January 31, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MONTPELIER — State Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, on Tuesday filed legislation challenging the federal government’s ongoing authority to call up National Guard troops to serve in Iraq, while urging Gov. James Douglas to bring home Vermont Guard soldiers now serving in that part of the Middle East.
Fisher discussed his bill with the Addison Independent on Monday and reiterated his plans at a news conference in Montpelier on Tuesday. Surrounded by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Putney, and a dozen other lawmakers, Fisher argued that the 2002 federal authorization to call up the state National Guard had expired.
He added he believes the authority granted by the Congress to use military force was based on two specific purposes: to defend the national security based on a perceived threat from Iraq; and to enforce relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions against Iraq.
Fisher argued that Iraq no longer poses a direct threat to the U.S., given the fact that Saddam Hussein is now out of the picture and a new government has been elected. He added the changed conditions in Iraq mean that enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions has now become a moot point.
“Congress gave the authority in 2002 for a specific mission in Iraq,” Fisher said. “That mission does not exist today.”
All of this means that Congress must authorize a new mission in order to legally keep National Guard troops in Iraq, or control of those Guard troops must revert back to state control, according to Fisher.
Since Fisher believes control has legally reverted back to the state, he is calling upon Douglas, in his role as chief of the Vermont National Guard, to “take all necessary steps” to bring Vermont Guard troops back from Iraq.
Douglas administration spokesman Jason Gibbs said the governor has already checked into the legality of the National Guard troop deployments and is satisfied that President George W. Bush continues to have the authority to send those soldiers to Iraq.
“At the governor’s request, we had attorneys look at this issue several years ago when the war first began,” Gibbs said. “It was clear then, and remains clear today, that there is no legal basis for stopping the federalization of the National Guard when the United States Congress has authority and continues to fund a war.
“The issue has been adjudicated in federal courts and it has been determined that when Congress has authorized and funded a military action at the national level, the commander in chief has the Constitutional authority to federalize state militias (the National Guard),” said Gibbs, who said Vermont lawmakers might find Congress a more appropriate forum for a resolution pleading their case.
Douglas, according to Gibbs, believes the Legislature’s time would be better served this session boosting the state’s economy, health care system, and affordable housing stock.
Fisher rejected the notion that Vermont and other states do not have a case. He noted that lawmaker in legislatures in Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are working on introducing similar National Guard legislation. Legislators in six other states, most notably Maryland and Wisconsin, may soon follow suit, according to supporters of the Vermont bill.
“It’s clear the governor’s legal staff hasn’t taken a look at this (issue) in some time,” Fisher said. “I would welcome the opportunity to have an honest discussion on this issue and our bill. If (the Douglas administration) did take a closer look, it would recognize there is an important role for the governor today.”
This is not the first time Fisher has drawn public attention to the conflict in Iraq. In 2003, he gathered the signatures of more than 80 fellow lawmakers on a letter that at the time urged the Bush administration to exhaust all available diplomatic efforts before going to war with Iraq.
Fisher said his bill — which will likely be taken up first in the House Judiciary Committee — is intended to raise the dialogue on the Iraq War, an issue that joins the economy as hot-button issues of the day.
“This is not, on the face of it, an ‘anti Iraq War bill,’” Fisher said. “It is a ‘follow-the-laws-governing-the-Guard bill.’
“I want to make sure the top of the chain of command is proper and legal,” he added. “I think that’s the least we can do, to make sure the laws and being followed.”