|Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images|
US heading for point when 'military pursuit of al-Qaida should end
Fight against terrorist group on course for Obama to stop using legal authority given by Congress to wage war, says lawyer
The Guardian, Friday 30 November 2012 14.04 EST
US defence department general counsel, Jeh Johnson, says responsibility for tackling al-Qaida should pass to the police and other law enforcement agencies when the 'tipping point' in pursuit of group is reached.
The US is heading for a "tipping point" beyond which it should no longer pursue al-Qaida terrorists by military means, one of the Obama administration's most senior lawyers has said.
Jeh Johnson suggested the group would become so degraded that a time would come when the legal authority given to the White House by Congress should no longer be used to justify waging the war that has been fought since 2001.
Johnson said that when this happened, America had to "be able to say ... that our efforts should no longer be considered an armed conflict against al-Qaida and its affiliates".
Instead, the responsibility for tackling al-Qaida should pass to the police and other law enforcement agencies.
Johnson has been general counsel at the US defence department for the past four years and has given advice on every military operation that needs the approval of the president or defence secretary.
In a speech presented tonight in the UK, Johnson was expected to set out the legal principles underpinning the conflict against al-Qaida and insisted they were rooted in domestic and international law. Congress had authorised the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against the nations, organisations and individuals responsible for the 9/11 attacks; the US supreme court had endorsed this in 2006 by ruling "our efforts against al-Qaida may be properly viewed as armed conflict".
But Johnson also made clear these principles were not open-ended, and that the US government would need to respond when circumstances change. And though he said he could not predict when the conflict would draw to a close, he said the US must not be afraid to change its tactics.