A Tomahawk missile launches from a U.S. Navy vessel in this undated photo. (U.S. Navy)

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Consortiumnews. With 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, each armed with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, Donald Trump went from scoundrel-in-chief to national hero, virtually overnight. The corporate media, the neoconservatives and most of Congress hailed Trump as strong and presidential for lobbing bombs into Syria, reportedly killing seven civilians and wounding nine. “The instant elevation of Trump into a serious and respected war leader was palpable,” wrote Glenn Greenwald. This sends Trump a frightening message: Bombing makes you popular. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The use of chemical weapons is illegal, immoral and intolerable. If it was an intentional attack, it constitutes a war crime. Anyone responsible for the horrific April 4 events in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed over 80 people, including at least 20 women and 30 children, should be brought to justice. But Trump’s bombing of Syria, a sovereign nation, was illegal, under both U.S. and international law. Trump and the prevailing U.S. national discourse rushed to judgment about who was responsible for the chemical attack – the Syrian government. An investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, was ongoing when Trump launched his missiles into Syria two days after the incident. The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission was already “in the process of gathering and analysing information from all available sources.” As former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter pointed out, “chemical attacks had been occurring inside Syria on a regular basis . . . with some being attributed to the Syrian government (something the Syrian government vehemently denies), and the majority being attributed to the anti-regime fighters, in particular those affiliated with Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.” The Assad government has denied responsibility for the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, and some U.S. experts are also skeptical of the Trump administration’s supposed certainty that the Syrian military was responsible. Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and director of the Council for the National Interest, stated on the Scott Horton show that “military and intelligence personnel” in the Middle East, who are “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, call the allegation that Assad or Russia carried out the attack a “sham.” Giraldi said the intelligence confirms the Russian account, “which is that they [attacking aircraft] hit a warehouse where al-Qaeda rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties.” Moreover, Giraldi noted, “Assad had no motive for doing this.” Journalist Robert Parry concurs: “Assad’s military had gained a decisive advantage over the rebels and he had just scored a major diplomatic victory with the Trump administration’s announcement that the U.S. was no longer seeking ‘regime change’ in Syria. The savvy Assad would know that a chemical weapon attack now would likely result in U.S. retaliation and jeopardize the gains that his military had achieved with Russian and Iranian help.” Regardless of who is responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun chemical deaths, however, Trump’s response violated both U.S. and international law. Trump’s Missile Attack Was Illegal Two days after Trump’s bombing occurred, the President sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them of his attack on Syria. The War Powers Resolution, passed in the wake of the Vietnam War, requires that the President report to Congress within 60 days of initiating the use of military force. The resolution, however, allows the President to introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities in only three situations: First, after Congress has declared war, which has not happened in this case; second, in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” which has not occurred; third, when there is “specific statutory authorization,” which there is not. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) authorized the President to use force only against those groups and countries that had supported the 9/11 attacks. The bombing in Syria was not authorized by any other act of Congress. Thus, Trump’s missile attack violated the War Powers Resolution. Regarding international law, the United Nations Charter prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are only two exceptions: when conducted in self-defense after an armed attack, or with the approval of the Security Council. Syria had not attacked the United States or any other country before Trump ordered the missile strike. “The use of chemical weapons within Syria is not an armed attack on the United States,” said Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell. And the Security Council had not approved Trump’s attack. It therefore violated the Charter. In fact, under the U.N. Charter, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have a valid self-defense claim since the U.S. initiated an armed attack on Syria. So, Trump committed an illegal act of aggression against Syria when he lobbed his missiles. According to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3314, an “act of aggression” is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter. As stated above, Trump’s attack constituted an unlawful use of force under the Charter. Moreover, treaties the United States has ratified, including the Charter, are part of domestic U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. That means a violation of the Charter also violates U.S. law. In his report to Congress, Trump wrote that he directed the attack to avert “a worsening of the region’s current humanitarian crisis.” So-called “humanitarian intervention” is not a settled norm of international law. As stated above, to be lawful, military force can only be conducted in self-defense or with the blessing of the Security Council. Neither was present in this case.
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