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UA professors discuss legal implications of US intervention in Syria

Members of the UA community gathered at the UA James. E Rogers College of Law on Tuesday to discuss the legal ramifications surrounding the United States’ intervention in Syria.

Led by a panel of two UA professors, the discussion focused on the legal implications of both domestic and international U.S. action, referencing legal documents such as the Constitution and United Nations Charter, a governing treaty for international countries.

“Here at the university there’s a lot of active military and reservists who attend the university or are veterans,” said Kristine Huskey, an associate clinical professor and director of the Veterans Advocacy Law Clinic at the UA College of Law who helped lead the discussion.

“I think the idea of going to war is something that should be thought through carefully and discussed on this campus.”

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Since 2011, conflicts in Syria have escalated to protests and most recently, a government-led chemical attack on its own people caused President Barack Obama to consider intervention. On the domestic side, the debate is whether or not there is a legal base for Obama to go to war without the confirmation of Congress or not, Huskey said.

There are certain legal documents that must be abided by in the decision, though there are always exceptions depending on the case and national security. The Constitution states Congress has the power to declare war and the president has the power to make war, however, the president cannot take the country to war by engaging in military force unless he has Congressional support, Huskey said.

There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the U.S. is attacked, like the case of Pearl Harbor, she added. There is also the War Powers Resolution, which states the president can send troops to war but must specifically advise Congress within 48 hours.

As for the international side, the debate is whether there is a legal basis for the U.S. to use military force in another country under international law, Huskey said. Although an international resolution was put forth for international countries to decide if they would support the U.S. in military intervention of Syria, many U.N. countries are deciding against it.

As stated in the United Nations Charter, there is a rule that states the president must get Congressional support, though there are also exceptions. By using chemical weapons, the Syrian government violated an international law which states the use of poisonous gasses is prohibited, according to the Geneva Protocal.

Part of the charter is regarding humanitarian intervention under international law.

This is “the doctrine that allows you to go into a country that has had a civil war or a mass atrocity, such as in Rwanda or Darfur,” Huskey said.

Another part of the charter says countries or states have the responsibility to protect their own nationals from harm and if a state cannot protect its own nationals, than other states have the responsibility to protect those citizens from harm, she added. Though the area gets grey in the debate between responsibility and obligation to another country, said David A. Gantz, a Samuel M. Fegtly professor of law and the director of the International Trade Law Program, who also helped lead the discussion.

While legality is one part of the issue, morality is also another aspect that can’t be ignored.

“Given the fact that we’ve already lost so many men and women in two wars,” Huskey said, “we should not be getting involved [in Syria] without backing by Congress.”

Attendees said the panel was very informative by breaking down the consequences of each action and how it affects the world from a legal standpoint.

Manmeet S. Rai, a first-year law student, said the panel was very informative because it discussed overlapping issues, whereas in law classes there are sides that need to be taken.

“This was the best place to come down and especially learn the law in a quick one hour,” Rai said, “without actually going and boggling with the books.”


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