News Release

Syria War Resolution Contradicts Constitution, International Law

MICHAEL RATNER, mratner at ccrjustice.org, @justleft
Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said today: “Almost the only good thing about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution [PDF] on Syria is that the vote to pass it was not overwhelming and that three Democrats abandoned the administration. Perhaps the worst single clause in it was a reaffirmation of the illegal power Obama claims he has to bomb Syria without congressional approval: ‘the President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States.’ No such authority exists — except in self-defense — and the vague term ‘national security interests’ hardly meets that standard.

“The operative clause setting forth the terms of the authorization — the basis on which military force can be employed — is open ended and vague enough to allow Obama a blank check to make war on Syria: Obviously, allowing Obama to use armed force as he ‘determines to be necessary and appropriate’ is not a limitation. That open ended grant is not helped by the claimed limitation to use such force ‘to degrade Syria’s capacity to use such force in the future” or to “deter Syria’s use of such weapons.’ Obama could decide that all-out war including the overthrow of the government of Syria is necessary to meet those objectives. He could also decide that those allies who supply Syria with weapons that have a dual use need to be stopped. Does that meaning bombing Iran and Russia if they are supplying such weapons? This is not a stretch. We have the example of the interpretation given by both Bush and Obama to the AUMF regarding the perpetrators of 9/11. Although supposedly restricted to those involved in that crime, that authorization has led to war almost anywhere the administration wants: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia.

“The resolution is filed with other lies and omissions including the claim of clear and compelling evidence that the Assad government employed chemical weapons on August 21 — when the evidence is not conclusive; an utter failure to address the brutality of the rebels and the Russian report that on March 19, 2013 the rebels used chemical weapons. An irony in the resolution is the claim that Syria has violated its legal obligations under the UN charter — this in the very resolution that will allow the use of military force without obtaining the necessary UN Security Council imprimatur.

“My hope is that the closeness of the vote is an indicator that authorization to use force will not make it through Congress; it would be a tragedy if it did.” See the just-posted Real News segment with Ratner: “U.S. Attack On Syria Violates International Law.”

MARJORIE COHN, marjorielegal at gmail.com
Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild, Cohn said today: “Even if Congress votes to give Obama authority to launch a military attack on Syria, it would still be illegal under the United Nations Charter. That is because the Security Council has not approved military action, and Syria has not attacked or threatened to attack any other country so the United States would not be acting in lawful self-defense. The Charter does not allow a military attack for punishment.

“Moreover, Obama would be hard pressed to certify to Congress that the United States has ‘used all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means’ to prevent the deployment of chemical weapons, which is a prerequisite to the use of force under the Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution. The U.S. should work toward a negotiated ceasefire and political resolution, urge its allies to stop arms shipments to Syria, and urge Russia to urge its allies to stop sending arms to Syria. There are questions about whether it was the Assad government that used chemical weapons in Syria. Regardless, the use of chemical weapons constitutes a war crime. Obama should urge the Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court, which is competent to prosecute war crimes.” Cohn recently cowrote the piece “Killing Civilians to Protect Civilians in Syria.”