ACLU Urges Congressional Authorization Before Further Military Deployment

February 7, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to maintain its oversight function regarding further American military deployments, saying that U.S. soldiers should not be put in harm’s way without specific approval from Congress.

“The executive branch has not been given, and under our Constitution cannot be given, a free ride regarding military actions abroad,” said Timothy Edgar, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress’ authorization of force contained limits. The President must take seriously his obligations to Congress before more troops are put in harm’s way.”

A hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning explored “What’s Next in the War on Terrorism?” Edgar said that if the “next phase” involves military operations against targets not involved in the September 11 attacks, Congressional approval is needed.

The ACLU’s concerns were prompted by recent announcements by the President that U.S. troops are involved in operations in the Philippines, Bosnia and off the coast of Africa, and by the President’s hint that military action might be needed against Iran, Iraq and North Korea, whom he termed an “axis of evil,” in response to U.S. concerns about weapons of mass destruction.

In a letter sent today to congressional leaders, the ACLU said that Congress must be careful not to allow the President to overreach the mandate contained in September’s authorization of force resolution, which only allows the deployment of troops against those connected to the September 11 terrorist attack. Any other military action, the ACLU said, must be authorized by the War Powers Act, the landmark law passed after Presidents Johnson and Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam without specific legislative approval and in defiance of the Constitution’s design.

The War Powers Act requires, among other things, the submission of a report to Congress by the President no later than 48 hours after the introduction of U.S. military forces into open hostilities or situations where hostilities are likely. Upon receipt, the Congress has 60 days to decide whether to authorize the military action. If it does not, the President must withdraw the American forces within an additional 30 days.

Consistent with its long-standing policy regarding military action abroad, the ACLU’s letter did not endorse or oppose any specific deployment of forces. But the letter strongly urged respect for the War Powers Act.

“The war in Vietnam showed us the folly of allowing the President exclusive control over American war-making.” Edgar said. “The framers of the Constitution were right – no one person can be allowed to let slip the dogs of war.”

The ACLU Letter can be found at:

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