Protect Democracy Demands Release of Legal Basis for Soleimani Strike

Protect Democracy filed Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests with the Departments of State, Justice, and Defense seeking the legal justification, policy justification, and any Congressional communication with respect to the military strike on Qasem Soleimani. We filed these FOIA requests on an expedited basis to help inform the American public about the basis for this military action and help Congress fulfill its constitutional responsibility. Protect Democracy filed a similar FOIA in 2017 after the bombing of the Shayrat airbase, leading to the release of the Administration’s legal rationale for the use of force in Syria.

Protect Democracy’s Soren Dayton said: “Under our Constitution, the President doesn’t get to decide by himself to put the country on a path to war. Congress also has a role in decisions about whether the U.S. takes military action. We are filing this FOIA request to ensure that the American people and Congress are fully informed about the legal and policy rationale for the missile strike. Congress must demand this information and more aggressively assert its Constitutional responsibility in decisions about war-making.”


Protect Democracy filed a similar FOIA request after the April 2017 bombing of Shayrat airbase in Syria. The Administration’s compliance with the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR) in that attack was inadequate. We filed a lawsuit, Protect Democracy v. Dep’t of Defense, to demand compliance with our FOIA request. In that case, U.S. Federal Judge Christopher Cooper held that an open democracy requires that the U.S. government expeditiously respond to FOIA requests about the legality of U.S. military action, especially when the relevant legal questions are subject to open, widespread debate, as the questions surrounding yesterday’s drone strike already are.

Judge Cooper explained that failing to “obtain[] in a timely fashion information vital to the current and ongoing debate surrounding the legality of a high-profile government action” like the military strikes against the Syrian government, would harm the American people in at least two different ways. First, when the American people are “closed off from such a debate,” this is “itself a harm in an open democracy.” Second, when the public is kept in the dark about legal justifications for military strikes taken in their name, this raises “[t]he possibility for the strikes to recur without legal justification.” Judge Cooper’s reasoning applies today as directly as it did then.

In our democracy and under our Constitution, the Congress and the President jointly decide whether U.S. forces and our country will be put into harm’s way. Congress affirmed this principle in the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The WPR requires that the President notify Congress of the legal and policy basis for the missile strike against Qasem Soleimani within 48 hours of the strike. The President must fully comply with the War Powers Resolution.

Protect Democracy and coalition partners have called on Congress to enact reform legislation to reclaim its authorities over war powers.

In 2019, bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress voted to prohibit a strike such as this one with the Khanna-Gaetz-Biggs-Udall-Paul-Lee amendment. It would have “prevent[ed] federal funds from being used for any military force in or against Iran without congressional authorization” and clarified that “neither the 2001 nor 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) can be invoked to justify the use of military force against Iran.”

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