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Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights says the request for the Re-Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS will give Obama more authority to expand war across the world

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Following the most recent events, namely the flaming of the Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh and losing U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller in the retaliatory bombings by the Jordanians, President Obama is seeking from Congress a three-year authorization for the use of military force against ISIS. Let’s have a look at what he had to say. ~~~ BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: With our allies and partners, we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. ~~~ PERIES: Joining us now to discuss all of this is Michael Ratner. He’s the president emiratus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. As always, thank you so much for joining us, Michael. MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Always good to be with The Real News and with you, Sharmini. PERIES: So, Michael, President Obama’s seeking from Congress a three-year authorization for the use of military force against ISIS. Now, he has a new Congress and he has sympathy of the people who’ve just witnessed these losses and the flaming of the Jordanian pilot, the sympathies on his side. What’s wrong with what he’s asking for? RATNER: Well, you know, it’s a good question. I think probably ’cause he is calling on the fact that he has the Republicans on both sides and he’ll have an easier time getting a war authorization. But let’s look at what he’s really doing. I mean, in some way I want to call this segment window-dressing for a wider war window-dressing for murdering more Muslims. And in the last few days that’s all you read about–filled with headlines, analysis, and, I will say, drivel and BS about Obama seeking war authorization, what we lawyers call the authorization to use military force, 2015 authorization to use military force to make a war on ISIS. Everybody talks about it. What’s the splits? What do the Democrats want? What do the Republicans want? What do the left, right, the liberals, the right, the conservatives? And the questions they’re raising is: how long are we going to do it for? And as you said and the segment says, three years is what he’s asking for. Will there be ground troops? If so, for how long? Who besides ISIS will they be able to target? You know, a listener who’s been paying or a viewer who’s been paying any attention to what’s going on in the country might ask, what is this about? Hasn’t the U.S. been at war with ISIS and bombing the heck out of it for five months already in both Iraq and Syria? The president seems to have done that for five months without any additional authorization. So what’s he asking for? He himself says, I don’t even need it. I don’t need this. He claims he can do this bombing against ISIS, attacking ISIS, under the very old 2001 authorization to use military force. That’s the one that allowed him to go after or allowed Bush initially to go after al-Qaeda, Taliban, Afghanistan, and associated forces there and in other places. That authorization from 2001 was used as questionable authority to drone people in Yemen, in Somalia, and elsewhere. And it was used by Bush and by Obama much like the old Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was used to expand and continue the Vietnam War for dozens of years and continue that war into Laos and Cambodia. And for five months, Obama has claimed that that 2001 authorization has allowed him to bomb ISIS, although it’s recognized by many people as a stretch to use that old authorization after 9/11 to go after ISIS. So that may in fact be one of the reasons to make Obama or give Obama authority to kill more people more clearly all over the world. And now, as I said earlier that, that he has a fully Republican Congress, he probably has an easier time of it, despite some of the debates that I’ll mention. In any case, what we see now is millions of words being wasted on a war authorization that will, sadly, give the president updated kill authorization, authority he says he has already taken. And perhaps it’ll make him more secure in carrying on this war. And what Obama says clearly: that he will continue to go against ISIS and use war and bomb, even if for some reason this effort at a new war authorization fails or expires. And just recall this. This is a president who made war on Libya–a complete disaster–without any congressional authorization. So what he’s really looking for here is some window-dressing. Let’s look at a few of the issues that the Democrats and the Republicans and the liberals and the conservatives are arguing about. There’s four of them. Number one is the sunset clause. There’s a big liberal push to have the war authorized for only three years. And then that authority will end, or, as we like lawyers like to say, sunset, expire. This is the liberal position, and all the liberals should get behind that, according to many, because it’ll limit the war to three years. You might say, what is this? The president claims he has the authority even without that new authorization. So what if there’s a sunset? And you would be right, because even if the sun sets in three years, the president still has on the books, because it will not be repealed, the 2001 authorization. Also, sunsets never work. The Patriot Act had sunsets in it, but, of course, they just reauthorized the Patriot Act as though sunsets came up to date. Finally, and to me the worst thing about the sunset provision and why I oppose it is it gives liberals a cover to vote for the reauthorization or the authorization as it did for the Patriot Act. They can say, well, it’s not so bad what I did, because it sunsets in three years, like the Patriot Act was supposed to do in four. And therefore it’s okay that we vote for this. But, in fact, I think we’re better without the sunset, because we’re better not giving the liberals an excuse for voting for this act. They should stand up for what they are doing here. They’re voting for an aggressive U.S. military response that’s continued now, certainly since 9/11 and way before. So number one is the sunset provision. Number two is the struggle between the liberals and the conservatives over the use of ground forces. The liberals want some limitation on it; the Republicans want none, or at least most of the Republicans. Here’s what the statute says if it’s passed: it does not authorize the use of United States Armed Forces in, quote, “enduring offensive ground combat operations”. The key word there is enduring–they can’t be used in an enduring offensive ground combat operation. Let me ask all of us: what does enduring mean? Is it a limitation on the use of ground forces at all? Is enduring one year, two years, three years, four years, five years, ten years? Another feel-good provision for liberals to sign on to. So we will again have American boots on the ground in the Middle East again, in the Middle East again, and who knows for how long. We know how good boots on the ground did in Iraq and Afghanistan. What a terrific success, but really, as we know, an incredible killing machine. So those are two of the provisions. A third one in the act the president is proposing is that it allows war on associated forces of ISIS. In other words, individuals and organizations fighting on behalf of, alongside ISIL or ISIS as they’re defined. We saw how associated forces was defined in the 2001 AUMF. It went far afield from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It eventually included forces in Yemen, Somalia, etc., had nothing to do with al-Qaeda and Taliban, and ultimately even allowed, according to the president, him to attack ISIS. So it’s, in other words, just an authorization for a very wide war against a lot of unnamed targets. Fourth–and I won’t say it’s among the worst, ’cause they’re all bad, and that there’s no geographical limitation. Even though the war is currently going on against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this proposed statute has no geographical limitation. It’s a war on the world. It’s not a fantasy of mine that this will be war on other parts of the world. Already, groups in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, are claiming their part of ISIS. But now the U.S. can make war in those countries essentially everywhere. So what we have is an authorization the president claims he does not need and that ensures more war around the world and the killing of more and more Muslims. Instead of this, instead of this, we should have less war, and ultimately no war, and the Congress should be impeaching the president for going to war without their authority. Sadly, for me–and this is how I’ll end–is the U.S. has been an imperial war power that has proven almost impossible to restrain [incompr.] hegemonic war since I’ve been a kid. I grew up under the Korean War. Then I fought against the Vietnam War in the ’70s, then the Central American wars in the ’80s, then the Afghanistan War. And the worst war of recent times that really has brought us ISIS is the war against Iraq that Bush pushed through a willing Congress, including a willing Hillary Clinton. That’s why we’re facing what we are in the Middle East. We should all understand that. So here we are watching a charade, and it’s a very bloody charade at that, one that’s very dangerous for us all. PERIES: Michael, one of the things that keep coming up in terms of questions from our audience is that Michael Ratner does these wonderful reports, but he leaves us so depressed, they don’t know what to do about it. What can be done? RATNER: You know, we did–against the first Iraq War, we had 10 or 15 million people in the streets. That’s, of course, what we need again. But I agree. We’re in a very dark time–not as dark, perhaps, as Chomsky has said recently in an article, but it’s a dark time. On the other hand, we have to look at what’s going on here. Look at what’s happened in South America in the years since Bush and Obama. We have progressive governments, as you well know, Sharmini, from your past work, in many of the countries in South America. While the U.S. is focused on its wars in the Middle East and because of the revolutions we had in the ’70s in those countries, we’re seeing great progress in South America. That’s a positive. We’re seeing what happened in Greece with the anti-austerity campaigns of SYRIZA winning. We’re seeing Podemos in Spain. We’re seeing what’s happening here in this country with Ferguson. We’re seeing what’s happening with the climate marches. So there’s grassroots movements going on all over the world. They’re not necessarily able to push back the United States’ hegemony, particularly in the areas of bombing, war, and national security, etc., but there is resistance all over the world. I do this work because in the end I believe that those grassroots movements–and our listeners, our viewers can name a lot more, whether it’s prisons, etc., and what we’re fighting. I do this work because my belief is that those resistance movements are the ones that will ultimately bring the U.S. to heal and make us a better world. PERIES: Right. Thank you so much for joining us today, Michael. RATNER: Thank you for having me, Real News and Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.