Congress cowers as White House expands secret wars, abandons all pretense of compliance with War Powers Resolution...
By Ernest A. Canning on 12/3/2010, 2:46pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

"One of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population...[The WikiLeaks cables reveal a] profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership." -Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now, 11/30/2010

There is no issue of greater import to the aspirations of a democratic people than matters of war and peace. There can be no greater display of contempt for democracy on the part of an American President than that reflected by a covert decision to engage in a secret war without the knowledge or consent of Congress or the American people.

As late as 2002, George W. Bush felt compelled to seek some semblance of compliance with the War Powers Resolution of 1973, albeit via deceit in which false claims of Iraqi WMD and links to al Qaeda were presented in order to secure Congressional approval of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution.

According to Jeremy Scahill (video below), "in '03/'04 the Bush administration issued an Executive order that authorized U.S. forces to go anywhere in the world where al Qaeda was to fight them; essentially declared the whole world a battlefield..."

The WikiLeaks Pakistan/Yemen cables confirm that President Barack Obama, possibly relying upon the Bush/Cheney cabal's extremist position that the Sept. 14, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists ("AUMF") is tantamount to a blanket license to initiate wars anywhere and everywhere there is a "suspected" presence of al Qaeda, has both perpetuated and expanded these dangerous claims of lawless Executive power...

The War Powers Resolution of 1973

In the wake of the disaster that was the Vietnam War, in 1973 Congress, over a veto from President Nixon, passed the War Powers Resolution, which, in section 2(c) declared:

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

Section 3 mandates that a President consult Congress "before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances..."

The Resolution mandates periodic reports once hostilities commence. Section 5(b) provides:

Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted...the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States.

WikiLeaks Cables Confirm U.S. Covert Wars in Pakistan, Yemen

WikiLeaks released a diplomatic cable which "corroborated images released earlier this year by Amnesty International showing that the US military carried out a missile strike in south Yemen in December 2009 that killed 41 local residents...including 14 women and 21 children." The January 2010 cable contains a claim that Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours." Yemen's Foreign Ministry has disputed the accuracy of the cable.

While appearing Wednesday on KPFK, "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told Brad Friedman that "many people in the government...actually believe" that the attacks targeted foes of the Saleh regime who have no connection whatsoever to al Qaeda.

Another cable not only confirms collusion between the Pakistani government and the U.S. pertaining to U.S. predator drone strikes but reveals that U.S. special forces have fought alongside Pakistani troops inside Pakistan.

In a recent piece in The Nation, Scahill alleges that the U.S. presence inside Pakistan includes an "elite division" from the private mercenary firm Xe (formerly Blackwater), who "are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, 'snatch and grabs' of high-value targets direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes."

During Scahill's 12/02/2010 appearance on Democracy Now (video below) Amy Goodman played a video-clip which captures Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morell lying to the press; claiming that U.S. involvement was limited to training Pakistani forces.

In short, Obama has, within the meaning of Section 3 of the War Powers Resolution, introduced "U.S. Forces into hostilities" into two nations, Yemen and Pakistan, without seeking Congressional approval. He has done so under a shroud of secrecy which evades the type of informed scrutiny which, according to Ellsberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson leveled to the effect "that our policy there of bombing, drone attacks and other attacks in Pakistan was...counterproductive and dangerous."

Congress Cowers

In July 2010 Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) "offered a resolution ordering President Barack Obama to withdraw U.S. military personnel from Pakistan, saying their presence violates the War Powers Act." Their eloquent efforts fell on deaf ears. The measure was rejected 38-372.

Disturbing? Consider the words of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) on Oct. 10, 2002 when he spoke against the Congressional authorization to use force in Iraq, quoted in Senator Byrd's Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency:

I will always remember the words of Senator Wayne Morse, one of two senators who opposed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution..."The resolution will pass, and the senators who vote for it will live to regret it."

Many senators did live to regret it. I am one of them.

Ironically, the Executive lies which led to passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and to Senator Byrd's lament were exposed when Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

But where the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution entailed Congressional acquiescence to the Vietnam War, the rejection of the Kucinich/Paul resolution reflects an abject surrender by Congress to the Executive branch on the most fundamental power the framers had provided to Congress --- the power to declare war, for, as discussed below, the Congress has ceded to the Executive the right to initiate a covert war without end anywhere and everywhere.

Acquiescence to Unchecked Executive Power: 'The War on Terror'

The problem today in Congress, in the corporate media and, therefore, by no small part of the public, is that, despite the Obama administration's formal abandonment of the phrase, many are still locked within the "global war on terror frame." It is a frame that envisions perpetual war on a global scale against, as described by Antonia Juhasz in The Bush Agenda, an omnipresent “phantom menace” involving “shadowy networks of individuals;” a threat that is to be met “anywhere at any time, or everywhere all the time."

In this context, a little noticed, indeed covert, assertion is made that the Sept. 14, 2001 AUMF entailed much more than a simple authorization to attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead, it is advanced as an authorization to wage a perpetual war anywhere and everywhere the President determines there is a "terrorist" who must be captured or killed. It portends to a permanent shift of power from Congress to the Executive.

Of course, as astutely observed by Gen. Wm. Odom, the very notion of waging a "war on terrorism" is an exercise in futility.

Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few.

But then the utility in the concept lies in the fact that it is a war that cannot be won.

While the core message to America was "be afraid; be very afraid," there was a very different message conveyed to America’s ruling class. As observed by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, while the war on terror may be "an unwinnable proposition" militarily, "from an economic perspective" the war on terror is "an unbeatable one; not a flash-in-the-pan war that could be won but a new and permanent fixture in the global economic architecture."

For most of our domestic population, Executive secrecy and corporate media silence on this Executive usurpation of power has become so routine that matters of war and peace scarcely registered during the 2010 mid-term elections.

This returns us to Chomsky's core thesis --- that the WikiLeaks cables reveal a hatred of democracy on the part of our leaders. What can possibly be more contemptuous of the right of a democratic people to control their destiny than a covert decision made by a "Unitary Executive" to engage in a secret war?

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Noam Chomsky's 11/30 Democracy Now appearance follows...

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Next is the 12/02 appearance by Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).