Obama Lawyers Said Arming Syrian Rebels Would Be Illegal, Prompt War

John Glaser, July 15, 2013


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that legal advisers to President Obama have warned him since the beginning that aiding the Syrian rebels probably violated international law and risked a direct conflict with the Assad regime.

Members of the so-called Lawyers Group of top legal advisers from across the administration argued that Mr. Obama risked violating international law and giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the legal grounds—and motivation—to retaliate against Americans, said current and former officials.

The group’s arguments in part help explain why the White House agonized over Syria intervention and why Mr. Obama eventually opted to provide military aid to the rebels covertly through the Central Intelligence Agency, to help mitigate the legal risks and keep the U.S.’s profile low.

Two things are important here. First, this is a case in point for anyone who wonders whether the federal government is guided by the rule of law or operates on the basis of perceived interests. As can be consistently demonstrated throughout U.S. history, even if it’s illegal, the Executive Branch (which has usurped essentially all of the governments war-making powers) will still do it if they want to.

The second important thing to note is something I’ve argued before – namely that the government keeps secret those policies that would otherwise be subject to the law. As in the drone war, the administration knew very well that some judge could find what they’re doing to be criminal. Therefore, the administration classifies the program and blocks any attempt at judicial scrutiny on the basis of national security.

According to the WSJ, Obama’s lawyers were able to exploit what they saw as a loophole. Obama recently announced plans to begin direct arming of the Syrian rebels (as opposed to merely indirect arming, through Saudi Arabia and Qatar). The WSJ reveals what was behind that decision, explaining that Obama’s lawyers decided to exploit what they view as a loophole, taking the position that the aid would be acceptable under domestic U.S. law but not international law.

But for a long time this group of lawyers “parr[ied] calls for more assertive U.S. action by citing the risks of skirting international law, triggering a shooting war and setting legal precedents that could be cited by other countries, such as Russia and China.”

WSJ continues:

Some of the lawyers involved were uncomfortable with what they saw as a policy that could be seen as similar to the Reagan administration’s backing of Nicaragua’s Contra guerrillas in the 1980s.

Some of them cited a 1986 decision from the International Court of Justice on the American role in Nicaragua that said the U.S. was in “breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another state.”

In that case, Reagan flagrantly dismissed the findings of the International Court of Justice that found America was acting criminally in Nicaragua. One thing that certainly hasn’t changed since 1986 is that America’s presidential administrations don’t submit themselves to the law. And Obama is dutifully following in that tradition.

See here for my latest piece in The Washington Times on how the flow of U.S. weapons into Syria  are getting into the hands of both pro-Assad militias and anti-Assad jihadist extremists.

22 Responses to “Obama Lawyers Said Arming Syrian Rebels Would Be Illegal, Prompt War”

  1. Illegal and prompting war? What's not to like for the US government?

  2. Glaser…

    You seem to be in the camp that wants to make this infinitely more complicated than it actually is… Obama wants to make "Assad go", and seems willing to resort to any means to try and make that happen.

    You don't need to be familiar with so-called "international law" to intuitively know the unethical practice of arming insurgents and terrorists not only runs counter to established international customs and norms, it also typically violates "US law".

    But consider this for a second…

    Last week a 'story' surfaced which perfectly illustrates the absurdity of what is currently happening with this whole Syria 'issue' (even Interventionist Ditz came across the 'story', so you may be familiar).

    From the Chicago Tribune:


    Kamal Hamami, a member of the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, known by his nom de guerre Abu Bassel al-Ladkani, was meeting with members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the port city of Latakia when they killed him, Qassem Saadeddine, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, told Reuters.

    "The Islamic State phoned me saying that they killed Abu Bassel and that they will kill all of the Supreme Military Council," Saadeddine said from Syria.

    "He met them to discuss battle plans," Saadeddine added.



    So…to sum up: according to a Mr. Qassem Saadeddine–who is identified as "a Free Syrian Army spokesman"–a Mr. Kamal Hamami of the so-called "Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council" was on his way to meet with "the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (aka Al Qaeda in Iraq) in order "to discuss battle plans" with them. At some point during Mr. Kamal Hamami's journey he was shot and killed.

    Q: Does Obama think it's "okay" for US citizens to 'conspire' with al Qaeda in any way, shape, or form? If not, why is it okay for senior members of Obama's so-called "Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council"–which the US has been 'openly' 'aiding'–to collaborate and even discuss and coordinated "battle plans" with Al Qaeda?

    Q: Is it okay (in conformity with US "law") for US citizens to directly 'aid' Al Qaeda or groups directly affiliated, or 'indirectly' affiliated for that matter, with Al Qaeda? If not, why is Obama allowed to do this?

    It's important to note this information is not coming for a second, or third, hand account here…as, according to Reuters, this information is strait from "a Free Syrian Army spokesman" Mr. Qassem Saadeddine.

    PS. This is hardly "secret"…Obama says time and time again his policy has been to provide 'material support and assistance' ti these people–yes…including and even specifically what is now called the "Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council"–since the very beginning.. Some, in fact many, for what reason(s) seem compelled to either ignore and/or disbelieve Obama's own public admissions to this.

    Obama is doing this because 'he can'–as Former President Bill Clinton would put it…and it's all more or less all out in the open. Since this is all out in the open, no one can really accuse Mr. Obama of "lying" or being 'secretive' per se (deceptive, yes…secretive, no)… People seem to want to ignore this and/or sweep it under the rug… It's beyond absurd at this point.

  3. OPEX want no Muslims in Arabia or for Khelafah Rasheda UE NOW that shall come . U$kingz are killing sysbicco for Super israel…why Hijazi Nass are not revolting?!.

  4. Mr. Obama never "risked" the international laws by arming the rebels in Syria, Hillary Clinton and entire Obama administration is, has and have braking every law there is when they started the idea to start the Syrian war by helping the Saudis Wahhabis, Salafis the UAE and other barbarians brought in by the gulf tyrants. Obama is braking every and all international laws with his surveillance apparatus spying on the world disrespecting the USA constitutions.

    Back in 1990s the world was introduced to Neo Fascism policies by Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright, the second phase of Neo Fascism was introduced by George W. Bush when USA and EU militarism regimes invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, the world is still on the second phase of such idea wanting to militarize the entire world, look for the third phase of this Neo Fascism to be established by USA and EU militarism soon. What they are doing in comparison to what they are going to do is nothing.

  5. [...] Obama Lawyers Said Arming Syrian Rebels Would Be Illegal [...]

  6. Ahem…since when does the issue of "legal" vs. "illegal" become relevant when it comes to the USG? As pointed out, if the USG perceives it to be in their best interest, they'll do it every time.

  7. Whatever the real objection may be, it sure as hell isn't concerns over legality.

  8. As Henry Kissinger, someone Obama looks up to, said, "The illegal we do right away. The unconstitutional just takes a little longer."

  9. We should also always note that Obama is very much a part of the Military Industrial Realpolitik apparatus, and is engaged in the Great Game to control the world and its resources. He wants to make a client state of Syria to weaken Iran, with the eventual goal being to take back control of Iran that the US aggressively took in 53 then lost in the 79 ousting of the dictator it installed.

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  12. [...] FULL ARTICLE @ ANTIWAR [...]

  13. [...] a coup is now a good thing?  These are the values the State Dept and White House want to espouse? John Glazer (Antiwar.com) notes reports that US President Barack Obama was warned against arming the so-called ‘rebels’ [...]

  14. [...] a coup is now a good thing?  These are the values the State Dept and White House want to espouse?John Glazer (Antiwar.com) notes reports that US President Barack Obama was warned against arming the so-called [...]

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