International Information Programs

20 March 2003

Taft: Bush Has Legal Authority to Use Force in Iraq

State Department legal adviser addresses National Association of Attorneys General

President Bush's authority to use force in Iraq under both U.S. and international law is "clear," says William Howard Taft IV, a U.S. State Department legal adviser

Addressing the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington March 20, Taft said that under the U.S. Constitution Bush has the responsibility to use force to protect national security and that Congress confirmed that authority in the specific case of Iraq on two separate occasions.

There is also clear authorization from the U.N. Security Council -- Resolutions 678 and 687 -- to use force to disarm Iraq, which has "materially breached" disarmament obligations, Taft said.

Following are excerpts from Taft's speech pertaining to Iraq:

Remarks of the Honorable William Howard Taft, IV
Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State
Before the National Association of Attorneys General
March 20, 2003

Let me say a few words about the legal basis for our actions in Iraq. First, it goes without saying that the President's authority to use force under U.S. law is clear. Under the Constitution he has not simply the authority but the responsibility to use force to protect our national security. Congress has confirmed in two separate resolutions in 1991 and again last fall that the President has authority to use our armed forces in the specific case of Iraq.

Under international law, the basis for use of force is equally strong. There is clear authorization from the Security Council to use force to disarm Iraq. The President referred to this authority in his speech to the American people on Monday night. The source of this authority is UNSCR 678, which was the authorization to use force for the Gulf War in January 1991. In April of that year, the Council imposed a series of conditions on Iraq, including most importantly extensive disarmament obligations, as a condition of the ceasefire declared under UNSCR 687. Iraq has "materially breached" these disarmament obligations, and force may again be used under UNSCR 678 to compel Iraqi compliance.

Historical practice is also clear that a material breach by Iraq of the conditions for the cease-fire provides a basis for use of force. This was established as early as 1992. The United State, the UK and France have all used force against Iraq on a number of occasions over the past twelve years. Just last November, in resolution 1441, the Council unanimously decided that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligation. 1441 then gave Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply, but stated specifically that violations of the obligations, including the obligation to cooperate fully, under 1441 would constitute a further material breach. Iraq has clearly committed such violations and, accordingly, the authority to use force to address Iraq's material breaches is clear.

This basis in international law for the use of force in Iraq today is clear. The Attorney General of the United Kingdom has considered the issue and reached the same conclusion we have. The President may also, of course, always use force under international law in self-defense.

These are points that I thought you would want to know about.

(end excerpt)

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