Cheney's Statements on Justification of War Must Be Challenged
t r u t h o u t | Letter

Wednesday 27 September 2006

Faxed to all members of Congress.

On September 10th, in a televised interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Vice President Dick Cheney stated with little ambiguity that we would have invaded Iraq in 2003 even if we knew that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction. This statement by our nation's vice president repudiates the legal and moral principle of non-aggression which has been accepted by the international community and has won the United States international trust and respect. This repudiation must not go unnoticed or unchallenged by Congress and the American people.

Of the many findings of "fact" in the Joint Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, the key finding was that Iraq was producing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and had both the capability and intent to use them in short order. Under the principles of international law that we helped design, and to which we have committed ourselves, only a perception of imminent armed attack justified our first use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq in 2003.

Congress must clarify to the administration and to the American people that Congress would not have supported an invasion of Iraq in the absence of the intelligence reports and administration assurances that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction posing a threat of imminent attack to us and our allies. In addition, it is vital that Congress demand that the president correct, or repudiate, the recent remarks made by Vice President Cheney.

In the aftermath of the death and economic devastation of World Wars I and II, the United States led the world in the development of an international legal framework condemning non-defensive acts of war. This was codified and ratified by all major powers in the United Nations Charter, and explicitly accepted as binding by all members of the United Nations (now including virtually every nation in the world). Regardless of other concerns we have had about the UN over the ensuing years, this aspect of international law codified particularly in Articles 2 and 51 of the UN Charter has often been re-affirmed and never repudiated by the United States.

For over half a century our government has recognized that this legal framework serves our long-term interests and faithfully reflects the moral stance of the American people. The American people do not approve of war as an instrument of foreign policy, but only as a justified and necessary response to forceful attacks upon us or our allies. Even when the case was not clear, in certain conflicts, our government has at least formally supported the international legal framework of the UN Charter.

In 2003, the Bush administration assured Congress and the American people that there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Many in our military, intelligence, and diplomatic communities still had doubts. Many in Congress expressed concerns, but in the end a majority decided to authorize the president to respond to the immediate threat his administration described.

Alternative justifications offered by Vice President Cheney during the recent interview are clearly legally insufficient for military action. A capability to produce weapons of mass destruction in the future, the use of weapons of mass destruction in the past, crimes against the people of Iraq, possible connections with terrorist organizations - all of these qualify as grievances which the United States might bring against Iraq in the United Nations, as we did, but do not constitute grounds for the first use of force without UN approval.

In particular, the justification offered by Cheney that Iraq would have become a threat in the future is exactly the kind of argument that the international legal principles are designed to inhibit. Any nation might perceive another nation as a future threat. Germany perceived France and Russia as threats in 1914. Japan perceived the United States as a threat in 1941. North Korea and Iran view the United States as a threat today, particularly after our invasion of Iraq. China could view Taiwan or the United States as a future threat. A non-imminent future threat justifies preparedness, diplomacy, changes in policy, and appeals for UN action, but does not justify military force.

Vice President Cheney's statement that we would have invaded Iraq even if we knew they had no weapons of mass destruction is a repudiation of what we have repeatedly avowed for more than fifty years: that we shall not attack another nation in the absence of an attack or truly imminent attack on us or our allies, unless it is done under the authority of international law and/or the direction of the United Nations, e.g. in response to a humanitarian crisis. We cannot allow Cheney's repudiation to stand, even if it was made extemporaneously and unofficially. Congress and the president must provide a clear statement that Vice President Dick Cheney's remarks do not represent US policy and that we remain committed to a policy of non-aggression.


Organizational affiliations are listed only for identification purposes. Signatories are acting in their individual capacity and not in representation.

Please see for additional signers.

Joe W. (Chip) Pitts III
Lecturer in Law, Stanford University

Dr. Susan Ariel Aaronson
Trade and Economic Policy Analyst; Author

William J. Aceves
Professor of Law
and Director of International Studies,
California Western School of Law

Janet Cooper Alexander
Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law
Stanford Law School

Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im
Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law
Emory University School of Law

Samuel R. Berger
Chairman, Stonebridge International LLC
Fmr. National Security Advisor

Bartram S. Brown
Professor of Law
Co-Director, Program on International and Comparative Law
Chicago-Kent College of Law
Illinois Institute of Technology

Douglass Cassel
Lilly Endowment Professor of Law
Notre Dame Law School

Marie Isabelle Chevrier
Associate Professor of Political Economy and Public Policy
University of Texas at Dallas

Bryan Long
Social Systems Philosopher

Roger S. Clark
Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers-Camden School of Law

Gen. Wesley Clark
Fmr. NATO Supreme Allied Commander
Distinguished Sr. Advisor,
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Trustee, Center for American Progress

Sarah H. Cleveland
Marrs McLean Professor in Law
University of Texas School of Law

Joshua Cohen
Professor of Political Science, Philosophy, and Law Stanford University Director,
Program on Global Justice
Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford

Anthony D'Amato
Leighton Professor of Law
Northwestern University

Mohamed Elibiary
President & CEO
Freedom and Justice Foundation

Richard Falk
Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus
Princeton University

Martin Flaherty
Co-Director, Crowley Program in International Human Rights
Leitner Family Professor of International Human Rights
Fordham Law School

Gregory Fox
Professor of Law
Wayne State University Law School

William B. Gould
Beardsley Emeritus Professor
Stanford University Law School
Former Chairman, US National Labor Relations Board

Morton H. Halperin
Director of US Advocacy, Open Society Institute
Executive Director, Open Society Policy Center
Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Lynne Henderson
Professor of Law
William S. Boyd School of Law
University of Nevada Las Vegas

Paul Hoffman
Schonbrun, De Simone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman LLP
Human Rights/Civil Liberties Lawyer

Jennifer S. Holmes,
Associate Professor of Political Economy and Political Science
School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences
University of Texas at Dallas

Scott Horton
Adjunct Professor, Columbia Law School
Committee on International Law,
Assn. of the Bar of the City of New York

Derek Jinks
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Texas School of Law

Robert O. Keohane
Professor of International Affairs
Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton University

Frank Kendall III
Former Vice Chairman,
Defense Intelligence Agency Advisory Board
Former Director, Tactical Warfare Programs
Office of the Secretary of Defense

Anatol Lieven
Senior Research Fellow
New America Foundation

Princeton Lyman
Adjunct Senior Fellow
Council on Foreign Relations

Thomas Wm. Mayo
Director, Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility
Associate Professor, SMU/Dedman School of Law
Adjunct Assoc. Prof., Internal Medicine
UT-Southwestern Medical School

Francisco Forrest Martin
President, Rights International
The Center for International Human Rights Law, Inc.

Ray McGovern
Retired CIA Analyst
Political Policy Analyst and Commentator

Julie Mertus
Associate Professor and Co-Director of Ethics, Peace and Global Affairs Program,
American University
2006 Senior Fulbright Fellow, Danish Institute of Human Rights

Mary Ellen O'Connell
Robert and Marion Short Chair in Law
Notre Dame Law School

John Quigley
President's Club Professor in Law
Moritz College of Law
The Ohio State University

Henry J. Richardson III
Professor of Law, Beasley School of Law
Temple University

Michael P. Scharf
Professor of Law and Director
Frederick K. Cox International Law Center
Case Western Reserve University
School of Law

Thomas C. Shelling
Distinguished University Professor
University of Maryland
Nobel Laureate 2005

Barbara Stark
Professor of Law
Hofstra University School of Law

Beth Stephens
Professor of Law
Rutgers-Camden School of Law

Ralph Steinhardt
Professor of Law and International Affairs
Arthur Selwyn Miller Research Professor of Law
George Washington University School of Law

Andrew Strauss
Professor of Law
Widener University School of Law

Nancy Talanian
Executive Director, Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Connie de la Vega
Professor of Law and Academic Director of International Programs
University of San Francisco School of Law

Jon M. Van Dyke
Professor of Law, William S. Richardson School of Law
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Allen Weiner
Warren Christopher Professor of the Practice of Law and Diplomacy
Stanford University

David Weissbrodt
Professor of Law
University of Minnesota

Burns H. Weston
Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and Interim Director/Senior
Scholar, UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR)
Vermont Law School Visiting Distinguished Professor of International Law & Policy
College of Law
The University of Iowa

Mort Winston
Professor of Philosophy
The College of New Jersey

Timothy Wu
Professor of Law
Columbia Law School