Washington (CNN)The Trump administration has repeatedly insisted that its decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was justified because he posed an “imminent threat” to American lives, but that phrase was notably absent in an official White House report sent to Congress that outlines the legal and policy rationale for conducting last month’s strike.
A copy of the report — released by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel Friday — is an unclassified version of what is called a 1264 notification, which the White House is required to send to Congress if it changes its view on the legal framework for using military force.
In this case, the notice not only outlines the administration’s legal justification for killing Soleimani, but acknowledges that the White House expanded its interpretation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force to include military action against Iran.
“Iran’s past and recent activities, coupled with intelligence at the time of the air strike, indicated that Iran’s Qods Force posed a threat to the United States in Iraq, and the air strike against Soleimani was intended to protect United States personnel and deter future Iranian attack plans,” the report reads.
It argues that the airstrike is consistent with longstanding interpretation of the President’s authority under Article II of the Constitution and the 2002 AUMF, as the use of military force was “tailored narrowly to the Qods Force target’s presence in Iraq and support to … Iraqi militias that attacked US personnel.”
The administration suggests that the notice itself reflects a change “in application” of existing legal and policy frameworks, but, “it obviously reflects a significant change in the executive branch’s view of its legal authority to strike Iran,” according to Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security.
“It is very different from the Obama report, and it is very different from what senior US officials told Congress in 2019,” he added.
State Department officials repeatedly assured lawmakers last year that “the administration has not, to date, interpreted either the 2001 or 2002 AUMF as authorizing military force against Iran, except as may be necessary to defend US or partner forces as they pursue missions authorized under either AUMF.”
The administration’s claims prompted a sharp rebuke from Engel who called their legal theory “absurd,” their explanation “spurious” and said he looks forward to questioning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the matter during his expected testimony on February 28.
“This official report directly contradicts the President’s false assertion that he attacked Iran to prevent an imminent attack against t