ACLU Applauds Constitutional Checks in New Iraq Compromise

October 2, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that a bipartisan Senate compromise on a resolution allowing the President to use force to oust Saddam Hussein is far more faithful to the Constitution than the blank check resolution being lobbied for by the White House.

“Thankfully, this compromise embodies the lessons learned from the Gulf of Tonkin incident,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Granting the President a blank check to engage in overseas adventures is a recipe for human tragedy. This compromise resolution acknowledges those lessons.”

In its letter to the Senate, the ACLU reiterated that it is neutral on whether the United States should go to war. However, it told the Senate that it remains firm in its conviction that the Constitutional obligations on Congress to make decisions about war need to be respected, especially with foreign policy questions of this magnitude.

The new resolution, negotiated by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Former Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN), eliminates most of the similarities between the resolution the President wanted and the disastrous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which led to a decade-long morass in which tens of thousands of Americans lost their lives.

Specifically, the Biden-Lugar compromise:

  • Clearly identifies the enemy. The proposed resolution closes the door to regional adventures in the Middle East. Under the proposed compromise, the President would have to seek additional Congressional authorization if he wished to widen the conflict in the region.
  • Spells out clear military objectives. Congress would hold a tight leash on the current conflict. This would be in marked contrast to its role in the Vietnam War, which was lost in part because of nebulous war aims. The Biden-Lugar compromise realizes the folly of sending troops into harm’s way without delineating the specific military objectives to be accomplished.
  • Reaffirms the American conviction that war-making power should lie with the people. In contrast with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the Biden-Lugar compromise would respect the ongoing prerogatives of Congress during military engagement. The Constitution demands that American military decisions involving the use of force rest only with the people’s representatives in Congress.

The ACLU’s letter on the Biden-Lugar compromise can be found at:

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