What’s the Legal Basis for Strikes in Syria?

Last night, the United States began bombing targets in Syria. Whatever the policy merits of these strikes, there are crucial unanswered questions about their legal justification.

The Obama administration has claimed three separate legal bases for attacking ISIS, but there are serious problems with all three:

• The post-September 11, 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)—but ISIS and its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq, formed years after the September 11 attacks, and Al Qaeda has disassociated itself from the group.

• The 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq—but the administration has publicly declared that conflict to be over and supported repeal of the Iraq AUMF.

• The President’s inherent Commander-in-Chief power to defend the United States from attack—but officials have repeatedly said that ISIS does not pose an imminent threat on U.S. soil.

It is essential that Congress and the American people know the legal basis for going to war. Last week, OpenTheGovernment.org and seven other organizations asked members of Congress to press for the release of the Office of Legal Counsel memos and/or any other written opinions explaining the legal justification for the strikes against ISIS. Congress is now out of session, but the Executive Branch can and should release that information immediately.