WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "[T]he president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
So reads "S.J. Res. 23," a Joint Resolution of the Congress, sponsored by then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and signed into law on Sept. 18, 2001, seven days after the most devastating attack that has ever occurred on American soil. Honest people may disagree about whether the Congress needed to give -- or should have given -- the commander in chief the power "to use all necessary and appropriate force." But the Senate voted 98 to 0 and the House 420 to 1 to pass Public Law 107-40 -- giving him just such authority.
Now, in the fifth year of a war America did not start or want, the Congress seems intent on reigning in the president's ability to fight the Global War on Terror. That is clearly the intent of many -- perhaps even a majority -- on the Senate Judiciary Committee that grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez during a nine-hour-long public hearing this week. The issues -- cloaked in a mind-numbing array of acronyms and the arcane jargon of intelligence collection -- are really quite simple:
First, since the 1970's, Congress has sought to circumscribe the president's powers to collect intelligence and use military force by various laws -- among them, the War Powers Resolution and FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During a war, does President Bush -- or any other commander in chief -- have the inherent constitutional authority to gather all manner of intelligence on our enemies using a full range of electronic and other collection capabilities?
Second, does Public Law 107-40 -- widely described in Washington as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- supersede normal peacetime proscriptions in intelligence collection?
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.