TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

thorized unsanctioned, covert dealings with Iran and the Contras in Nicaragua,despite explicit laws forbidding such dealings. The resulting Iran-Contrascandal caused Congress—upset that its authority had been undermined bythe White House—to pass laws further constraining the President’s ability toengage in covert action.• Despite its ability to check the executive, Congress often acquiesces tothe executive when it comes to foreign affairs and national securityrelatedissues due to ineffective legislative tools, political disagreementsand a lack of long-term political will. 58• Along these lines, the 9/11 Commission concluded that many aspectsof congressional oversight of the IC were “dysfunctional.”An Additional Constraint? The WarPowers Resolution (1973)Following the Vietnam War and the perceived irrelevance of legislative nationalsecurity powers during that conflict, Congress passed the War PowersResolution (also known as the War Powers Act) in order to strengthen its rolein war making process. The Resolution states that the President, acting asCommander-in-Chief, can only commit the US military to hostilities or “imminenthostilities” after a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization,or a national emergency created by an attack on US forces. 59The War Powers Resolution also compels the White House to “consult” withCongress prior to hostilities “in every possible instance.” Most controversially,if the President unilaterally makes the decision to commit US forces to hostilities,the Resolution imposes a 60-day ‘clock’—a period during which Congresscan debate the action’s legitimacy and legal consequences. If Congress has notexplicitly authorized the White House’s action at the end of 60 days, US forcesmust be withdrawn.The controversial War Powers Resolution has been unpopular with both Presidentsand outside observers who argue that the legislation is not only constitutionallysuspect, but also impractical. Every Administration since 1973 hasclaimed that the Resolution is unconstitutional, as it infringes upon the President’sconstitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief. 60 The Courts have yetto rule on its constitutionality.36 Trials by Fire: Counterterrorism and the Law

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