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Administration Lays Broad Legal Grounds for Military Strike on Iran
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=37729"><span class="small">Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Thursday, 04 July 2019 12:31

Excerpt: "As it has contemplated military action against Iran, the Trump administration has opened the door to virtually every legal authority it might use to justify an attack, from tying Iran to al-Qaeda, to President Trump's assertion that it would not involve American ground troops and 'wouldn't last very long.'"

U.S. aircraft carrier. (photo: Getty)
U.S. aircraft carrier. (photo: Getty)

Administration Lays Broad Legal Grounds for Military Strike on Iran

By Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, The Washington Post

04 July 19


s it has contemplated military action against Iran, the Trump administration has opened the door to virtually every legal authority it might use to justify an attack, from tying Iran to al-Qaeda, to President Trump’s assertion that it would not involve American ground troops and “wouldn’t last very long.”

Democrats and some Republicans have tried repeatedly to pin the administration down, including last week’s unsuccessful attempt to muster 60 Senate votes for an amendment requiring Trump to ask Congress before launching any military engagement.

When asked directly about legal justification, senior administration officials have offered undetailed assurances that any action would “consistent with our Constitution,” as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month, or they deferred to lawyers.

“I’m not a scholar in this area,” Brian Hook, Pompeo’s special representative for Iran, recently told the House Armed Services Committee under persistent questioning.

Concern about the possibility of U.S. military action against Iran has grown since the administration cited new intelligence that Iran or its proxies were planning to attack U.S. troops or American interests in the Middle East. The United States has also blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Most recently, Iran shot down a U.S. drone it said — and the U.S. denied — had crossed into its airspace.

Trump and Iranian leaders have traded insults following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and subsequent reimposition and escalation of sanctions, and Iran’s announcement that it was stepping up its uranium enrichment. Following President Hassan Rouhani’s assertion on Wednesday that Iran could enrich to “any amount we want” in the absence of a nuclear deal, Trump warned him to “be careful with the threats . . . They can come back to bite you like nobody has been bitten before.”

Although Trump canceled a U.S. strike against Iran following the drone shoot-down, the administration has continued to lay the legal groundwork for a strike.

Pompeo, in public and classified testimony, according to lawmakers, has said there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda. Such a relationship would seem to provide the foundation for military action against Iran under the 2001 congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the al-Qaeda attacks that year.

Such a determination has doubters even within the administration. Defense officials have taken unusual steps in recent weeks to distance themselves from Pompeo’s assertion amid fears that the administration may be driving toward a conflict that most Pentagon officials expect would be long, costly and detrimental to American interests in the region.

In a statement, Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the department “does not believe 2001 AUMF can be used against Iran.” That position has been affirmed by the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Paul Ney Jr., according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address internal deliberations.

While Pentagon officials do not deny that al-Qaeda has had ties to Tehran, those links are generally seen as limited and nonoperational.

Taking up Hook’s suggestion to ask government lawyers about both the 2001 AUMF and a subsequent 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Armed Services Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) wrote last week to Marik String, who became acting State Department legal adviser six weeks ago.

Engel asked for “any and all legal analysis” relating to whether either measure was “applicable to any actions that could be undertaken by the Executive Branch in or against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

A brief reply from the State Department’s legislative affairs bureau came three days later. “The administration has not, to date, interpreted either AUMF as authorizing military force against Iran,” it said, “except as may be necessary to defend U.S. or partner forces engaged in counterterrorism operations or operations to establish a stable, democratic Iraq.”

Democrats have interpreted that response as leaving the door open to administration assertions that such authorization is justified in the future.

“We’re very concerned the administration hasn’t categorically said Congress hasn’t authorized war with Iran,” a Democratic congressional aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the concerns of lawmakers. “The AUMF has already been stretched.”

Three successive administrations have cited the 2001 AUMF as a basis for fighting an array of militant groups across the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Africa, as Congress has failed in repeated efforts to pass a new authorization that would apply to military actions that seem far afield from those originally authorized.

Moreover, the legal caveat referring to Iraq, the subject of the 2002 authorization, appears to cast a wide net over interference in U.S. or partner forces’ operations in that country.

The State Department did not respond to questions about the scope of its statement.

The other legal authority available to the president, short of Congress’s approval under its constitutional authority to declare war, is the president’s own constitutional power as commander in chief of the armed forces, in charge of keeping the nation secure. Here, previous presidents and the current Justice Department have laid a broad foundation for action that Congress has done little to constrain.

The only public statement the administration has made interpreting those powers was a May 31, 2018, opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on authority for the April 2018 U.S. airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

The strikes were legal, the OLC concluded, because “the President reasonably determined that this operation would further important national interests” and that “the anticipated nature, scope and duration of the operations were sufficiently limited that they did not amount to war in the constitutional sense and therefore did not require prior congressional approval.”

The Justice Department OLC did not respond to requests for comment.

The 2018 opinion, which drew substantially from an Obama-era justification for the 2011 air operations in Libya, put an attack against Iran squarely in the context of decades of U.S. military operations, including Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya and many others, conducted without authorization from Congress.

Citing previous definitions of the “national interest,” the Trump OLC opinion cited protection of U.S. people and property, assistance to allies, and the promotion of regional stability — all of which have been mentioned by the administration as U.S. goals regarding Iran.

The second test examined whether U.S. troops would be directly involved in hostilities, noting that the Clinton administration OLC, in judging the Bosnia deployment, concluded that the size and duration of operations, and the deployment of ground troops, were key tests.

In an interview last week with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, Trump said that “If something should happen, we’re in a very strong position. It wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that. It would not last very long.”

“And I’m not talking about boots on the ground, I’m not talking we’re going to send a million soldiers. I’m just saying if something would happen, wouldn’t last very long.”

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-4 # indian weaving 2019-07-04 13:24
Amerikkka attacking Iran will usher in the collapse and implosion thru wars and civil wars of both Israel and the USA. Probably SA will be incinerated too in the ensuing conflagration. This is why I hope the USA militarily attacks Iran today or asap - the follow-up retaliations from several countries - it'll demolish this country once and for all.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-07-04 15:21
I don't see any reason why any respectable journalist would even bring up the legal framework for starting a war against Iran. There won't be any legal framework. This would be an illegal war just as the wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria and others have been.

All killing in an illegal war is pre-meditated murder according to international law. All US soldiers could be arrested anywhere in the world and put on trial for war crimes and crimes against peace.

The neo-cons run the Trump administration. He can either fire them or they will drag the US into war. They don't give a shit. All they want is war. The legal framework simply has nothing to do with it. In the neo-cons we are dealing with a gang of Nazi loving Israeli loyalists and they are hell bent on war everywhere in the world. Go back and read the neo-con manifesto, PNAC's Rebuilding America's Defenses. It says clearly, that as long as the US has no superpower to checkmate it, the US should militarily destroy every nation it possibly can. There is no legal basis in this because it is totally criminally insane.
+2 # janie1893 2019-07-05 00:19
Trump may well be saving a military attack on Iran until his ratings start to plummet about a year from now. A little war that he can wage from July 2020 to Dec.2020 would be perfect. Trump could give the victory to America as his Christmas gift to the nation.(We all know how benevolent he is) Since the US is known to re-elect a president during a hot war, Trump will be fairly confident about winning again regardless of who is running against him.
So he will ensure that the pressure is kept on Iran even if it means using illegal special ops to cause trouble!

It is truly sad that America cannot find a way to remove this maniac from power long before the election takes place.
0 # crispy 2019-07-08 19:02
Trump has a deep belief that war is a great way to win re-elections. When Obama was running for his 2nd term Trump kept warning that he would start a war.
+4 # futhark 2019-07-05 01:37
Bless the Democratic House of Representatives for finally developing some skepticism about these periodic war alarms sent out by neocons in the executive branch. The justifications for attack all carry the stink of WMDs, anthrax spoors in envelopes, butchered Kuwati babies, and hostile patrol boat attacks. I just hope the American people don't let themselves be "fooled again" into supporting a pointless, cruel, and financial ruinous military engagement on the other side of the planet. And I wish never to see another pickup truck being driven with a giant American flag on a pole in its bed.
+4 # elizabethblock 2019-07-05 05:33
"It wouldn't last very long" - now, haven't we heard that before?
0 # DongiC 2019-07-06 07:37
Using Vietnam or Afghanistan as standards, we better prepare for a decades long conflict. Well, it's one way to cripple an empire - endless wars.