Michael Ratner: Without UN approval, US attack on Syria violates international law.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Ratner Report.
Now joining us is Michael Ratner. He’s the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional rights in New York, chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also a board member for The Real News Network.
Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.
So, Michael, the Obama administration is continuing this push for intervention in Syria. They’re working on getting approval from Congress. And Samantha Power on Thursday said that the U.S. will not even seek UN authorization for a possible intervention. They’re—Obama and Putin are meeting in Russia to get Putin to sign off on the strike. What’s your take on the current situation? And where does international law apply in this situation?
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: This is just another part of the intervention. The U.S. has already intervened on behalf of the rebels in Syria. There’s been much information. In fact, the first time I saw it in The New York Times, the U.S. was actually training, quote, Free Syrian Army people in Jordan to infiltrate into Syria. It mentioned the number of 50. But the European reports are that hundreds have actually been infiltrated. So the U.S. is already clearly backing one side.
So the question that’s being raised now is the additional intervention of bombing the forces of Syria, bombing various targets in Syria. Since our last report last week, the U.S., in a surprise to many people, Obama in particular, said he was going to go to Congress to try and get approval under our U.S. Constitution. It’s clear that our Constitution requires such approval. Both houses of Congress have to give the approval. The president then has to agree to it. And that’s what’s going on now. And we’ll discuss what’s going on there.
But one of the things that should not be lost in our listeners or our viewers, rather, at all, is that that’s only one part of what you need to get authority to go to war against another country, bomb it or use force. You have to get the authority of the U.S. Congress. The other part is you have to get the authority that you’re allowed to use force under the UN Charter. And the U.S., that’s a treaty the U.S. has agreed to and signed. We’re bound by the UN Charter the same way we’re bound by the U.S. Constitution. And under the UN Charter, there’s only two ways to use force against force against another country. Two. One is in self-defense. If you’re attacked, obviously, you can defend yourself. If there’s someone about to push a button, conceivably you can also do something about that. That’s one way, self-defense. That’s not being pushed forward as a position here by Obama. Yeah, they mention vague things about national security, but they haven’t talked about anything to do with self-defense. And we know it’s not about that. They haven’t claimed that.
The only other way to go against another country to use force is go to the Security Council in the United Nations and get a majority of nine to agree to the use of force. And that has to include the permanent members, or at least they can’t veto it. In this case, you would need both China and Russia to at a minimum abstain from doing it, from giving a veto, or approve it one way or another. And the United States apparently doesn’t think it can get it. Samantha Power seems to be saying or said, we’re not even going to bother trying to get it, because we don’t think Russia or China will give us the authority, and it’s likely, I guess, that Russia or China would veto the use of force. Let me just be clear here. Even if they get the U.S. Congress to approve the bombing of Syria, which is not 100 percent clear, and we can talk about that, but it’s 100 percent they’ll get that, but even were they to get it, they would still need authority from the Security Council of the United Nations. And if they don’t get it, if they don’t get it, it’s an illegal war, it’s an illegal use of force. It’s a war crime. It would be considered a crime of aggression. It’s the kind of crime that the Germans were tried for at Nuremberg. That’s where actually the crime of aggression came out of. It’s a war crime to not get UN authority. So let there be no doubt about that issue.
The U.S. has come up with another couple of rationales. They said, okay, we’re not going to bother going to the UN, which even of course Bush went to the UN. He got defeated on with regard to view Iraq war, but he did go there. They’re not even going to bother with that.
The U.S. has come up with two sort of other rationales, the main one being [incompr.] Syria has been in violation of the chemical weapons bans, that both the UN charter prohibits it and, you know, other UN treaties, other treaties prohibit use of chemical weapons, and therefore we feel we have the authority because there’s a violation of international law. Of course, one foot of that is, has Syria violated or used chemical weapons? The proof isn’t in on that at all at this point.
But let’s assume that’s the case. Would they have the authority to bomb Syria if it had chemical weapons, if there was proof of it? The answer is flatly not. You still need the United Nations Security Council to give you that approval. There is nothing in those treaties that give a country the authority to on its own decide, well, there’s the evidence and we have the right to bomb it. You could take Assad and Syrian leadership into an international court, if you could, try and get them indicted and try and get them out, as the U.S. has done in other cases. But you can’t make war just because—not just because, but even if there’s proof that the Assad government violated chemical weapons bans.
The other claim here, although it’s not made explicitly by the Obama administration, but people talk about it, humanitarian intervention, you know, and there’s mass killings going on, shouldn’t a country have the right to stop them, stop that. There’s no law that says that a country can do that. So this is—at this point we’re faced with, one, they have to get congressional approval and they have to get UN approval.
As the last part of this, let’s just talk about what’s happening in Congress. It’s not clear Congress is going to give authority. The Senate committee ten to seven approved an authorization to use military force in Syria. It reminds you, one, of course, of the authorization to use military force, the one that they’re using to go against al-Qaeda, its allies in Afghanistan. They did pass it ten to seven. It was a closer vote from the very warlike committee than Obama expected. Three Democrats actually abandoned Obama on it. So it was a ten to seven vote.
The resolution is much broader than it should be. It’s basically not that it should be. I don’t think there should be any resolution. But it’s broad. I want to give a couple of points about it and some of the dangers of that resolution.
First, it’s filled with lies. Its whereas clauses say that there is conclusive evidence that Syria has used weapons, chemical weapons. It says nothing about the rebels having arguably used chemical weapons. The Russians claim they have. It says nothing about the recent slaughters that have been on the front pages of The New York Times that the rebels have done. It then says Syria has used these chemical weapons in violation of the UN Charter, which is laughable, in the sense that here they are violating the Charter themselves by authorizing a war without the UN.
Then what’s an amazing paragraph in the Charter—and I just want to read it. It says essentially that the president can go to war against Syria even without the authority of Congress, much less without the authority of the UN. And that says this: quote, whereas the president has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States—. That’s completely legally wrong. He needs the authority of Congress, and he needs the authority of the UN. Then it says the purpose why he can use it: he can use force to degrade Syria’s capacity to use weapons, chemical weapons in the future. Well, that’s an open-ended—saying he can just completely wipe out the Syrian military, he can use everything for chemical weapons, from a small gun to bombers to a tank to anything else. So it’s basically saying open-ended authority. And we know how the president, this one and Bush, misused the AUMF regarding the attacks on 9/11 to say that we can do everything, we can bomb Yemen, we can bomb Somalia, we can bomb Pakistan. So this is really an open-ended grant of authority to the president to go continue what I consider to be a war on the side of the Syrian rebels. In that sense it’s better. It says 60 days, 30 days extra. It gives them 90 days. But basically you see in the Senate now give the president the right to do whatever he wants in Syria. Again, even if both houses agree, it won’t be sufficient. We need the UN.
NOOR: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for joining us for part one of this conversation.
RATNER: I’m glad to be with you again, Real News.
NOOR: And we’re going to continue that this conversation in part two we’ll air tomorrow.
Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Briefly, we wanted to update you on where Truthout stands this month.
To be brutally honest, Truthout is behind on our fundraising goals for the year. There are a lot of reasons why. We’re dealing with broad trends in our industry, trends that have led publications like Vice, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic to make painful cuts. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of inflation. And despite its lasting importance, news readership is declining.
To ensure we stay out of the red by the end of the year, we have a long way to go. Our future is threatened.
We’ve stayed online over two decades thanks to the support of our readers. Because you believe in the power of our work, share our transformative stories, and give to keep us going strong, we know we can make it through this tough moment.
We’ve launched a campaign to raise $42,000 in the next 6 days. Please consider making a donation today.