Washington, DC – The following is Congressman Howard L. Berman’s , Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opening statement as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing entitled “War Powers, United States Operations in Libya, and Related Legislation”:
Thank you, Madame Chairman.
The President commenced combat operations in Libya to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe at the hands of Qaddafi’s forces. There was bipartisan support for this effort, and I believe the President prevented massive loss of life through the decisive use of force.
I continue to believe the mission is relevant and necessary. Qaddafi must be removed in order for Libya to have a chance to transition to humane governance and democracy. His indiscriminate use of force against civilians underscores the importance of the UN resolution that provides the basis for NATO action. For these reasons, I support the draft Senate resolution introduced by Senators McCain and Kerry, which expresses support for the limited use of force in Libya.
I believe efforts to either terminate funding for this effort or force an immediate withdrawal of forces would reverse, to disastrous effect, the very meaningful progress already made in Libya.
It’s time to end this stalemate, decisively. And that cannot be done by stopping now. I’d like to give the President limited time to pursue this mission. To do otherwise would be, once again, to invite a horrible massacre of Libyan civilians.
Underlying this debate is a central legal question: the War Powers Resolution acknowledges the President may introduce forces into hostilities – unilaterally – for a period up to 60 days. This may not be what the Constitution originally envisioned or consistent with a strict reading of congressional authority, but it is quite clearly what Congress in 1973 presumed.
Now that the 60 days has run, we must evaluate the specifics of ongoing combat operations to determine whether US activities meet the War Powers Act standard of “engaged in hostilities,” thereby necessitating a formal authorization for the use of force. This is a threshold question. When the Administration commenced operations in March, the President unambiguously introduced forces into hostilities. The United States was directly striking targets in Libya, providing intelligence support, and deploying assets off the coast of Libya.
That is no longer the case today – the President has transferred control of this operation to NATO, and United States involvement, at least reported to me so far by the Administration, is limited to pinprick operations and support of partner nation operations. We thus must consider whether United States armed forces have slipped below the threshold of “hostilities,” obviating the need for congressional action.
We can’t argue theory here – we must take a close look at what exactly the President is doing to evaluate the War Power Resolution’s threshold for termination. For example, one could argue that periodic drone strikes do not constitute “introducing” forces into hostilities, since the strikes are infrequent, there are no boots on the ground. Simultaneously, the continued and sustained targeting of a foreign country – regardless of the weapon system – could meet the Resolution’s definition of “introducing Armed Forces into hostilities.” There are no black and white answers here, and I look forward to our witnesses’ views on these complex issues.