The Reason We Shouldn't Forget Barbara Lee's Bravery 15 Years After 9/11

September 14th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

When terrorist hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon 15 years ago killing nearly 3,000 people, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) was afraid just like everyone else.

She was evacuated from Capitol Hill after the first planes hit. Her Chief of Staff Sandre Swanson lost a cousin on United Flight 93, the flight that was intended to hit the White House but instead crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

"It was quite horrible and a scary time," she told ATTN:.

Twin Towers

Three days after 9/11, Congress voted to give George W. Bush, and in practicality the presidents that came after him, a "blank check" to authorize military strikes against terrorist groups, specifically those affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was approved for the president to take military action 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."

The 15-year-old AUMF is the same authorization the current administration uses to carry out air strikes against Islamic State terrorists in Syria, which sometimes kill civilians in the process. It has been used to take military action 37 times in 14 countries since 9/11, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In 2001, the House voted to pass the authorization 420 to 1. The one brave vote against it belonged to Lee.

Despite her personal fears and grief, Lee went to the House floor in 2001 and gave a speech against the authorization that still shapes American foreign policy today.

"It was a very emotional moment first of all," she said. "It was very tragic, sad, and scary moment for everyone in the country." However Lee felt like the authorization was too broad and would allow the president to pursue military action without the approval of Congress.

"At that moment, I had to be able to convey my message and even in this moment of national security stress and mourning, that we had to be rational and come up with an appropriate response rather than a response that could lead us down this path of war," she said.

Lee wants Congress to vote on a new authorization, which it has not done.

President Barack Obama proposed a new AUMF to congress in late 2015, but they've declined to vote on it so far. According to Politico, some staffers believe Congress is refusing to vote on the measure as a way to deny Obama a political victory.

As a result, the 2001 AUMF remains in place.

"I think the implications today are that it's a resolution that's been used to authorize force all over the world and it still does," she said. "Any president will have the legal basis to wage war and that to me is very dangerous."

She emphasized that fighting the Islamic State is important and necessary, but the current method of military action needs to be revised.

"We need to make sure that we're safe and we have to disable and destroy ISIS. That's not a question," she said. "We have to be rational and methodical about this, but the military option is always, there, it's going to be there. Let's figure out a better path forward."

Watch Barbara Lee's full address from 9/14 below:



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