Three BuzzFeed News reporters were awarded with the National Press Foundation's Dirksen Award for Distinguished Coverage of Congress for a series of stories on the hastily written Authorization for the Use of Military Force — 60 words which were intended to allow the Bush administration to retaliate against those found responsible for 9/11.
In the initial story, "60 Words And A War Without End: The Untold Story Of The Most Dangerous Sentence In U.S. History," BuzzFeed News reporter — then the Michael Hastings Fellow — Greg Johnsen explored the creation of the AUMF, drawn up in a panic in the immediate days following 9/11, and its expansion to encompass nearly every covert military act made by the U.S.:
The AUMF had ceased to be a scalpel. Now it was broadsword that could be used against a wide variety of groups, many of which had not even existed in 2001. The fact that the 60 words made no mention of detention authority or associated forces no longer mattered. The sentence stayed the same, only the meaning had changed.
By the end of the Bush administration, even some officials who had initially been in favor of a broad reading of the authority enshrined in the AUMF began to grow wary of building so much of U.S. counterterrorism strategy on such a shaky foundation.
"It is like a Christmas tree," John Bellinger III told me recently. "All sorts of things have been hung off of those 60 words."
In a statement, the National Press Foundation judges said: "BuzzFeed's 10,500-word article is a magisterial account of a 60-word congressional resolution, the vaguely worded language that authorized military action against the 'nations, organizations, or persons' deemed responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The consequences of that resolution, passed with only a single dissenting vote, continue to reverberate across the globe. BuzzFeed captures the historic drama of that moment and all that has happened since, from Capitol Hill to the offices of Executive Branch lawyers to the targets of U.S. commando attacks in Libya and Somalia. The details are unforgettable—and so is the unsparing focus on how the Bush and Obama administrations have each used these 60 words, 'unbound by time and unlimited by geography,' to wage a global war with no clear rules and no visible end."
Shani Hilton is the Head of US News for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Shani O. Hilton at email@example.com.
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