White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday laid out the administration's legal argument for going to war against ISIS based on the 2001 authorization to use military force — even though the organization did not exist then and has publicly split with al-Qaida.
Earnest said the group, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, was previously called al-Qaida in Iraq, consulted with Osama bin Laden and have similar ambitions.
"It is the view of ... the Obama administration that the 2001 AUMF continues to apply to ISIL because of their decade-long relationship with al-Qaida, their continuing ties to al-Qaida; because ... they have continued to employ the kind of heinous tactics that they previously employed when their name was al-Qaida in Iraq. And finally, because they continue to have the same kind of ambition — aspiration that they articulated under their previous name." Here's the key part of the transcript:
Q: Going back to the authority under the 2001 AUMF, that was for the use of force against Al Qaida and associated groups. But Al Qaida and ISIS have now split. So can you explain how that (inaudible)? EARNEST: That's a very good question and an important one. The — it is the view of this administration that the 2001 AUMF continues to apply — to apply to ISIL. Let me explain to you why. The first reason is simply that there is a long history here, that for a decade or more ISIL was actually known as Al Qaida in Iraq. And that there was important coordination and communication that was taking place between the leaders of Al Qaida in Iraq and the Al Qaida leadership, including Osama bin Laden. Second, so that — that long — decade-long or more relationship is not something that can be disregarded as a result of one internal disagreement that was aired in public. The second is there are indications that even after that public disagreement that you mentioned, of continued ties between Al Qaida fighters or Al Qaida operatives and ISIL. In fact, there are some Al Qaida operatives who have indicated that they actually believe ISIL is the true inheritor of Osama bin Laden's legacy. So these ties between ISIL and Al Qaida persist. Third, we have seen ISIL continue to carry out the kinds of brutal tactics that they employed under the previous name. We've seen them perpetrate terrible acts of violence against Iraqis. And tragically, we've seen them carry out two terrible, heinous acts of violence against at least two American citizens. So the tactics of Al Qaida in Iraq have not changed simply because they've changed their name. And the fourth, and this is also important, the ultimate aspiration of Al Qaida was always the formation of an Islamic caliphate. As their new name suggests, ISIL harbors the same ambition. So it is the view of the United States that the — and the Obama administration that the 2001 AUMF continues to apply to ISIL because of their decade-long relationship with Al Qaida, their continuing ties to Al Qaida; because of their — they have continued to employ the kind of heinous tactics that they previously employed when their name was Al Qaida in Iraq. And finally, because they continue to have the same kind of ambition — aspiration that they articulated under their previous name.