Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike

Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike
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The Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday released the Trump administration’s legal justification for its Jan. 2 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Echoing arguments administration officials have made in public, the two-page memo cites a president’s constitutional authority to protect national interests from an attack, as well as the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that was passed to authorize the Iraq War.

In releasing the memo, Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse chairman slams Pompeo for suggesting US could 'disconnect' from Australia over China deal Open Skies withdrawal throws nuclear treaty into question The Memo: Trump agenda rolls on amid pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) blasted the “spurious, after-the-fact explanation,” which he said "won’t do.”

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“We need answers and testimony, so I look forward to Secretary Pompeo testifying before the committee at an open Feb. 28 hearing on Iran and Iraq policy, including the Soleimani strike and war powers,” Engel added, referring to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Government watchdog: 'No evidence' Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas trips Inspector general fired over leaks had been cleared of wrongdoing before ouster: report MORE.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE’s decision to kill Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, deepened an escalating cycle that culminated with an Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi military base that gave more than 100 U.S. troops brain injuries.

The administration has offered shifting explanations for the Soleimani strike. At times they have cited past attacks, including the late December rocket attack in Iraq that killed a U.S. contractor the Trump administration blamed on an Iran-backed militia.

Trump has also claimed, without evidence, that Soleimani was plotting an imminent attack on U.S. embassies.

Friday’s memo does not discuss a specific imminent plot, but rather says Trump ordered the strike “in response to an escalating series of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on United States forces and interests in the Middle East region.”

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The memo also says the strike was intended to “protect United States personnel, to deter Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks against United States forces and interests, to degrade Iran's and Quds force-backed militias' abilities to conduct attacks, and to end Iran's strategic escalation of attacks on, and threats to United States interests.”

Engel argued the explanation “directly contradicts” Trump’s claim of an imminent attack.

“The administration’s explanation in this report makes no mention of any imminent threat and shows that the justification the president offered to the American people was false, plain and simple,” Engel said.

The report also says Article II of the Constitution gives the president the power to “direct the use of military force to protect the nation from an attack or threat of imminent attack and to protect important national interests.”

That applied to Iran, the memo says, because it is “responsible for conducting and directing attack against United States forces in the region.”

The memo also cites the 2002 AUMF, which it said the United States has “long relied upon” for military action “for the purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq.” Soleimani was in Baghdad when he was killed.

Engel called that justification “absurd.” Earlier this month, the House passed a bill to repeal the 2002 AUMF, though it’s not expected to get a vote in the Senate.

“The 2002 authorization was passed to deal with Saddam Hussein,” Engel said. “This law had nothing to do with Iran or Iranian government officials in Iraq. To suggest that 18 years later this authorization could justify killing an Iranian official stretches the law far beyond anything Congress ever intended.”