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Rep. Barbara Lee: Repeal 9/11 Authorization for Use of Force to Cancel Blank Check for Endless War

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This week marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. They were followed within three days by a nearly unanimous vote in Congress to approve the Authorization for Use of Military Force against those responsible. The lone dissenter was Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California. We play an excerpt from her speech that day and speak with Lee about how the resolution has been used since then. “I voted against that resolution 15 years ago because it was so broad that I knew it was setting the stage and the foundation for perpetual war. And that is exactly what it has done,” Lee notes. “It’s been used over 37 times everywhere in the world,” including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. She says bipartisan support is building to repeal the measure.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This week marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Thousands gathered in New York this weekend for a solemn ceremony marking the anniversary of when two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center. Memorials were also held at the Pentagon and at the site in western Pennsylvania where a hijacked plane crashed on September 11, 2001.

Well, right after the attacks, the Bush administration demanded from Congress the legal authorization to use military force against those they deemed responsible for the attack, thus beginning the war on Afghanistan. The Senate soon approved the Authorization for Use of Military Force by a vote of 98 to zero. In the House, it passed 420 to 1. The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee of California, who, three days after the 9/11 attack, voted no. This is the speech she gave on the floor of the House.

REP. BARBARA LEE: September 11th changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter. Now, this resolution will pass, although we all know that the president can wage a war even without it. 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. Now, I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it today, and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful, yet very beautiful, memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, as we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee of California casting the sole dissenting vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force—that vote, September 14, 2001, 15 years ago tomorrow. After her speech, she was inundated with insults and death threats, reportedly needed around-the-clock bodyguards. Less than a month later, October 7, 2001, the Afghanistan War was on. It would become the longest war in U.S. history. Fifteen years later, the Obama administration continues to use the same military authorization for other attacks.

For more, we go to Capitol Hill, where Congressmember Lee joins us from the Cannon Rotunda. She is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Lee.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts, 15 years after you gave that speech and cast that lone dissenting vote on the floor of the House?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Amy, my thoughts go back to that horrific day, and, of course, my thoughts go out to the families and to the victims, to the communities, that were devastated by this horrific attack. And so we always have to stop and pause and thank our first responders and those who really came to the aid, selflessly, of those who were in harm’s way.

I voted against that resolution 15 years ago because it was so broad that I knew it was setting the stage and the foundation for perpetual war. And that is exactly what it has done. I actually asked the Library of Congress to conduct a study and to present to us the unclassified version of how many times and where it has been used. It’s been used over 37 times everywhere in the world. And it’s time that we repeal that blank check, Amy; otherwise, we’re going to continue in this state of endless war. And the American people, minimally, deserve their members of Congress to debate and to vote either up or down for a new authorization. Fifteen years is much too long to use as legal basis to wage war everywhere in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: How are you trying to organize that repeal, Congressmember Lee?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, I have to tell you, every time we have a defense authorization or appropriation bill come before us, I offer amendments to either deny funding until we have a new authorization to repeal that authorization or to repeal that authorization until there is a new authorization within 90 days. And I’m very pleased that we’re building support. We’ve received up to 160-some votes for such a measure, as low as 135. But, believe you me, that’s a lot better than just one. And so, I think what you see now is really bipartisan support building for the repeal of that resolution. Plus, you know, the public has demanded that we have a debate and a vote. And this takes, unfortunately, time, but we need to do this, and we need to do it quickly. We’ve spent over $1.7 trillion. Our young men and women continue to be in harm’s way. There’s no end in sight. And so, the American people deserve members of Congress to do their job, and that’s to debate a new authorization and to vote up or down.

AMY GOODMAN: That same authorization to bomb Afghanistan is being used today by the Obama administration to bomb Syria?

REP. BARBARA LEE: I’m sorry. What did you say, Amy? Excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN: The same authorization, used to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, is being used to attack Syria?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Yes, it is. And it’s being used—it has been used in Yemen, Somalia. It’s been used for Guantánamo. It’s been used for wiretapping. It’s been used for everything. And what we’re saying is that, you know, we have a new war, really, on a new war footing, in Syria, and, minimally, the Congress should be straight with the American people and debate the costs and consequences of it. This 2001 resolution is the legal basis that the administration says gives them the blank check, or gives them the legal basis—I say it’s a blank check—to use force and continue with military action.

AMY GOODMAN: You have—

REP. BARBARA LEE: I must say, though, Amy, that President Obama, over a year ago, year and a half ago, submitted a new authorization to the speaker. Speaker Boehner, now Speaker Ryan, won’t even bring that resolution up. Whether you agree or disagree with it—and I don’t agree with what’s in it, because it did not repeal the 2001 resolution—but, one way or the other, we should have it brought forward to the floor to debate it and vote it up or down, or to amend it or to make it narrower—you know, to fix it in a way that members who would want to vote for it would vote for it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your response to Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, last week defending Donald Trump’s statement, or Donald Trump himself, I should say, but saying that the U.S. should take the oil from Iraq. This is former New York City mayor, who is a top adviser to Trump, making his remarks on ABC’s This Week.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said leave a force back there and take it.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Leave a force back there and take it, and make sure it’s distributed in a proper way. And basically—

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s not legal, is it?

RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Of course it’s legal. It’s a war. Until the war is over, anything is legal.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what Donald Trump said about taking the oil from Iraq?

REP. BARBARA LEE: That doesn’t sound like a global leader, first of all. That’s very dangerous. It’s very scary. How do you take anything from any country? You know, we need to really look at what it entails in terms of a comprehensive strategy to dismantle and finally destroy ISIS. Going into countries, taking oil—yeah, he said we are in a state of war. I guess the rules of war, for Donald Trump, means anything. But I think there are some rules of war that need to be looked at. And so, I think that was a statement that the American people really should hear, should know, and I’m glad you replayed it, because that just shows you how dangerous it is if Donald Trump were to be in the White House and have his hand on not only the button that could trigger a nuclear war, but also just in terms of how he would solve the current wars that we need to really begin to understand and come up with a comprehensive strategy to end.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton. She voted for the war in Iraq. Your thoughts on this and what it would mean if she became president?

REP. BARBARA LEE: Well, I think when you look at Hillary Clinton’s, first of all, experience with regard to foreign policy, first of all, she has said that that was a mistake. And I have to take her at her word, that she believes it was a mistake. You know, the Bush administration put out all of this information that was really bogus, was not true, with regard to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They sent Secretary Colin Powell to the United Nations. And the fear tactic was being used. Some members of Congress, you know, bought into that. And that was just wrong, because when you look at what took place during that period—I actually had a resolution that said, “Hold up. Let’s not authorize the use of force in Iraq until the U.N. inspectors complete their job. And let’s determine if there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Well, I only got 72 votes on that amendment. But had that amendment passed, and had we held up, I’m certain that those members who voted for that, including Secretary Clinton, would probably say, “Let’s step back for a minute, and let’s look at what is really the truth and what is taking place, because now the U.N. inspectors have found that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

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