Clinton administration urges judge to reject anti-war suit

Challenge by lawmakers could jeopardize security in Europe, U.S. argues

May 22, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration warned yesterday that any second-guessing by the U.S. courts about airstrikes in Yugoslavia would risk "ceding victory" to Serbian forces and could put European security "in grave jeopardy."

Even holding a court hearing on a constitutional challenge to the airstrikes, the administration argued in legal papers, could suggest "a lack of U.S. resolve" in the conflict.

Request to dismiss planned

These arguments came as the Justice Department prepared to file a formal request to U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to throw out a lawsuit filed by 26 members of the House.

The lawsuit claims that President Clinton has no authority -- without congressional approval -- to continue the U.S. military role in the Balkans.

The department urged Friedman to take no action on the legal points the House members have raised until the judge decides whether the courts have jurisdiction to consider those points.

Late last night, the department planned to take further steps in court to spell out its claims that the lawmakers have no right to be in court, that a legal review of the U.S. military role is at best premature and that any dispute between Congress and the White House over Kosovo is a political, not a legal, matter.

The administration's anxiously worded predictions of the consequences of a court review came in a statement filed by Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering.

`Steadfast determination'

A move by Friedman toward a ruling on the legality of the U.S. military action, Pickering said, could create confusion "about the future course of United States actions" and could lead Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "to make miscalculations" about "our steadfast determination to stay the course."

And if the judge went ahead and ruled that the United States has a duty to withdraw its forces, Pickering argued, that would be "ceding victory to Milosevic, vindicating ethnic cleansing, and splitting the NATO alliance."

It would also jeopardize the entire Balkan region, the lawsuit said, and mean the abandonment of "hundreds of thousands of displaced persons exposed to continued ethnic cleansing in Kosovo."

Friedman is expected to take action in the case early next week.

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