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ACLU Says Congress Must Authorize Use of Force in Haiti;
Urges Clinton to Follow Constitutional Requirements
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 13, 1994
WASHINGTON -- With direct U.S. military intervention in Haiti almost
a certainty, the American Civil Liberties Union today sent letters to
President Clinton and Congressional leaders insisting that any use of
force by the United States in Haiti must be first authorized by Congress.
While taking no position on the use of U.S. military forces in Haiti,
the ACLU said that the U.S. Constitution requires prior congressional
authorization for the President to deploy U.S. forces if they will be
authorized to use force other than in self-defense.
"The Constitution makes it absolutely clear that only the Congress,
as representatives of the people, can declare war," said Ira Glasser,
Executive Director of the ACLU. "The founders of this country worked to
insure that the American people would not be thrust into military
conflicts that had little popular support.
"Congress must, therefore, take a stand on this potential act of war;
it may not waive the authority entrusted to it by the Constitution and the
American people," Glasser said, adding that this was a view widely
endorsed by many Democrats when Republican Presidents threatened military
Even Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is now defending the
Administration's right to unilaterally decide to use force in Haiti, wrote
in a 1982 Foreign Affairs article: "A government makes no more fateful
decision than the decision to go to war. The President should want to
share that decision with Congress. When the President and the Congress
stand together, the nation's commitment is clear."
Glasser said it is highly unfortunate that Secretary Christopher
appears to have changed his position. "Now that the use of force appears
imminent, it is all the more essential that the Administration go to
Congress for authorization before it acts," Glasser said. "Not only does
the Constitution require it, but common sense and good government counsel
A copy of the ACLU's letter to President Clinton follows.
American Civil Liberties Union
122 Maryland Avenue NE
Washington DC, 20002
132 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
September 12, 1994
President Bill Clinton
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As the possibility of direct United States military intervention in Haiti
increases, we urge you to seek a congressional vote before authorizing any
use of force. While the American Civil Liberties Union takes no position
for or against the deployment or use of U. S. military forces in this or
any other conflict, we believe that any such action must be undertaken in
accordance with the Constitution and consistent with democratic
We believe that the Constitution is clear in requiring Congressional
authorization prior to any use of force to deal with the military junta in
Haiti whether or not the use of force has been authorized by the United
Nations or other regional bodies. Indeed, the Constitutional test could
not be more explicit. Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution
grants to Congress -- and to Congress alone -- "the power to declare war
[and] grant letters of marque and reprisal." As a matter of both logic
and history, this delegation of power to Congress applies to all
situations in which U. S. forces are authorized to use military force
abroad, except to repel sudden attacks.1
Congress itself interpreted the Constitution in precisely this fashion
when it passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Section 2(c), on
purpose and policy, states unequivocally that the President has
constitutional authority to "introduce United States Armed Forces into
hostilities, or into situations where imminent hostilities is clearly
indicated by the circumstances, ... only pursuant to (1) a declaration of
war. (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency
created by an attack upon the United States..." This provision serves as
a statutory definition of the constitutional war powers.2
Public debate and a congressional vote are especially important in this
complicated and tragic situation. Debate helps to ensure that a full
array of viewpoints on the issue are considered, both from within and
outside of the government. A vote ensures that these important decisions
have the endorsement of the Congress, and derivatively the people, from
Secretary of State Christopher echoed this view when he wrote in 1982
about the need for prior Congressional involvement in war power matters:
"[A] government makes no more fateful decision than the decision to go to
war. The President should want to share that decision with the Congress.
When the President and the Congress stand together, the nation's
commitment is clear."4
Last year when military action was contemplated in the former Yugoslavia,
we suggested that Congress establish working procedures with the President
to ensure formal congressional authorization prior to any future use of
force. Now that the use of force appears more imminent, it is all the
more essential that you go to Congress for authorization before you act.
Not only does the Constitution require it, but common sense and good
government counsel it.
As you know, previous Administrations have taken an extreme, and in our
view incorrect, view of the President's constitutional powers to authorize
military force. We are aware that your Administration is faced with an
immediate crisis without the luxury of examining the constitutional
issues. Nevertheless, we respectfully suggest that securing congressional
authorization in this situation for whatever actions you choose to take
will not only result in wiser policy and more politically acceptable
decisions, but will also be in accordance with the Constitution.
We thus call upon both you and the Congress to make sure congressional
authorization is obtained before the United States takes any military
action in this conflict.
Thank you for considering our views. We are available to work with you
and your Administration on this issue.
Laura Murphy Lee Ira Glasser
Director, Washington Office Executive Director
1. Alexander Hamilton noted that "anything beyond [repelling force with
force -- i.e., self-defense] must fall under the idea of reprisals and
requires the sanction of that Department which is to declare or make war."
2. The use of force in Haiti would also fall within section 4(a) (1) of
the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C. section 1543(a) (1), necessitating a
presidential report and triggering the 60 day time clock. However, we
believe that this law is constitutionally suspect in this regard by not
prohibiting the President from using force for the first 60 days without
congressional authorization. Accordingly, as occurred with respect to
Iraq, Congress should address this matter directly under the
3. Any such vote could, of course, be done expeditiously.
4. Warren Christopher, "Ceasefire Between the Branches: A Compact in
Foreign Affairs," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 60, No. 5, 899, 1002 (Summer
1982). While Christopher went on to say that "steps short of war ought to
require less collaboration and permit more Executive discretion," id., he
was referring to military aid and sales, not uses of force. Id at 1003.
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