15 Years After 9/11, Barbara Lee Is Sticking to Her Peace Platform

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, California congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only U.S. lawmaker to vote no on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.


The vaguely worded legislation authorized the president 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 the days following the attacks, it became clear that this force would be directed toward Afghanistan, where—15 years later—the U.S. military is still waging an occupation and committing war crimes.

In arguing against the resolution, Lee said on Sept. 14, 2001, “However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let's step back for a moment. Let's just pause, just for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today, so that this does not spiral out of control.”

Despite her efforts, AUMF passed the House of Representatives 420-1 and passed the Senate 98-0. As Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, Lee was vilified by major media outlets and her colleagues in government, as well as bombarded by death threats for taking this stand.

In the 15 years since it was passed, AUMF has been referenced at least 37 times by the Bush and Obama administrations to justify deployments, bombings, military action, tribunals and imprisonment in at least 14 different countries: Afghanistan, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Cuba, the Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Turkey and Syria.

It is difficult to calculate the human lives lost to these wars, with the U.S. government failing to provide the most basic transparency. According to a report released in March 2015 by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the war on terror has “directly or indirectly” been responsible for killing at least 1.3 million people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since 9/11, in what the authors acknowledge is a conservative estimate.

Meanwhile, all evidence suggests that the world has become a far more dangerous place. The most recent Global Terrorism Index, released in 2015 by the Institute for Economics and Peace, finds that, since the beginning of the 21st century, the world has seen a “nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism.”

Like clockwork, politicians have seized on this latest 9/11 anniversary to trumpet U.S. wars and call for an escalation in domestic surveillance. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson even suggested that, in key respects, the world is a safer place after 15 years of continuous and geographically boundless war, telling ABC, “We are safer when it comes to protecting against another 9/11-style terrorist-directed attack from overseas.”

But on this anniversary, Barbara Lee had a different message about what the last 15 years of war have brought. In a statement just released by her office, Lee declared:

I remember the fear and anger following the terrorist attacks on September 11th. I remember watching in horror, running from the Capitol and grieving with the families and friends of those lost. 

In those dark days, we all knew that action was needed to bring justice to the perpetrators of these horrific acts.

However, I believed, as I do now, that the AUMF presented to Congress was an overly broad blank check for endless war.

In the 15 years since its passage, we’ve seen this authorization used to justify unchecked military action around the world. In fact, a recent report from the Congressional Research Service shows this authorization has been used to justify 37 military actions in 14 countries, indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and warrantless wiretaps on Americans.

This is simply unacceptable. The Constitution is clear: Congress has an obligation to give the American people a voice on matters of war and peace. Tragically, we have neglected our responsibility to debate the costs and consequences of war for the last 15 years.

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