The official report to Congress of the military action in Syria, as required by law when a president takes unilateral military action, is finally available for public view. In it the president cites the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148) as his authority for taking this action.
After reading the resolution cited, I do not believe this action – bombing property in a sovereign nation not currently at war with the United States – is covered. The three tests for a president to take action are: 1) after declaration of war, 2) specific statutory authorization, or 3) a national emergency created by attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. I do not believe any of these apply in this case.
While the use of poison gas is never justifiable, this military action response is, in my view, not constitutional and also may violate international law. It certainly violates the U. N. Charter.
An early review of the legality of this action written by Marty Lederman on his blog dated April 6, 2017 (and posted just a couple of hours after the incident itself) is a useful analysis of the legalities in this instance. The nuances discussed in his post are quite interesting, as he cites other colleagues and their points of view, including Harold Koh, who believes there is now a “customary exception” to the U. N. Charter provision for humanitarian reasons.
At this point, I am not persuaded the military actions in Syria ordered by POTUS 45 are legal. If they are acceptable, we are in grave danger for yet another war to erupt.
Presidential Memorandum dated April 8, 2017