Senate panel approves Libya resolution

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel voted Tuesday to give President Barack Obama limited authority to continue the U.S. military operation against Libya, exposing deep divisions in Congress over the commander in chief’s actions.

Just three days after the House overwhelmingly rejected a similar step, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed a resolution to authorize the effort against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces for one year while prohibiting U.S. ground troops in Libya. The vote was 14-5 and muddled the message emerging from Congress about the American role in the NATO-led operation.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the panel’s chairman, said the bottom-line question three months into the conflict and with Gadhafi “bunkered down in Tripoli” and facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court is: “Do we want to stop the operation?”

He called passage of the resolution a critical step that would send a message around the world.

The full Senate is expected to consider the resolution the week of July 11.

The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, opposed the measure, arguing that with the U.S. at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation’s debt in the trillions of dollars and no vital interests in Libya, “I do not believe that we should be intervening in a civil war there.”

The panel’s action followed testimony by Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, who said Obama acted legally in ordering U.S. military action against Libya because the conflict is neither a war nor full-blown hostilities.

Koh also warned that abandoning the mission now would undermine U.S. relationships with allies and “permit an emboldened and vengeful Moammar Gafhafi to return to attacking” Libyan civilians.

Koh faced Republicans and Democrats who challenged his assertion that air strikes and drone attacks on Gadhafi’s forces do not constitute hostile action.

Lawyers from the Pentagon and Justice Department declined the panel’s invitation to testify.

“The fact that we are leaving most of the shooting to other countries does not mean that the United States is not involved in acts of war,” Lugar said. “If the United States encountered persons performing similar activities in support of al-Qaida or Taliban operations, we certainly would deem them to be participating in hostilities against us.”

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a decorated Vietnam War veteran, questioned the administration’s “narrow and contorted definition of hostilities,” adding that an operation that lasts for months, costs millions of dollars and involves combat pay for troops offshore amounts to hostilities.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called it a “cute argument” that has undermined the administration.

Obama angered lawmakers by ordering air attacks on March 19 and then failed to seek congressional approval for the action within 60 days, as established by the 1973 War Powers Resolution, or end the operation. In a report to Congress earlier this month, the administration said Libya does not amount to full-blown hostilities and congressional consent is unnecessary, further incensing members of Congress.


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