Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Congress can halt Iraq war, experts tell lawmakers

Congress can halt Iraq war, experts tell lawmakers
By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq, a former Bush administration attorney and other high-powered legal experts told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Facing mounting opposition over his Iraq troop increase plan, President George W. Bush insisted it would be "too extreme" if lawmakers pass a resolution condemning his Iraq policy.

Four out of five experts called before the Senate Judiciary Committee said Congress could go even further and restrict or stop U.S. involvement in Iraq if it chose.

"I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.

"It is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force," said Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general, the government's chief advocate before the Supreme Court, in 1996-97.

The hearing was frequently punctuated by outbursts from more than a dozen anti-war protesters, who were asked several times to be quiet but not thrown out.

A subcommittee chairman who ran the hearing, Sen. Russ Feingold, said he would introduce a bill prohibiting the use of funds for the war six months after enactment.

"Today we've heard convincing testimony and analysis that Congress has the power to stop the war if it wants to," said Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat.

The Senate is poised to take up a resolution opposing Bush's recent decision to add 21,500 troops in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said this debate would take place next week.

"I wouldn't say it's unpatriotic. I think it's -- I think it is too extreme," Bush said in an ABC News interview when asked whether it would be unpatriotic for Congress to pass a resolution condemning his Iraq policy.

Any such resolution would not be binding on the president, while legislation to cut funds -- assuming it passed -- would be. However, cutting funds is much more controversial as many lawmakers do not want to do so when troops are abroad.

Despite growing rancor over the troop build-up, the White House said Bush won agreement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a bipartisan advisory group on Iraq. Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said the panel's makeup would be announced shortly and it would meet next week.


The expert who took a more limited view of Congress' powers, Robert Turner of the University of Virginia, echoed Bush's assertion that in matters of war, he is in charge.

"In the conduct of war, in the conduct of foreign affairs, the president is in fact the decider," he said. He suggested lawmakers might need to "run for president" if they wanted to manage war policy. A half-dozen U.S. senators already have expressed an interest in running for the White House in 2008.

One presidential hopeful, Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, unveiled a bill to cap U.S. troops in Iraq at the January 10 level, before Bush added more; start a phased pullout in May, and get all combat brigades out by March 31, 2008.

The other experts at the hearing said that while the Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of U.S. forces, Congress' constitutional power to declare war and fund the military gave it power to stop what it had set in motion.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said: "I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole 'decider' ... The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."

Perino said: "The president is not the only decision-maker, but he is the only commander-in-chief". If they (in Congress) have a better plan for securing Baghdad and turning a corner in Iraq, he wants to hear it."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick)