Tag Archive: War Powers Act

Jul 24 2018

Stopping Presidential Wars

One of my favorite constitutional lawyers is Bruce Fein. Although he is considered a conservative and was one of the authors of the articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, Fein advocated for the dual impeachment of Pres. George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, during a discussion with then Washington correspondent for …

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Sep 24 2014

Are Syria Strikes an Illegal War?

Are the Syria strikes an illegal war? By what authority has President Barack Obama ordered these attacks? The administration says that it doesn’t need congress to approve it and congress, along with the courts, has surrendered its responsibility.

United States Bombs Syria In Latest Undeclared War

By Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law Professor George Washington University

I just completed a two-city debate with former Bush official John Yoo on executive power with a focus on undeclared wars. It appears Yoo won the debate . . . at least with President Obama. Indeed, Yoo appears to have had Obama at “hello” to quote Jerry Maguire. Without any declaration of war, Obama has launched attacks against targets in Syria – an act of war by any measure and a violation of international law.

We have been discussing the growing concerns over President Barack Obama’s series of unilateral actions in ordering agencies not to enforce law, effectively rewriting laws, and moving hundreds of millions of dollars from appropriated purposes to areas of his choosing. One of the greatest concerns has been his unchecked authority asserted in the national security area.

The most serious acts of unilateral presidential action falls within war powers – powers that the Framers expressly and carefully limited to prevent precisely this type of attack. Of course, the Administration does not use the word “war.” I previously represented members of Congress in challenging Obama’s intervention in the Libyan civil war without a declaration from Congress. In the case, President Obama insisted that he alone determines what is a war and therefore when he needs a declaration. Since the court would not recognize standing to challenge the war, it left Obama free to engage in war operations in any country of his choosing.

Professor Turley joined David Corn, Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief, on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss just how legal are these attacks.

US ties itself in legal knots to cover shifting rationale for Syria strikes

By Dan Roberts, The Guardian

Lawyers use Iraq’s right of self-defence and weakness of Syrian regime – which US has undermined – to justify failure to seek UN approval

In a letter to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, released near 24 hours after attacks began, US ambassador Samantha Power argued that the threat to Iraq from Islamic State, known as Isis or Isil, gave the US and its allies in the region an automatic right to attack on its behalf. [..]

The brief letter did not mention the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which rested on erroneous claims of weapons of mass destruction and arguably contributed to its current instability, but stresses instead the country’s right to self-defence in the face of this new threat. [..]

The US also argued that there was legal right to pursue Isis inside Syria due to the weakness of that country’s government – a regime the US has been actively urging be undermined by rebel groups for much of the past two years. [..]

Fearing that US politicians up for re-election in November may balk at voting for a third military attack on Iraq and being sucked into a Syrian quagmire, the White House has avoided seeking a fresh authorisation of the use of military force, preferring to rely on early authorisations against al-Qaida granted after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

But this means arguing that Isis is equivalent to al-Qaida, even though the groups are split – logic that several critics in Congress, such as Virginia senator Tim Kaine, have argued is flawed and requires a fresh authorisation to fix.

Power reached for similar arguments in her letter to the UN, arguing that Tuesday’s separate attack on Khorasan rebels in Syria was also an act of self defence by the US due to the group’s closeness to al-Qaida.

Is Obama misleading the world to war? Depends how you define ‘misleading’

By Trevor Timm, The Gusrdian

When it comes to military strikes against Isis in Syria, his administration’s strategy relies on what the meaning of ‘is’ is

Want to decipher what the US military is really doing in Iraq and Syria, or figure out whether its regional war against the Islamic State (Isis) is legal? Good luck. The Obama administration’s secret efforts to redefine the ordinary meaning of key legal terms and phrases has made that near impossible.

For instance, in his Tuesday statement that US airstrikes that have expanded into Syria, Obama studiously avoided any discussion about his domestic legal authority to conduct these strikes. That dirty work was apparently left up to anonymous White House officials, who told the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that both the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 2001 (meant for al-Qaida) and the 2002 war resolution (meant for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) gave the government the authority to strike Isis in Syria.

In other words: the legal authority provided to the White House to strike al-Qaida and invade Iraq more than a dozen years ago now means that the US can wage war against a terrorist organization that’s decidedly not al-Qaida, in a country that is definitely not Iraq. [..]

So when you hear the words “imminent attack”, “civilians”, militants” or “ground troops” from now on, be careful: if the government says they’re not misleading you, it might only be because they’ve secretly changed the definition of “misleading”.

Public Law 107-40  – the President is authorized 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 on September 11, 2001

Public Law 107-243 – The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq

Neither one of those laws applies to this situation. The president is on violation of his oath of office

Aug 25 2011

Libya: Not Quite Mission Accomplished Or Legal

While the world will not miss Mommar Gadaffi, there are some very serious questions about how this was achieved, particularly for Americans who were opposed to Pres. George W. Bush military intervention policies while excusing Obama’s violation of the law.

Glenn Greenwald makes two salient points in his critique of an article by Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast that argues “the war in Libya highlights how “one can see how he (Obama) might become not just a good but a great foreign-policy president” and how some intellectual progressives conceive of the Obama presidency”.

First, this is not “mission accomplished” by any means:

No matter how moved you are by joyous Libyans (just as one was presumably moved by joyous Iraqis); no matter how heinous you believe Gadaffi was (he certainly wasn’t worse than Saddam); no matter how vast you believe the differences are between Libya and Iraq (and there are significant differences), this specific Iraq lesson cannot be evaded.  When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.

Greenwald’s second point is the illegality:

The Atlantic‘s Conor Freidersdorf argues that no matter how great the outcome proves to be, Libya must be considered a “Phyrrhic victory for America” because:

   Obama has violated the Constitution; he willfully broke a law that he believes to be constitutional; he undermined his own professed beliefs about executive power, and made it more likely that future presidents will undermine convictions that he purports to hold; in all this, he undermined the rule of law and the balance of powers as set forth by the framers.

snip

The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson warns of the serious precedential dangers not only from Obama’s law-breaking but from our collective willingness to overlook it.  Honestly: can anyone claim that if George Bush had waged an optional war without Congressional approval — and continued to wage it even after a Democratic Congress voted against its authorization — that progressives would be lightly and parenthetically calling it “ridiculous” on their way to praising the war?  No, they’d be screaming — rightfully so — about lawlessness and the shredding of the Constitution; that this identical contempt for the law by Obama has become nothing more than a cursory progressive caveat (at most) on the way to hailing the glorious war is astounding.

(emphasis mine)

The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe discussing Libya setting Gov. Howard Dean and Newsweek‘s Tina Brown straight. He says what’s happening in the country is essentially “a NATO enforced regime change” and that President Obama is “implementing the Bush domino agenda in the Middle East”. Scahill also expresses concern that the US is making future enemies across the Middle East.

This article was a tough call for me to write because like so many I would rejoice to see Gadaffi in shackles at The Hague and that this revolution was initiated by the Libyan people. That said and as Glenn also points out in his article:

Does anyone know how many civilians have died in the NATO bombing of Tripoli and the ensuing battle?  Does anyone know who will dominate the subsequent regime? Does it matter?

 

But my, how soon some have forgotten the Bush regime’s policies.

Jun 21 2011

War Powers, Impeachment & Obama

Has Barack Obama over-stepped his constitutional authority by continuing to participate in the Libya NATO action without congressional consent? Like George W. Bush ignoring the law banning water boarding as torture, Obama has decided to ignore the War Powers Resolution and the advice of two top lawyers from the Pentagon and his own DOJ. In the New York Times, Charlie Savage writes a scathing analysis of the president’s actions:

   President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

   Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

   But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team – including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh – who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

The question is could this open an investigation by the House to consider impeachment. Several other lawyers have their own views, none of them very pretty.

This stinging comparison from Jack Balkin at Balkinization of Obama’s decision to not consult with his own Office of Legal Council (OLC): George W. Obama and the OLC

It is instructive to compare President Obama’s actions with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who sought legal justification for his decision to engage in waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which constituted torture. Bush wanted above all to be able to deny that he was violating the anti-torture statute and other laws and treaties. So he found a small group of lawyers in the OLC, headed by John Yoo, and asked for their opinions. This short-circuited the usual process through which the OLC collected views from various agencies and then used them to develop legal opinions for the executive branch. That is, Bush (assisted by his Vice-President, Dick Cheney) arranged matters so that decisions about waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques would be in the hands of lawyers he knew would tell him yes; the normal process of collating opinions was short-circuited and other lawyers were effectively frozen out.

Obama’s practice is different, but it has disturbing similarities. Normally, Obama would have asked the OLC for its opinion, and as noted above, the OLC would have polled legal expertise in various agencies, consulted its precedents, had long discussions, and then come up with a scholarly opinion that is normally binding on the executive branch. Instead, Obama routed around the OLC, asking for opinions from various lawyers, including the White House Counsel and the Attorney-Advisor for the State Department. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that from the outset Obama was prospecting for opinions that would tell him that his actions were legal, and once he found them, he felt comfortable in rejecting the opinion of the OLC.

Obama’s strategy, like Bush’s, also short circuits the normal process of seeking opinions from the OLC; it simply does so in a different way.

At Lawfare, Jack Goldsmith has a similar view but adds:

This episode makes me wonder how all of this is being taken by the U.S. military.  It must be strange to many involved in Operation Odyssey Dawn to be told that not only are they not involved in “war,” they are not even involved in “hostilities.”  A midshipman at the Naval Academy wrote to cto say, in light of the original unilateral resort to force in Libya, that he wondered whether the soldiers fighting in Libya “are breaking their oath to obey only legal orders.”  I think this is a large overreaction to the initial use of force.  And despite my views of the WPR here, I do not think that disobedience would be a proper reaction to the President’s decision under the WPR.  The President gets to make the call and his decision is not so far out of bounds to warrant disobedience.  But it cannot be pleasant for the men and women involved in this “kinetic military action” to know that the Defense Department General Counsel and the head of OLC think the intervention in Libya as currently executed is unlawful.

Glenn Greenwald believes that Obama’s end run around the WPR may be even worse than the Bush/Cheney regime:

   All that aside, what is undeniable is that Obama could have easily obtained Congressional approval for this war – just as Bush could have for his warrantless eavesdropping program – but consciously chose not to, even to the point of acting contrary to his own lawyers’ conclusions about what is illegal.

   Other than the same hubris – and a desire to establish his power to act without constraints – it’s very hard to see what motivated this behavior. Whatever the motives are, it’s clear that he’s waging an illegal war, as his own Attorney General, OLC Chief and DoD General Counsel have told him.

In summing all this up, bmaz at FDL states:

Without saying Obama should be impeached, failure to at least have the discussion made in those terms is dereliction of constitutional duty by people, pundits and Congress. This critical issue is not yet getting that kind of play, but it should as it is absolutely why the founders placed the provision in the Constitution to start with.

If our society and political discourse cannot seriously discuss impeachment for the type of executive perfidy demonstrated by Barack Obama in relation to Libya and the War Powers Resolution, and could not discuss it during the Bush/Cheney crimes, then the impeachment provision of the Constitution has no meaning and should be stricken.

Seriously, those are the stakes. A discussion, even an investigation, does not mean there has to be an impeachment conviction, or even that articles of impeachment should even be filed. But the discussion must be had if there is to continue to be integrity to the most fundamental terms and conditions of the United States Constitution.