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Was the Airstrike in Syria Legal?

All-righty then, another legal issue for us in this political nightmare we live in; one I feel that I can comment on in my goal to show how legal analysis comes up every day in regular life, even something as irregular as politics.

At least it’s not controversial or anything.

Well, was it? Legal? Like so many of you, oh clueless unwashed masses, I had opined on this many times. Yesterday I was doing just that, discussing it with a brilliant young law student I know (and happen to be related to). Being brilliant, he knew exactly how to call B.S. on me, legally speaking.

He asked, me, “What does the authorization you are talking about actually say, anyway?”  Uh… I had to admit it. I had no idea. I had never read it.

Thank goodness for Google.

I hadn’t bothered before because I thought I didn’t have time to read it. I thought it would be, like most things legal (e.g. the tax code) about a million pages long.

Silly me. Words are for protecting people’s money, stupid lawyer. Killing people? Easy peasy!

Here it is.  It is so friggin’ short even the trolls might be able to get to the end.


(a) IN GENERAL.—That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.


(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION.—Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS.—Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Approved September 18, 2001. 

Jeepers. Even a criminal defense lawyer like me can understand that. It seems to say that you can bomb the heck out of someone IF they helped with the 911 murders somehow.

Uh… I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure that ISIS and Syria and the rest of them did not have anything to do with that.

ISIS did not even exist until after the War in Iraq. After we turned the sea of rats that was the Iraqi military loose in the sewers of the Middle East, they turned on us (funny that) and created ISIS. Read your history, Idiot Trolls.

We got our weapons of Mass Destruction out of that idiotic war for sure. We got them in the form of an army of nut jobs that the U.S. basically created, hell-bent on killing us all.

Wait, say the trolls. Is that it? Nothing more complicated? You can’t bomb them unless ISIS helped the 911 monsters? Before ISIS even existed? That must be “fake law”.

Can you tell I am kinda sick of comments on my blog like, “Yeah, FUMF”  when I am writing about the intricacies of trial procedures? It gets old.

Just like it gets old when people rush in where fools dare not tread, spouting their uninformed opinions about these legal issues, oblivious to the complexities of even simplistic writing like this authorization.

What do I mean?

When you are in law school, you learn that you have to actually read the law before spouting off about it. Go figure. I guess they don’t teach that in Politician School. If you do read this law, you may notice that there is another law mentioned in there. In my world, that can lead to about a billion other pages that you have to read.

In law school, we called that kind of thing a footnote. I distinctly remember getting to footnote 26.III.a.iv.2 , in my Torts textbook, written by my annoying professor. Under that footnote he had inserted about twenty case citations to go read. No kidding. There was the outline of an entire book down there waiting for us on the bottom of the page. Thanks Prof!

Being OCD, I thought you actually had to go read all of those cases. There were a few million cases listed on every page like that for your viewing pleasure. After wasting a few weeks sleeping in the law library, trying to get through Page One of that text book, I kinda gave up. Fortunately San Francisco was right up the street, so I found some fun diversions to occupy my time. Just ask my roommates at the time. Right guys?

But reading the “footnote” here is not about obscure Torts cases. No, it is about whether or not “playing army” by dropping enough ordnance to wipe out Ballard is OK. Well, is it?

Let’s read on, in two parts:

First, “Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution…”

Second, “Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.”

BTW, off topic I know, but my computer is telling me that “supercedes” is misspelled.  Is it? If so, that kinda makes me nervous.  Does Congress not use spellcheck when they are busy authorizing mass destruction?

Not to be picky, but…

Merriam Webster (online) asserts:

Supercede has occurred as a spelling variant of supersede since the 17th century, and it is common in current published writing. It continues, however, to be widely regarded as an error.”

Jzheesh, Congress. That kind of thing would get you an ‘F’ at Stanford Law. So let’s try to help all you politicians get your grades up. Lord knows, most of you were C students as it is.

What does this War Powers Resolution actually say? I dunno. Like that vast majority of voters arguing about it out there I had never read it before. Here it is:


Gotcha, Sarah Palin. It’s looonnnng. This will require some actual thought, which seems to be in short supply when folks argue politics.

Now that I have spent just a few minutes on my Homework, I have reached an important conclusion: Man, this law stuff is hard! Who knew? I mean, going to dive bars in San Francisco was easy compared to this!

But if you focus just on that stuff about Sec 5(b) I think it says this:

   (b) Termination of use of United States Armed Forces; exceptions; extension period

Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 1543(a)(1) of this title, whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress (1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces, (2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or (3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. ….

Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to write this. If this were real work, I would be spending a ton of billable hours on this, rather than just winging it. I mean, I am not a politician, after all. My clients kinda prefer that I am that way, although they hate it when they get the bill.

It is just that I am afraid to take huge risks with their lives by taking shortcuts and going into court with a half-assed legal analysis because I was too busy having fun to sit inside a law library on a sunny day. After all, it’s real life people, not law school.

So… THINK. My take is that there is nothing in here that authorizes this bombing, legally, UNLESS we either stop doing this or Trump goes to Congress and gets them to declare war on Syria by June 5th, give or take.

Read that again.

I seriously doubt Trump ever did.