Ten members of the House of Representatives filed a lawsuit against President Obama claiming that his actions in Libya violate the War Powers Resolution. That law prevents the President from engaging in armed combat without permission from Congress. We discuss the implications of this lawsuit and the legality of the United States’ actions in Libya.

Libya and the War Powers Resolution 17 June,2011forum

Jonathan Turley, Professor, George Washington University School of Law. He filed the lawsuit on behalf of the ten members of congress.
Abraham Sofaer, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution

  • The broader issue here is whether any laws apply to the President, or as Nixon claimed anything the President does is by definition legal. Clearly we’re engaged in a war in Libya and clearly the war is unauthorized. So, provided that the National Security justification is waved is there any check on Presidential power?

    • Timothy Wong

      Is it that though?  I don’t think it’s fair to swing the discussion all the way to “there are no checks on presidential power.”  It isn’t as if this is a flagrant crazy abuse of the law, like breaking in to someone’s home or shooting people outside the White House for sport.

      I hardly believe, nor I believe the two speakers that the seat of the presidency means you’re above the law, but then again, that’s not what the discussion is about.

  • Joe

    Could someone comment on the special powers (and how they apply in this discussion) appointed to the president during wartime?  After all, aren’t we fighting two “wars” in the Middle East right now?

    Did we not send a bunch of troops to the Middle East in 2001 without a declaration of war?  Why is this different?

    • Joe

      I thought only congress can declare war.  It seems disingenuous to call it war when congress did not declare war.  Is the motivation to scare citizens into taking your side of the argument?  

      • Wow, that’s circular. 

        • Joe

          The sarcasm is lost on you.  

          • Sorry, your comment popped up out of context at the top until I reloaded Disqus. 

          • Joe

            Yeah, I don’t get how the formatting works here.  The thread view doesn’t refresh unless you refresh the page.

        • nihi

          Dude’s got a point, though.  War is only war when war is declared.  If war hasn’t been declared it isn’t war, no matter how many people get blown up.

          • Joe

            You win more people over by scaring them by saying “war.”  

            Attention citizens, there are scary monsters in your closet!  Yes, scary ones indeed.  Only I, yes I, have the solution to your monster problem.  Remember, they are very scary and dangerous, and I am the only one with the solution.

  • Jim (McCarthy), Palo Alto

    I am glad to see this being debated, but I would have preferred the debate to have been held when the president deceived the public and congress before going into Iraq in 2003. It seems very mean spirited to be characterizing the Libya conflict as a violation of the War Powers Resolution or the Constitution when past presidential actions appear to have gone much further. Can we get some balance into all of this?

  • Greg Slater

    Your guest, ‘Abe’, from the Hoover Institute For the Criminally Insane, which never met a war it didn’t like, is incredibly disingenuous.  Even in his irrelevancies he is disingenupous.  He says how horrible and dangerous Ghadafi – ignoring that up until the siege of benghazi Ghadafi had been reformed by us – John McCain was among a long string of guests of Ghadafi. It is typically how we so easily re-classify allies to monstrous existentially -threatening dictators or vice versa depending not upon the actual threat but upon our own agendas.  It’s incredible that he says, ‘How can we go to senseless war if the president isn’t given dictatorial powers?’  How comical and pathetic! Abe is a pro-war advocate, that’s it.

  • Tim

    Even if it could be said that the President can wage ware without Congressional approval, it is an ongoing drain on the legitimacy of the Constitution that we not clarify this issue.   Every war a President goes to himself brings us one step closer to tyranny.

  • Jenny

    How does Prof. Turley justify the drone strikes against Pakistan then? Can the President do that without Congressional approval and if so, why?

    • chrisco

      Not that it is a satisfactory answer but this is what they say:

      “The United States is in “an armed conflict” with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban
      and its affiliates as a result of the September 11 attacks, and may use
      force consistent with its inherent right to self-defence under the
      international law,” [State Dep’t Legal Adviser Harold] Koh said without mentioning Pakistan or other
      countries where the unmanned Predators have struck.

  • chrisco

    The caller says this isn’t a war AND if we did not act, Gadhafy would have routed the rebels. Hmmm. Was it our words that prevented Gadhafy from routing them? No, it was the bombs. But this is not a war.

    I guess we can drop nuclear bombs on a country and say it is not a war since we don’t have troops on the ground.

    • DeanCutlet

      The “this isn’t a war” argument is plain silly.  It would make us have to rename the traditional idea of WWIII since the US and USSR would only be lobbing nukes at each other.  “Soldiers never entered enemy territory, so WW3 isn’t a real war.”  Asinine and childish.

      Terminology isn’t the issue and it only serves to distract from the real problem here.

  • Guest

    The framers formed the Constitution in a time when there were no nuclear weapons, when there were no serious threats to the United States like Qaddafi. Turley is right – there will be many more Qaddafis, many more situations where the President will want to act to defend his country as the Commander in Chief. Congressmen are concerned with one main objective – getting reelected. To officially “approve” or “declare war” would be a risky move to make by any congressman. While official, explicit “approval” would be great, it would terrify me if the President couldn’t act to defend us from potentially threatening powers, especially if that just means supporting NATO. Bush AND Obama have taken actions to protect us – and that is what I ask for in a president, no matter what his domestic policies are. 

  • Greg Slater

    All those who want to aid the Libyan rebels are encouraged to do the courageous and honorable thing – form an ‘Abraham Lincoln Brigade’ of volunteers – as American progressives did in the Spanish Civil War and showed actual courage.  Please ask Judge Wopner from the Hoover Institute For Vacuum Cleanerology whether he would be willing to join a brigade of volunteers – or is he too gutless and hypocritical to be anything but a shameless war cheerleader and chickenhawk.

  • Greg Slater

    It is always a good idea for a president to have several wars running at once to use the little pointless disasters (eg Libya, Yemen) to distract attention from the big pointless disasters (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan).

  • Kristine Magnuson

    I generally consider myself an Obama supporter, but I still find Jonathan Turley’s argument convincing. 

    I do think the U.S. has previously intervened in other countries many times, using this argument, that the intervention is not actually a war, but regardless of which party or president is in charge, I think it makes sense to start looking at ‘hostilities’ more broadly than just wars that involve ground troops.

  • Joe

    All I’ve heard for the last 15 minutes, “blah blar WAR, blah WAR WAR WAR, blah blah WAR.  WAR blah blah WAR WAR!”

    Stop saying war, you look foolish.

  • Paul

    In his June 15th letter to Congress


    Pres. Obama explicitly relies on Public Law 107 40 (see:


    Do your guests have a comment?

  • Mderek1

    Congress is engaged in political grandstanding by filing this lawsuit. The bombing of Libya has gone on longer than anticipated, the objective has changed from “protecting civilians” to regime change and this is just a manuever to absolve themselves of any responsibility for yet another gratuitous conflict.  

  • DeanCutlet

    Great show.  I’m delighted to hear a well spoken debate over this issue, which has been a concern of mine for a while.

    Opposition to the Libyan war (“conflict” for the pedants) isn’t popular in the liberal camp and the GOP can’t bring up opposition without getting egg on their faces since it would invalidate all the efforts for unilateral action in Iraq.  So, I’m happy to hear NPR address the issue.  It should be discussed in public.

    What the US is doing to Libya is not legitimate even if it is for a good cause.  There are a countless number of “good causes” all over the world and the US isn’t responsible to address them.

    It is the burden of the individual to determine how he/she is governed.  It is the burden of oppressed citizenry to fight dictators like Qaddafi.  The US has no right to impose any type of government on another nation unless it is a result of war (a conquered and occupied nation like Japan).  Any war started with the intention of changing regimes is extremely distressing, especially since many of the recent wars were of this type: Libya, Iraq, and Vietnam.

    • Joe

      The distinction between “war” and “something else” is very important. The main point here is that the nation cannot be at a constant state of “conflict” with special powers granted to the president.  

      This isn’t an issue about injustice around the world and what role the United States of America should play.  Rather, it’s an issue addressing the power of the president and the perpetual state of emergency that grants too much power for too much time.  

      What’s the terror threat level again?  

      War on terror, war on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, war on abortion, blah blah blah.  I don’t recall congress ever declaring war on any of these things.  Continuing use of the word “war” where it is not appropriate just furthers the obfuscation of presidential abuse of power and adds to disingenuous rhetoric. 

  • chrisco

    THANKS. Good show.

  • Rufh

    Sofaer is  unfair, and he lost this debate resoundingly.

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