Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Legal Scholar says Obama act impeachable, but far from most impeachable act

*Editors note: This story was written around October 18, 2011

( – President Obama’s recent decision to send 100 military advisors to Uganda to assist Ugandan forces to depose of the Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony is an impeachable act—but far from the most impeachable thing he’s done in his presidency, says a constitutional scholar.

“The thing is of course that we have many statutes outstanding giving the president all kinds of legal authority, some of which are conflicting, and so clearly you have to look into his formal statements about what authorizes him to do this before you can reach a conclusion” says Kevin Gutzman.

He added: “Just from what I know about this current action in South Central Africa, we don’t really know exactly whether it’s legal. We don’t know exactly what he wants these soldiers doing.”

“It’s hard to believe that people would make very much out of 100 troops when we’ve had weeks and weeks of American military involvement in Libya and nothing has come of it,” Gutzman said.

Last March, the President invoked the War Powers Act to conduct U.S. missile strikes against Libya's air-defense systems. Nine Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), raised objections to constitutionality of the president's actions, reports said back in March.

At the time, a non-partisan advocacy group, the War Powers Committee of the Constitution Project, called the continued U.S. military action in Libya "unlawful" since even the most generous interpretations of the War Powers Act can't stretch the time limit the Commander-in-Chief has to get congressional approval beyond 60 days.

“They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress,” one Democrat lawmaker reportedly said on the White House's decision to become involved in Libya.

“They’re creating wreckage, and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground. … There aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air,” the Democrat lawmaker continued.

Under the War Powers Act, established in the president has to seek congressional approval within 60 days of committing U.S. troops abroad and inform Congress that troops will be deployed for military action.

“Consulting” congress has its origins in the War Powers Act, an act which Gutzman calls unconstitutional to the extent that it allows the president to deploy troops for months before seeking authorization from Congress.

“The bottom line is these things are supposed to be done after getting authorization from congress,” Gutzman said.

The pattern of presidents sending troops off to war without congressional authorization is a pattern that has become common after World War II, and is unlike precedents set by America’s earliest presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who both received congressional approval before sending ships off to North Africa to protect American ships there and defending American ships at sea by declaring war against Great Britain, respectively, Gutzman said.

“This pattern of behavior that we have in presidents now really comes from World War II, at least of basically doing whatever they want and then asking Congress ‘would you please approve it?’ is the opposite of what the Constitution contemplates,” Gutzman said.

Kevin Gutzman is professor of History at Western Connecticut University and co-author of Who Killed the Constitution?

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