Flashback: Obama Cites War Powers Resolution in Letter to Congress Announcing Libya Strikes

June 15, 2011 - 4:02 PM
Libya Gadhafi

In this image made from video broadcast by Libyan State TV on Sunday, June 12, 2011, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, right, plays a game of chess with the visiting president of the World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov at an unknown location. According to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, Ilyumzhinov, a former leader of a republic in the Russian Federation, said that the Libyan leader told him during the game that he does not have plans to leave Libya. (AP Photo/Libyan State TV via APTN) LIBYA OUT

(CNSNews.com) – In a March 21 letter to Congress explaining why he ordered military strikes against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama noted that he was writing the letter so as to be compliant with the War Powers Act.

Now, Obama claims that the Act does not apply to U.S. military action in Libya.

According to press reports Wednesday, the White House is set to inform Congress that it no longer considers itself bound by the War Powers Act despite the continued participation of American armed forces in the now NATO-led strikes against Gadhafi.

In his March 21 letter to Congress, Obama said he was ordering the military to begin carrying out airstrikes and missile attacks against Gadhafi, citing his authority as commander in chief and saying that the letter satisfied the requirement that he report to Congress in the War Powers Act.

“For these purposes, I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive,” wrote Obama.

“I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action,” Obama wrote. (Emphasis added.)

Congress, however, did not give Obama its support, refraining from passing a specific congressional authorization or specifically appropriating funds for the Libyan operations.

Now, the Obama White House claims the War Powers Act – which limits presidentially directed offensive military action to 60 days – no longer applies to the Libya attacks.

According to press reports, the administration argues that because it has handed command of the Libya attacks over to NATO and relegated U.S. forces to support roles – except for a small portion of drone attacks – the attacks on Libya do not constitute the type of “hostilities” envisioned by the War Powers Act.

“We are saying the limited nature of this particular mission is not the kind of ‘hostilities’ envisioned by the War Powers Resolution,” State Department legal advisor Harold Koh told the New York Times in an interview on Wednesday.

However, the American role in the Libya operations is key to their continued success, with U.S. forces providing in-air refueling, surveillance, intelligence, and even giving British, French, and Italian forces munitions, without which the strikes could not continue.

Earlier on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent Obama a letter demanding an explanation for the continued hostilities in Libya, offering a generous interpretation of the War Powers Act that gave the administration 90 – not 60 – days to carry out strikes without having to seek congressional approval.

Boehner’s 90-day deadline includes the normal 60 days of hostilities called for under the law and the 30-day period the president is granted to withdraw American forces.

“Given the mission you have ordered to the U.S. Armed Forces with respect to Libya and the text of the War Powers Resolution, the House is left to conclude that you have made one of two determinations: either you have concluded the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the mission in Libya, or you have determined the War Powers Resolution is contrary to the Constitution,” Boehner wrote. “The House, and the American people whom we represent, deserve to know the determination you have made.”