Rep. Ackerman Defends Iran Sanctions Measure, But Critics Call it An Act of War by Jason Leopold / July 23rd, 2008
Two weeks ago, Rep. Gary
Ackerman, the Democrat from
Since May, when the
resolution was introduced, 247 members of Congress have signed on as
co-sponsors, including numerous Democrats who are staunch critics of the Bush
The non-binding resolution,
H. Con. Res 362, was introduced just days before the
annual American Israel Public Affairs policy meeting in which
Progressive activists and policy
analysts have criticized Ackerman and many of his Democratic colleagues
claiming they have adopted a hawkish stance against
"Democrats are talking
But she said that sort of political posturing could backfire.
could provide political cover if this administration decides to take action
The United Nations has
imposed three sets of sanctions against
They are responding to the impasse with several resolutions and bills intended to pressure the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear activities.
The most notable of the measures currently working its way through Congress is H. Con. Res 362 introduced in May by Ackerman.
Critics of the resolution
say it's tantamount to declaring an act of war against
H. Con. Res. 362 "demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program."
Indeed, two weeks ago, three retired military officials urged Congress to abandon its support for H. Con Res 362 stating that the measure is "poorly conceived, poorly timed, and potentially dangerous."
"The language demanding the President initiate an international effort "prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran," is of particular concern because despite the protestations of its sponsors, we believe that implementation of inspections of this nature could not be accomplished without a blockade or the use of force," said the July 10 letter signed by U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, and U.S. Army Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr., currently the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
They added that Ackerman and his Republican co-sponsor, Congressman Mike Pence, R-Ind., had drafted the resolution in such a way that "immense military resources would be required to implement such inspections of cargo moving through the seas, on the ground, and in the air."
community has shown no willingness to join in such an activity. Without a
Security Council Resolution, implementation of these measures could be
construed as an act of war," their letter said. "Implementation of
measures called for in the resolution could complicate our operations in
Ackerman, in a July 9 statement during a meeting of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said, "assertions that the resolution constitutes a declaration of war are just absurd."
"It is with puzzlement that I find that some have described a non- binding resolution that I have introduced, along with Mr. Pence and cosponsored by a majority of the House… as a resolution declaring war and calling for a naval blockade," Ackerman said. "Nothing could be further from the truth or my intent."
"As my colleagues know,
[the resolution] doesn't get presented to the President, and it doesn't get
signed, and it thus does not either become law or have
the force of law. It's the sense of Congress. The final
whereas clause of the resolution states as explicitly as the English language
will allow, `Whereas nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an
authorization of the use of force against
Res. 362 is to insert them by the amending power of imagination alone."
But the retired military
officials said the resolution does not have to include clear-cut language
declaring war against
"The sponsors argue that H. Con. Res. 362 as a concurrent resolution does not have the force of law, which is true, but it clearly risks sending a message to the Iranians, the Bush Administration, and the world that Congress supports a more belligerent policy toward, and, potentially, belligerent actions against, Iran," the letter signed by the retires military officials says.
Implementation and Interpretation
Ong said she queried several international and constitutional lawyers to get their interpretation on Ackerman's resolution. She said the responses she received were mixed, but all agreed that comes down to how the resolution would be interpreted and implemented.
international attorney told Ong "it is difficult
to see how ships `entering'
"Here the concurrent resolution is asking the President to do something which cannot possibly be done effectively without the use of force while disclaiming that it authorizes the use of force. Nice try, but no cigar," the international attorney told Ong, according to a copy of their exchange Ong posted on her blog, Iran Nuclear Watch.
"The same thing goes for the sanctions called for in Clause 2, i.e.
they would constitute violations
of the international law if applied unilaterally by the
It would merely require an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act," the lawyer said, according to Ong.
Fanning the Flames
Lawrence Wilkerson, the
chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, agreed. He said
Ackerman's resolution would only lead to further conflict with
In an interview June 7 with
the Real News Network, Wilkerson said, "
militarily, every way you want to measure hegemony,
Ong, the Iran policy analyst, said that one of the troubling aspects of Ackerman's resolution is that it "cherry-picked" the findings of the November 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and the International Atomic Energy Agency to make the case that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
The resolution states as fact that "the IAEA has confirmed such illicit covert nuclear activities as the importation of uranium hexafluoride, construction of a uranium enrichment facility, experimentation with plutonium, importation of centrifuge technology, construction of centrifuges, and importation of designs to convert highly enriched uranium gas into metal and shape it into the core of a nuclear weapon; Iran continues to expand the number of centrifuges at its enrichment facility, as made evident by its announced intention to begin installation of 6,000 advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, in defiance of binding United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding Iran suspend enrichment activities; The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reported that Iran was secretly working on the design and manufacture of a nuclear warhead until at least 2003, but that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009."
The NIE concluded that
Moreover, Ackerman's resolution does not cite of a key finding in the NIE, which said "Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might — if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.
The resolution also ignores
the findings of IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei, who
has consistently said there is no evidence to support claims that
H. Con. Res. 362 fails to
reflect a key finding of the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on
IAEA Report Not Reviewed
Scott Ritter, the former
United Nations chief weapons inspector in
Ritter said lawmakers have not thoroughly reviewed the report's findings.
"We have a situation
where the IAEA has published several technical reports all of which state there
is no evidence
The data that's been provided to the IAEA has derived from a laptop computer which even the IAEA claims is of questionable providence."
Ritter said that because the
"The IAEA can't go to
You have to read the small print.
"The IAEA acknowledges
that what it's asking
"This is purely CIA instigated tripe. When we get down to the nuts and bolts of the technical question of Iran's uranium enrichment program and whether or not there's any infrastructure in Iran that supports a nuclear weapons program and the IAEA technical find says there is none," Ritter said.
Language Under Scrutiny
Ambassador William H. Luers, president of the United Nations Association of the
Res. 362 stating that while
his organization "recognizes" that
House Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, said the concerns of policy analysts
have led him to take the position that the resolution won't move through his
committee until the language is changed so as not to be construed as
authorizing a military strike against
But the resolution may not be marked up in Berman's committee if it gains enough co-sponsors. In that scenario, the resolution would go directly to the floor for a vote, likely on suspension, meaning no amendments and it has two-thirds of members of Congress co- sponsoring.
However, some congressional aides have indicated that is unlikely to happen prior to the August recess.
Wexler Withdraws Support
Still, Ong said the widespread support for H. Con Res 362 leads her to believe that it's unlikely "the bill's co-sponsors really know what they've signed onto."
"I don't believe most members of Congress read the language of the resolution," Ong said. "If they did they would have realized that it's sloppily written."
Congressman Robert Wexler, D-Fla., appears to have been one of the lawmakers who fit that description.
Wexler's support for a
resolution seen as leading to increased tensions with
Moreover, Wexler had been
the first Representative to sign on as a co-sponsor to Ohio Democrat Dennis
Kucinich's articles of impeachment against President Bush. Earlier this year,
Wexler called for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney for using bogus
intelligence to win support for a war against
On July 9, however, the same day Ackerman took to the House floor to defend H. Con. Res. 362, Wexler suddenly changed his position on the resolution.
"Over the past several weeks, there has been a growing debate in Congress, the blogosphere and throughout the media about a controversial non-binding resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 362), which expresses the sense of Congress regarding the threat Iran's nuclear pursuit poses to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States," Wexler wrote in a column published in The Huffington Post.
"In the coming weeks, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I am a member, may vote on House Concurrent Resolution 362.
Given my growing concerns regarding this resolution, including its failure to advocate for direct American engagement with Tehran and open language that could lead to a US blockade of Iran, I will lead an effort to make changes to this resolution before it comes to the Foreign Affairs committee for a vote. Despite being a cosponsor of this resolution — these changes will ultimately determine whether or not I will continue to support H. Con. Res. 362.
"My rationale for originally supporting H. Con. Res. 362 . . . was to urge the Bush administration to pursue a policy to place additional economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran as part of an international endeavor to prevent Tehran from moving forward on its nuclear program," Wexler wrote. "It is clear that despite carefully worded language in H. Con. Res. 362 that "nothing in this resolution should be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran" that many Americans across the country continue to express real concerns that sections of this resolution will be interpreted by President Bush as "a green light" to use force against Iran.
"To that end, I am not willing to leave even the "slightest crack"
open for this president to
unilaterally set this nation down another disastrous path of war in
Act of War
a professor of Economics at the
362 could also roil oil markets and lead to sky-high gasoline prices.
"By recommending a
naval blockade in the Persian Gulf, Congress could likely be responsible for
oil prices approaching $200 a barrel, which translates to nearly $7.50 a gallon
of gas," Bina and Gardiner wrote in a July 5
Op-Ed published in the ultra conservative Washington Times. "If [Congress
passes] this resolution, [it] will make a bad situation worse not only for the
American economy, but also for stability in
The authors added that Ackerman and other lawmakers who are backing the resolution claim sanctions and diplomacy have failed and "the naval blockade is the next step short of war."
"They are wrong on both
counts: Proper diplomacy — direct talks between the
Jason Leopold is an investigative reporter and a two-time winner of the Project Censored award. He is the author of the National Bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir, and he has launched a new online investigative news magazine