Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is leading five other representatives in a lawsuit that will live in the annals of idiocy if not infamy. The six, all Democrats, have sued President Bush contending he has no constitutional authority to wage war against Saddam.
They are asking a federal judge in Massachusetts to issue an injunction against Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to prevent them from using force against the Iraqi dictator.
Their argument embraces a duplicity not seen since Bill Clinton left office.
Back on October 10, Conyers did not doubt that Congress was considering a resolution to authorize war. The signs were unmistakable. For starters, the resolution was titled “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.” It said, “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”
In debate, Conyers said: “I rise in opposition to this resolution authorizing the President to commence war at a time and place of his choosing.”
But he lost fair and square. The House approved the resolution 296 to 133. The Senate, 77 to 23.
Every politician who has joined Conyers’ lawsuit said at the time he voted that he opposed the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq” because it authorized military force against Iraq.
Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington said: “Under the terms of the resolution, the U.S. may attack Iraq solely on the basis of the President’s view-and only the President’s view-that diplomacy has failed.”
Rep. Jose Serrano of New York said: “I will vote against this resolution which permits a unilateral military attack . . . ”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio issued a statement opposing “the war resolution.”
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois said: “Before there is any authorization for the use of armed force against Iraq, we must make sure that all peaceful means of containing and eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been exhausted.”
On January 21, still opposing war and wanting to strip Bush of authority to wage one, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas announced she had “introduced legislation to repeal the Use of Force Against Iraq Resolution signed into law last October.”
Jackson Lee’s resolution has no chance of passing. So now these six are trying to rewrite history and the Constitution with the help of a court in the nation’s most liberal state.
Now, they say Bush never got authorization for war. How so?
In a memo supporting their lawsuit, the congressmen say the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq “does not permit the President to attack Iraq.”
No? And Clinton didn’t have sexual relations with that woman, either.
Secondly, they argue, if it does permit the President to attack Iraq it is unconstitutional, because it illicitly delegates to him Congress’ authority to “declare” war.
This is not only untrue, it is unwitting irony. Under the guise of trying to limit the war power of the President, these members of the House of Representatives would in reality unconstitutionally limit the war power of Congress.
The Constitution gives Congress power “To declare War, grant letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appointed by President James Madison, said this “power to declare war may be exercised by Congress, not only by authorizing general hostilities, in which case the general laws of war apply to our situation; or by partial hostilities, in which case the laws of war, so far as they actually apply to our situation, are to be observed.” Letters of Marque and Reprisal, he explained, give private citizens “an authority to seize the bodies or goods of the subjects of the offending state, wherever they may be found, until satisfaction is made for the injury.”
Clearly, somewhere between authorizing a President to make total war and authorizing citizens to “seize bodies or goods” of offending states lies the authority Congress gave Bush to use the stick of military force should Saddam now reject the carrot of peaceful disarmament.