The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday sent a letter to both chambers of Congress, asking Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule floor debates and then vote on whether President Obama can continue the use of military force in Libya, which he ordered on March 19 without approval from Congress.
In the letter, the group notes that the president has violated the U.S. Constitution (specifically Article 1, Section 8, which mandates congressional approval of military force).
From the letter:
The ACLU does not take a position on whether military force should be used in Libya. However, we have been steadfast in insisting, from Vietnam through both wars in Iraq, that decisions on whether to use military force require Congress’s specific, advance authorization. Absent a sudden attack on the United States that requires the President to take immediate action to repel the attack, the President does not have the power under the Constitution to decide to take the United States into war. Such power belongs to the Congress.
As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, this allocation of war power to Congress provides an “effectual check to the Dog of war” by “transferring the power of letting him loose from the Executive to the Legislative body . . . .” Letter from Jefferson to Madison (Sept. 6, 1789). Congress alone has the authority to say yes or no on whether the United States can use military force in Libya or anywhere else.
But it is now clear that President Obama has already used significant military force in Libya. On March 19, 2011, the President took the United States into an armed conflict in Libya that has, to date, included a significant commitment of American military force, with targets that have included Libyan air defenses, ground forces loyal to Muammar Qadhafi, and a building in a compound regularly used by Qadhafi. On the first day of combat alone, more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired into Libya from offshore naval vessels. Over the past several days, U.S. bombers and fighter aircraft have attacked air defenses and ground forces across Libya. Although there are no reports of U.S. service members killed in action, an Air Force fighter plane and its crew of two Air Force pilots went down over Libya on March 21. According to Marine Times, the rescue of the pilots required seven Marine aircraft and the dropping of two bombs near bystanders. Numerous media outlets report significant casualties among Libyans, including civilian casualties. Moreover, the scope of the commitment made by the United States is unclear, possibly ranging from the protection of civilians to the ouster of the Qadhafi regime.
The Executive Branch’s assertions of unilateral authority to enter the armed conflict in Libya cannot and should not go unchallenged by the Congress. The decision whether to go to war does not lie with the President, but with Congress. Congress’s power over decisions involving the use of military force derives from the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 provides that only the Congress has the power “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water,” among other war powers.
President Obama has already unleashed Jefferson’s “Dog of war” in Libya, without congressional authorization. That constitutional wrong has already happened. It is now up to the Congress, as representatives of the American citizenry, to exercise its exclusive authority under the Constitution to decide whether the President may continue to use military force there. This decision should be the first order of business for each house when the Congress reconvenes. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding this matter.