by Marjorie Cohn
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson
School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers
Guild, deputy secretary general of the International
Association of Democratic Lawyers and an advisory board
member of Veterans for Peace. An updated edition of her
book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and
Geopolitical Issues, was recently published.
Visit her website:
Rep. Keith Ellison waits for President Donald Trump
to deliver his address to a joint session of Congress
on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.
Ellison introduced an amendment to the
National Defense Authorization Act of 2019
said there is no statutory authorization
to go to war with Iran;
the amendment was recently
passed unanimously by the House.
Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call
In a little noticed but potentially monumental development, the
House of Representatives voted unanimously for
an amendment to the National
Defense Authorization Act of 2019
(H.R. 5515) that says no
statute authorizes the use of military force against Iran.
The amendment, introduced by Rep.
Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota),
"It is the sense of
Congress that the use of the Armed Forces against Iran is not
authorized by this Act or any other Act."
A bipartisan majority of
the House adopted the National Defense Authorization Act on May
24, with a vote of 351-66.
The bill now moves to the
If the Senate version ultimately includes the Ellison amendment as
well, Congress would send a clear message to Donald Trump
that he has no statutory authority to militarily attack Iran.
This becomes particularly significant in light of Trump's May 8
withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. That withdrawal was followed
long list of demands by Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo, which could set the stage for a US
attack on Iran.
Co-sponsors of the Ellison amendment include,
Reps. Barbara Lee
passage of this bipartisan amendment is a strong and timely
counter to the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Iran
deal and its increasingly hostile rhetoric," Ellison said in a
"This amendment sends
a powerful message that the American people and Members of
Congress do not want a war with Iran. Today, Congress acted to
reclaim its authority over the use of military force."
Likewise, Ro Khanna
"The War Powers Act
and Constitution is clear that our country's military action
must first always be authorized by Congress. A war with Iran
would be unconstitutional and costly."
"Congress is sending
a clear message that President Trump does not have the authority
to go to war with Iran.
Trump's reckless violation of the Iran Deal and failure to get
Congressional approval for military strikes on Syria, there's
never been a more important time for Congress to reassert its
It's long past time
to end the White House's blank check and the passage of this
amendment is a strong start."
Constitution only grants Congress the
power to declare war.
And the War Powers
Resolution allows the president to introduce US Armed Forces
into hostilities or imminent hostilities only after Congress has
declared war, or in,
"a national emergency
created by attack upon the United States, its territories or
possessions, or its armed forces," or when there is "specific
But even if the
Ellison amendment survives the Senate and becomes part of the
National Defense Authorization Act, Trump would likely violate it.
He could target Iranian
individuals as "suspected terrorists" on his global battlefield
and/or attack them in Iran with military force under his
new targeted killing rules.
Sanctions Against Iran Are Illegal
Although the Ellison amendment states that no statute
authorizes the use of US armed forces in Iran, it does not prohibit
the expenditure of money to attack Iran. Nor does it proscribe the
use of sanctions against Iran.
In fact, other amendments the House adopted mandate the imposition
of sanctions against Iran.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois)
reflects the sense of Congress that,
missile program of Iran represents a serious threat to allies of
the United States in the Middle East and Europe, members of the
Armed Forces deployed in those regions, and ultimately the
The Roskam amendment then
states the US government,
"should impose tough
primary and secondary sanctions against any sector of the
economy of Iran or any Iranian person that directly or
indirectly supports the ballistic missile program of Iran as
well as any foreign person or financial institution that engages
in transactions or trade that support that program."
And the House mandated
the imposition of sanctions against people connected to named groups
in Iran that,
"commit, threaten to
commit, or support terrorism," in an amendment introduced by
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).
When Trump announced his
withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal,
he also reinstated US nuclear sanctions and "the highest level" of
economic restrictions on Iran.
Those sanctions could
remove over one million barrels of
Iran's oil from the global market.
The unilateral imposition of sanctions by the United States, without
United Nations Security Council approval, violates the UN Charter.
Article 41 empowers the
Council, and only the Council, to impose and approve the use of
sanctions. The other parties to the
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,
the formal name for the Iran deal, oppose ending it.
Known as P5+1, they
include the permanent members of the Security Council:
...plus Germany, as well
as the European Union.
At a minimum,
not likely to cooperate with the
US's re-imposition of sanctions.
Administration Gunning for War on Iran and Regime Change
withdrew from the Iran nuclear
agreement, Iran was complying with its obligations under the pact.
Once Trump named John Bolton, notorious for advocating
regime-change in Iran, as national
security adviser, it was a foregone conclusion the United States
would pull out of the pact.
Pompeo also supported renunciation of the deal. His over-the-top
demands on Iran include the cessation of all enrichment of uranium,
even for peaceful purposes (which is permitted by the Nuclear
"Taken together, the
demands would constitute a wholesale transformation by Iran's
government, and they hardened the perception that what Trump's
administration really seeks is a change in the Iranian regime,"
the Associated Press
Jake Sullivan, who
served in the Obama administration and was Hillary Clinton's lead
foreign policy advisor during the presidential campaign, said of the
"They set the bar at
a place they know the Iranians can never accept."
a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, called
the demands "conditions
Meanwhile, it is unclear how long it will take to reconcile the
House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Constituents who become
aware of the risk of a US attack on Iran will invariably lobby their
senators to include an admonition comparable to the House's