Way back in June President Obama declared, against the legal advice of his top administration and military lawyers, that the war he decided to wage in Libya was exempt from the War Powers Resolution, which requires him to get permission from Congress for engaging in a conflict beyond 60 days. The administration’s argument was blatantly specious and represented a dramatic wielding of unchecked executive power in the context of war.
I have been periodically reminding readers of the U.S. war in Uganda and surrounding territories in East Africa. In October, the Obama administration informed Congress that 100 combat troops were being sent in to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, or so they claimed. Aside from the legitimacy of the intervention (or lack thereof), it appears we’re seeing yet another direct refusal to abide by the law.
By my calculation, the 60-Day Clock under the War Powers Resolution, if it applies, has either already run or will very soon. I doubt the Obama administration is about to pull out of Uganda, so it must have concluded – probably at the outset of the intervention – that the intervention was not one in which the troops were introduced “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances” under Section 4(a)(1) of the WPR, and thus that no termination trigger under Section 5(a) is implicated here.
Unfortunately, as Goldsmith points out, the horrible monstrosity National Defense Authorization Act currently being put into law – the one that codifies indefinite military detentions of terrorism suspects without charge to trial, inluding American citizens – also includes something that retroactively authorizes Obama’s intervention into Uganda. Section 1206 states that “the Secretary of Defense may, with the concurrence of Secretary of State, provide logistic support, supplies, and services for foreign forces participating in operations to mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army,” and authorizes $35 million for the effort. One caveat, Goldsmith explains is that the bill also states that “No United States Armed Forces personnel, United States civilian employees, or United States civilian contractor personnel may participate in combat operations in connection with the provision of support.” But putting combat troops into a combat zone to provide combat assistance is really tip-toeing the lines of legality here. Whether you interpret this as tip-toeing or as a glaring contravention of the law, it is yet another example of the Obama administration’s disrespect for any limits on the war powers of the executive.