Terry Jeffrey
When can President Barack Obama use military force against Libyans without prior authorization from Congress and when can he not?

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a closed session of a House Armed Services subcommittee in October that the military cannot kill the terrorists who attacked the State Department and CIA compounds in Benghazi, Libya, because Congress has not authorized the use of force against those terrorists.

"Therefore, they will have to be captured," Dempsey said in a transcript of the testimony released this week.

In 2011, by contrast, Obama did not defer to Congress -- which represents the American people and is vested with the constitutional power to authorize the use of military force -- when he ordered the U.S. military to intervene in Libya's civil war. Instead he invoked the authority of the United Nations Security Council -- where Russia and the People's Republic of China have veto power.

"[T]he writ of the international community must be enforced," Obama said then.

Ten years before Obama unilaterally ordered the U.S. military to intervene in Libya's civil war, President George W. Bush secured congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the American homeland.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force -- enacted Sept. 14, 2001 -- said: "The 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 September 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."

As Congress expected, Bush used this authorization to invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and drive al-Qaida from that country.

Twelve years later, Obama was still invoking this same authorization to justify using drones to kill terrorists far outside Afghanistan.

"Nearly 400 drone strikes, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, have been launched by the CIA and U.S. military forces during Obama's presidency," the Washington Post reported last year.

"America's actions are legal," Obama said in a speech in May. "We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaida, the Taliban and their associated forces."

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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