WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq, a former Bush administration attorney and other high-powered legal experts told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
With many lawmakers poised to confront President George W. Bush by voting disapproval of his war policy in the coming days, four of five experts called before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee said Congress could go further and restrict or stop U.S. involvement if it chose.
Louis Fisher, Specialist in Constitutional Law, Library of Congress, center, and others, testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007 before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Congress' constitutional power to end a war. From left are, David Barron, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Robert F. Turner of the Center for National Security Law, University of Virginia School of Law; Fisher, attorney Bradford Berenson; and Walter Dellinger. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
"I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.
"It is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force," said Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general -- the government's chief advocate before the Supreme Court -- in 1996-97, and an assistant attorney general three years before that.
The hearing was frequently punctuated by outbursts from more than a dozen anti-war protesters, who were asked several times to be quiet but not thrown out.
The subcommittee's chairman, Sen. Russ Feingold, said he would introduce a bill on Wednesday prohibiting the use of funds for the war six months after enactment.
"Today we've heard convincing testimony and analysis that Congress has the power to stop the war if it wants to," said Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.
The Senate is poised in the coming days to take up a resolution opposing Bush's recent decision to add 21,500 troops in Iraq. But that resolution would not be binding on the president, while legislation to cut funds -- assuming it passed -- would be. However, this idea is much more controversial among lawmakers as many do not want to slash funds when troops are already abroad.
WHO'S THE DECIDER?
The expert who took a more limited view of Congress' powers under the U.S. Constitution, Robert Turner of the University of Virginia School of Law, echoed Bush's frequent assertion that in matters of war, he is the "decider."
"In the conduct of war, in the conduct of foreign affairs, the president is in fact the decider," Turner said. He suggested lawmakers might need to "run for president" if they wanted to manage war policy.
At least on that latter point Turner was preaching to the choir: a half-dozen U.S. senators already have expressed an interest in running for the White House in 2008.
The other experts said that while the Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of U.S. forces, Congress' constitutional power to declare war and fund U.S. forces also gave it the power to stop what it had set in motion.
Feingold, who considered a presidential run but decided against it, said he had no desire to place troops in danger. His legislation would allow time for the administration to redeploy U.S. forces, while letting a limited number remain in Iraq to conduct "targeted counter-terrorism" and training missions.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania argued that under the Constitution, the president shared his powers with Congress.
"I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole 'decider,'" said Specter, the head of the Judiciary Committee until Democrats won control from Republicans in November. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."
One thing was certain: the debate would continue. The new Judiciary Committee chairman, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, and Specter wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking for his views on the powers of Congress with respect to war.
© Copyright 2007 Reuters Ltd.