re in a position to evaluate and re-evaluate whether they would qualify under the AUMF.”
“There’s law enforcement authority to apprehend and bring to justice, try and prosecute these criminals,” Mr. Preston said.
The intelligence community has concluded that the deadly attacks were carried out by groups belonging to franchises of the al Qaeda terrorist network. Some Republicans believe that this alone makes them legitimate targets under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.