Obama Rejected Key Lawyers’ Advice on U.S. Role in Libyan Air War

Posted June 18th, 2011 at 2:35 am (UTC-5)
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A major U.S. newspaper is reporting President Barack Obama ignored the advice of some of his key legal advisors in deciding he does not need to win congressional approval for the American involvement in the Libyan air war.

The New York Times reported Friday that the general counsel at the defense department and the acting head of the Justice Department's legal counsel office advised Mr. Obama that he needed to get congressional approval. The Times reports the U.S. government's top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, agreed with their assessment.

Instead, Mr. Obama accepted the advice of other legal advisors at the White House and State Department that he did not need congressional approval to oversee the U.S. role in the NATO-led air assault on the troops of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The key legal question centered on whether the U.S. military activities in the NATO effort amounted to being engaged in “hostilities.”

Mr. Obama decided that the military's aerial refueling of warplanes, as well as providing intelligence and surveillance support, fell short of being involved in “hostilities.”

The 1973 War Powers Act says that when a president, who is deemed the country's commander in chief, involves the nation in a war, he must seek formal congressional approval within 60 days or be ending the U.S. role within 90 days.

The United States will reach the three-month mark in Libya on Sunday.

Some U.S. congressional leaders, including the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and some members of Mr. Obama's Democratic Party have grown increasingly critical of the U.S. involvement in the Libyan engagement. British and French warplanes have dropped most of the bombs in Libya.

Boehner noted that the U.S. is spending $10 million a day on its Libyan war effort. He said the president's legal interpretation of the war authority law “doesn't pass the straight-face test.”