NEWS
06/01/2020 10:46 GMT | Updated 06/01/2020 12:44 GMT

Trump's Latest 'Unhinged' Tweet On Iran Floats Possibility Of Illegal Military Action

Explained: How the president's tweet threatens to break four laws.

Donald Trump has been accused of acting like a “dictator” and threatening to break a number of US and international laws after he used his personal Twitter account to notify Congress of possible retaliation against Iran.

In a tweet posted on Sunday evening, the president warned he would “strike back” against the country including in “a disproportionate manner” – action that is prohibited under international law.

Trump also appeared to flout the War Powers Act of 1973 which is designed to check the president’s ability to commit the US to armed conflict or escalate actions without consulting lawmakers.

The post threatened to dramatically escalate an already tense international crisis after the unprecedented assassination last week of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking military official.

Trump said: “These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.

He added: “Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!”

The declaration prompted a huge response including from a number of legal scholars. Professor Oona Hathaway from Yale Law School outlined four ways the president was “threaten[ing] to break several laws”, not least that Congress cannot be notified via Twitter.

Hathaway also said Trump is required to give legal notice and is obliged to consult with Congress when committing US forces to, or escalating an armed conflict.

The fourth point relates to international law which dictates any military response to an attack must be proportionate.

As well as threatening to directly contravene this in his tweet, Trump has already said he could hit dozens of historically and culturally important sites in Iran in what could amount to war crimes.

Speaking to reporters as he flew back to Washington from his holiday stay in Florida on Sunday he doubled down on the threat, despite international prohibitions.

“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” he said.

Responding to Trump on Twitter, the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee warned him to “read the War Powers Act” and reminded him he is “not a dictator”.

Those around Trump appeared to take a more measured approach. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo defended the strike which killed Soleimani and said any further strikes inside Iran would be legal.

“We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said. “We always have and we always will.”

The latest developments

Inside Iran

The man who has replaced general Qassem Soleimani has vowed to take revenge.

Esmail Ghaani made the threat on Iranian state media, saying: “God the almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken.”

Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Iranians thronged the streets of Tehran on Monday for the funeral of Soleimani and his daughter said his death would bring a “dark day” for the United States.

Adding to tensions, Iran said it was taking another step back from commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, a pact from which the United States withdrew in 2018.

Iraq

Iraq, the scene of the airstrike in which Soleimani was killed, has called for US and other foreign troops to leave the country. Around 5,000 US troops are stationed there assisting the war against the Islamic State group.

The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for an end to all foreign troop presence, reflecting the fears of many in the country that Friday’s strike could engulf them in another war between two bigger powers long at odds in Iraq and across the region.

Iran and the United States have been competing for clout in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

In response, Trump threatened sanctions against Iraq and said that if US troops were required to leave the country, Iraq’s government would have to pay Washington for the cost of a “very extraordinarily expensive” air base there.

He added: “We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

Iraq was subject to harsh sanctions in the 1990s during which time half a million children died.

The White House

Trump has returned to the White House after his 17-day holiday in Florida. He is facing growing questions from Democrats fearful that the killing of Soleimani endangered Americans in the region and may have been an effort to distract from the president’s political crisis back home.

“Next week, the president of the United States could be facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. We know he’s deeply upset about that. And I think people are reasonably asking: ‘Why this moment?’” Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for president, said on CNN’s State of the Union.

The Massachusetts senator added: “Why does he pick now to take this highly inflammatory, highly dangerous action that moves us closer to war?”

Downing Street 

Prime minister Boris Johnson and his French and German counterparts, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, have called for all sides to work towards an urgent easing of tensions in the Persian Gulf, PA Media reports. 

The three leaders released a statement saying that, while they were concerned by the “negative” role Iran has played in the region – including through forces directed by General Qassem Soleimani, whose killing by the United States last Friday sparked the crisis – there was now “an urgent need for de-escalation”.

“We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped,” the joint statement, released late on Sunday night, said.

Some 400 UK troops are stationed in Iraq in the fight against IS, while the US has 5,200, prompting fears of a withdrawal that could cripple the battle against the terror group.