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White House Releases Report Justifying Soleimani Strike

Elliot Setzer
Friday, February 14, 2020, 12:17 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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The White House has sent a notice to Congress outlining its legal and policy justifications for the Jan. 2 airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. This disclosure is a legally mandated reporting requirement introduced through Section 1264 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, a measure intended to increase transparency in U.S. national security policy.

In this new report, the Trump administration relies on Article II and the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq to justify the U.S. strike. The administration abandoned its earlier claim of an imminent attack, and instead writes that the purpose of the action was to “deter Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks against United States forces and interests” and to “degrade Iran’s and Qods Force-backed militias’ ability to conduct attacks.”

The administration justifies the strike targeting Soleimani under international law as a matter of “national self-defense” in response to escalating armed attacks, citing Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a statement in response arguing that the official report directly contradicts the president’s assertion that the strike on Soleimani was intended to prevent an imminent attack against United States personnel and embassies. Engel also described the claim that Congress had authorized the strike under the 2002 AUMF as “absurd.”

The report can be read here and below.

Elliot Setzer is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford Law School and a Ph.D student at Yale University. He previously worked at Lawfare and the Brookings Institution.

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