Ten members of the U.S. House of Representatives sued President Barack Obama in June 2011 for allegedly violating the War Powers Resolution by leading the nation into war against Libya without approval from Congress.
"The decision to intervene in a civil war and expend what is now approaching $1 billion at a time of great economic stress is one that raises a host of concerns for our political system," the suit read. "This is a question upon which the Framers required Congress to be heard, and ultimately required Congress's consent to any such 'foreign entanglement.'"
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The lawsuit was filed by Democratic U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; John Conyers of Michigan; and Michael Capuano of Massachusetts; and Republican U.S. Reps. Walter Jones and Howard Coble of North Carolina; John Duncan of Tennessee; Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland; Ron Paul of Texas; Tim Johnson of Illinois; and Dan Burton of Indiana.
"With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies," said Kucinich.
Obama and the War Powers Resolution
Obama authorized the Armed Forces to begin a limited military action in Libya "in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians" on March 19, 2011. Obama did not seek congressional consent for military action in Libya as called for under the War Powers Resolution.
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"I've acted after consulting with my national security team, and Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress," Obama said in announcing his authorizing of U.S. forces to begin action on Libya.
The War Powers Resolution expresses Congress' view that the president is only constitutionally authorized to use U.S. military forces under three circumstances: When Congress has declared war; when Congress has otherwise provided "statutory authority" for the President to use forces; or an attack on the United States has created a national emergency.
"None of the three circumstances ... were created by the crisis in Libya," the lawsuit reads.
The War Powers Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of ordering the U.S. armed forces into hostilities and requires the withdrawal of American forces if congressional authorization is not given within 60 days of the President's notification. That deadline passed in Libya on May 20, 2011.
This notification requirement is triggered whenever U.S. forces are introduced "into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat," according to the War Powers Resolution.
White Response to War Powers Resolution Accusations
The Obama administration insisted it was in compliance with the War Powers Resolution because the level of involvement by the United States in Libya, it said, was relatively minor.
"Given the important U.S. interests served by U.S. military operations in Libya and the limited nature, scope and duration of the anticipated actions, the President had constitutional authority, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and pursuant to his foreign affairs powers, to direct such limited military operations abroad," the administration said in an unclassified report titled "United States Activities in Libya."
The administration said much was at stake when Qaddafi began attacking his people and threatened to show "no mercy" to the city of Benghazi and its population of 700,000.
"In this particular country - Libya - at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," Obama said. "We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground."
Excerpts from the Obama Administration's Case
More excerpts from the Obama administration's attempt to rebut allegations it violated the War Powers Resolution are as follows:
- "The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated by the Resolution's 60 day termination provision.
- "U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition, whose operations are both legitimated by and limited to the terms of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that authorizes the use of force solely to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of attack and to enforce a no-fly zone and an arms embargo."
- "U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors."