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The history of CIA activities since the enactment of the
National Security Act of 1947, illustrates that a fundamental
conflict exists between what has become known as the national
security state and the rule of law. For it is a basic premise underlying the activities of the CIA and National Security apparatus that obedience to law must yield to the national security interests as perceived by the Executive. As former President Nixon explained in a 1977 interview: "If the President
approves something, approves an action because of national security, then the President's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out to carry it out without violating a law..2 Ten years later, Oliver North returned to a similar theme, violations of law are justified by national security interests. The Iran contragate investigation and report focused on
3 violations of statutes enacted by Congress. Yet, international agreements binding on the United States have also been seriously violated by executive officials in carrying out covert operations in Nicaragua. In 1983, CIA agents authorized and distributed a
manual to the contra forces encouraging the assassination of civilians who supported the Nicaraguan government, in clear
violation of both an executive order and the U.N. Charter and
In 1984, the CIA was responsible for
?Quoted in K. Sharpe, The Real Cause of Irangate, 68 Foreign Policy 19, 35 (1987).
Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, S. Rep. No. 216, H. Rep. No. 433, 100th Cong. 1st Sess, chp. 27 (1987).
mining Nicaraguan harbors, in violation of our treaty obligations under the U.N. Charter, the Charter of the Organization of American States and Treaty of Friendship Commerce and Navigation with Nicaragua. The International Court of Justice virtually unanimously held that both actions violated international law.4 In neither of these cases involving serious violations of our international obligations were the wrongdoers appropriately
The diversion of funds to the contras from July through
October 1986 not only violated the Boland Amendment, it also
violated the judgment of the International Court of Justice in Nicaragua v. United States. We are bound to abide by that judgment, pursuant to Article 94 of the U.N. Charter to which we continue to be a party. During the time period involved, Congress had not authorized activities in violation of the ICJ judgment. Yet that violation received no attention from the investigating committee.
The Executive Branch has consistently disregarded applicable treaty obligations in conducting covert operations. A special Presidential committee in 1954 argued that in combatting communism "There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply..5 President Ford, when asked if the
4case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua Nicaragua v. United States), 25 ILM 1023 (1986).
5s. Rep. No. 755, 94th Cong. 2d Sess. 9 (1977) quoting Hoover commission on government organization.
CIA's "destabilization" of the Allende government in Chile
"I'm not going to pass judgment on
countries involved." This cavalier Executive attitude toward our international obligations is contrary to our constitutional principles. Article VI of the Constitution establishes treaties as the supreme law of
the land. Because the Supreme Court decisions have accorded treaties a status equal to that of acts of Congress,
the President is required to adhere to the law laid down by those
treaties just as he is obliged to obey statutory law.
Supreme Court has held in Cook v. United States that the Executive
8 power is limited by a treaty, a position supported by the
statements of early congressional leaders and statesmen, as well as modern commentators. 9
While the power of the President to terminate a treaty is as yet undecided, the Executive clearly has no unilateral power to amend, modify or breach a treaty. The
Church Committee concluded the Executive Branch's authority to
presidential News Conference 9/16/1974, 10 Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents 1157, 1162.
Whitney v. Robertson, 124 U.S. 190, 194 (1888); The Head Money Cases, 112 U.S. 580, 598 (1884).
cook v. United States, 288 U.S. 102 (1933); United States v. Decker, 600 F.2d 733, 737 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 855 (1979).
see sources collected in Lobel, The Limits of Constitutional Power: Conflicts Between Foreign Policy & International Law, 71 Va. L. Rev. 1071, 1121-29 (1985).
undertake foreign intelligence activities can only be exercised "in accordance with applicable norms of international law..10 Even John Marshall's famous speech proclaiming that the President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, relied on by proponents of broad Executive power, goes on to state that the President is "charged to execute the laws. A treaty is
declared to be a law.
He must then execute a treaty .
Decisions to breach treaty obligations or customary law have the potential to create international strains and repercussions far more serious than routine foreign policy decisions. Separation of powers concerns dictate that even assuming that such actions are constitutionally permissible, they should be subject to the greater scrutiny provided by a decisionmaking process involving both houses of Congress as well as the president.
In the face of continued Executive resistance to the notion
that it is bound to comply with the terms of a treaty as ratified
by the Senate--a resistance recently witnessed in the dispute over the interpretation of ABM Treaty--it is vital that Congress
clearly establish sanctions for violations of treaties.
is a welcome attempt to do just that.
Criminalizing violations of
treaties would hopefully give members of the NSC pause when considering particular courses of action, because they would know
that they could be held personally accountable for their actions.
10s. Rep. No. 755, supra at 33.
11 Report of the Congressional Comm.'s Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, s. Rep. No. 216, H. Rep. No. 433, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. at 390 (1987).
By providing that Executive officials who violate treaties without Congressional sanction are committing crimes, the statute will aid in enforcing both democratic government at home, and a stable and peaceful international order.
There are three potential objections to a statute such as
H.R. 3665 that I would like to address.
The first is that
criminalizing violations of treaties is unconstitutional because international agreements are often very general and subject to different interpretations. That argument is applicable to many statutes as well; even the Boland Amendment was apparently subject to differing interpretations. Moreover, while international agreements are often drafted broadly and are subject to various differing opinions as to their reach, nations generally agree as to a treaty's core meaning. For example, while there is dispute as to the expansiveness of Article 2(4)'s prohibition against the use of force, all nations agree on certain basic principles. To invade another country is clearly prohibited. Such U.S. actions
as the Bay of Pigs invasion, or the Grenada invasion, or mining
the Nicaraguan harbors clearly violate those core principles.
The narrowing of somewhat imprecise and broad principles of international law to a universally agreed upon core is not new in American jurisprudence. In 1819, for instance, when Congress enacted a statute prohibiting piracy "as defined by the Law of Nations," serious questions arose over whether this definition was sufficiently precise to permit prosecutions under the act. Justice Story, writing for the Supreme Court, held that it was,