Lawsuit by soldiers' parents, congressmen challenges Bush

Friday, February 14, 2003

BOSTON -- Six House members, members of the military and parents of servicemen went to federal court Thursday to try to prevent the president from launching an invasion of Iraq without an explicit declaration of war from Congress.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and the other plaintiffs said the October 2002 congressional resolution backing military action against Iraq did not specifically declare war and unlawfully ceded the decision to President Bush.

Conyers cited the passage from the U.S. Constitution that states, "Congress shall have power ... to declare war."

"Get it? Only Congress," Conyers said at a news conference in Washington.

John Bonifaz, the Boston lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said Bush is rushing to war without seeking approval or even a thorough debate by Congress.

"The president is not a king," he said. "He does not have the power to wage war against another country absent a declaration of war from Congress."

The other members of Congress named as plaintiffs are: Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.; Jim McDermott, D-Wash.; Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.; and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

Other plaintiffs include a member of the Massachusetts National Guard who was recently activated, an Air Force reservist from Massachusetts, and a Marine stationed in the Persian Gulf, Bonifaz said. Their identities were not released.

Lawsuit long shot

"I would imagine that they're aware the lawsuit is a very long shot, an extremely long shot," said Taylor Reveley, dean of the William and Mary School of Law and author of the book "War Powers of the President and Congress: Who Holds the Arrows and Olive Branch?"

"But they're probably interested in doing anything they can to throw sand in the wheels of American military action in Iraq."

Reveley said majorities in both houses of Congress approving a resolution authorizing military action -- as the House and Senate did in October -- would pass constitutional muster and provide wide presidential discretion.

The congressional resolution states: "This joint resolution may be cited as the 'Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq."'

Congress has not formally declared a war since World War II. The War Powers Act, passed in 1973 in response to the Vietnam War and the actions of President Nixon, requires the president to seek congressional approval before or shortly after ordering military action abroad. It also requires the president to report to Congress.

A similar lawsuit filed against Bush's father before the Gulf War by 54 members of Congress was rejected by a federal judge in 1990.

That judge said he agreed in principle that the president must seek congressional authorization for war, but said the elder President Bush had not clearly committed the country to a course of action.

The judge also noted that only about 10 percent of the Congress had asked for the injunction -- a percentage he said was not representative of the entire body.

Bonifaz said the new lawsuit is different because in addition to the six members of Congress, members of the military have asked for the injunction. "They are facing the possibility of death," he said.

One of the plaintiffs, Nancy Lessin, said she has 25-year-old twin stepsons, one of them a Marine.

"We'd like to challenge George Bush to send one of his twins to war. Then let's have a discussion about whether or not we should go to war," she said.

Bonifaz said several similar lawsuits filed by soldiers during the Vietnam War were unsuccessful. But he said those lawsuits failed because the courts found Congress had taken concrete steps to authorize a war, including appropriating money and authorizing the draft.

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