TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

executive branches. Scholars further note the executive branch’s decisionmakingpowers tend to increase in times of conflict or prolonged crisis, oftenat the expense of the legislative branch’s powers. 51 Specifically, in times ofcrisis the legislative branch often willingly defers power to the executive—or,less charitably, surrenders its explicit or implicit powers and decision-makingresponsibilities—for the sake of efficiency and speed. For example, seven daysafter the attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of MilitaryForce (AUMF), granting President Bush broad powers to pursue the terroristgroup al Qaeda. The law 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 onSeptember 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, inorder to prevent any future acts of international terrorism againstthe United States by such nations, organizations or persons.This sweeping authorization has since become the touchstone for a varietyof the executive branch’s national security and counterterrorism decisions—most notably the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.The AUMF has also served as the primary justification for the executivebranch’s more controversial counterterrorism actions, including the establishmentof a so-called enhanced terrorist interrogation program and certainelectronic surveillance projects. By authorizing these hot-button programs,critics charge that the executive branch has exceeded its statutory authority,as the AUMF was not intended to cover such a broad scope of activities likeelectronic surveillance.Executive OverreachDuring times of conflict, the executive branch’s relatively unconstrained nationalsecurity powers pave the way for certain excesses, and even abuses. Untilthe 1970’s and the passage of post-Watergate legislation designed to curbexecutive overreach, in fact, the President had relatively few constraints on hisability to wield the instruments of national intelligence and diplomatic power.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School33

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