According to a compilation of legal opinions pulled together by Business Insider, President Donald Trump may have opened himself up to more legal problems — including another article of impeachment — as his claim that Iranian military leader Qassem Suleimani was an “imminent threat” to the US and its overseas properties have fallen apart.
Following a weekend where Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared on the cable talk shows and attempted to defend the president’s claim that multiple embassies were threatened, the administration’s claims of threats have fallen apart.
With lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who were briefed on the intelligence questioning the thinness of the information shared — and new reports noting that the supposed embassies were never warned — the president’s surprise drone-killing of the popular Iranian leader is facing new scrutiny.
“Trump and key administration officials had for days argued that the president’s decision to assassinate Soleimani by drone strike earlier in January were justified because he posed an ‘imminent threat’ to US forces in the Middle East. But when pressed on the details, they were less than convincing,” Business Insider reports before asking, “So why bother making the argument that Soleimani posed an imminent threat, if it never really mattered all along?”
“The answer, legal experts say, is that it puts the Trump administration on stronger legal ground as it faces scrutiny for bypassing Congress to order the killing,” the report continues.
According to Oona Hathaway, a professor of international law at Yale law school, “The only legal route Trump could take to get round the requirement for congressional and UN Security Council approval for the military action would be to show that it was taken in self defense.”
“In both cases, the exception is narrow,” she wrote for The Atlantic. “The threat must be so extreme and imminent that it would be unreasonable to seek the necessary approvals before taking action to defend the country.”
According to Gary Solis, a retired West Point professor of law, “There are norms of international behavior that allow us to identify, apprehend, and try terrorists. We can’t have a civilized world if we don’t follow the law.”
“He notes that the war on terror is a never-ending fight but not a technical war as defined by law. To justify the killing under the AUMF then there would have had to be a specific ‘imminent threat’ rather than a general sense that Soleimani is a bad guy who doesn’t like Americans. And, most notably, Soleimani was also a general in the Iranian army, which means he can’t necessarily be dealt with like non-state actors,” he told Quartz.
“The Democrat-led House could move to hold Trump accountable for the decision if it is indeed found that no ‘imminent’ danger was posed, but in a Congress deeply divided along partisan lines it’s a move that would likely run aground,” the report notes, with Solis adding, “How would we feel if Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was killed on a visit to Canada in a Canadian airport?”
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