The Cable

Code Pink stages pro-Gaza rally at State Dept.

Code Pink, the left-wing, anti-war group that made themselves famous by heckling senior officials at committee hearings, took their show on the road to Foggy Bottom on Thursday on behalf of activists planning to launch a flotilla to Gaza.

The American ship Audacity of Hope, part of the Freedom Flotilla II, will depart from Greece with 50 passengers in late June headed for Gaza. In total, the flotilla will include roughly ten boats carrying 1,000 passengers, and will set sail on June 25. They are billing their voyage as a sequel to the Freedom Flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli authorities on its way to Gaza last May in an incident that resulted in nine deaths.

Code Pink staged a small press conference on Thursday morning outside the State Department's C Street entrance that featured speeches by Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who will be a passenger on the flotilla, former CIA analyst and passenger Ray McGovern , activist and flotilla passenger Missy Lane, Palestinian-American lawyer Noura Erekat, and Gazan activist Amer Shurrab.

This year's flotilla occurs in a drastically altered atmosphere as compared to last year's. The Israelis have eased restrictions on some goods and Egypt has opened up the Rafah Crossing. Regardless, the activists at the State Department stressed that the people of Gaza still live under harsh conditions and need international advocacy.

Benjamin, naturally dressed all in pink, said she is hoping that the American presence aboard the flotilla will lessen the risk of a violent encounter with the Israel Defense Forces, and called on the State Department to express its support.

"We, as Americans, who are going on the boat that is a U.S. flag ship, that is carrying U.S. passengers...this is the time for our State Department to come forward and say ‘we recognize our responsibility to U.S. citizens and we will put pressure on the Israeli government to make sure that no harm comes to our citizens,'" she said.

McGovern, who donned an "Audacity of Hope Flotilla" t-shirt and a Palestine rubber bracelet (not exactly the attire he wore for 27 years at the CIA) invoked his time in the U.S. government to argue that the economic situation in Gaza -- a recent UN report said unemployment was near 50% -- was hurting the U.S. effort to combat international terrorism.

"As an intelligence analyst, I'm saying this is a national security problem. It's making the number of terrorists much longer in those long lines to be recruited by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," he said.

This was not McGovern's first encounter with the State Department in his capacity as an activist. He was arrested in February during a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at George Washington University when he silently stood with his back toward her and refused to follow instructions by security officers to sit down. He was dragged screaming out of the auditorium.

The turnout today was low, with only a handful of supporters showing up. The five activists held a poster of the nine flotilla passengers who died as a result of the skirmish on the last flotilla. State Department employees walked past the group of activists without so much as a second glance, in what one sympathetic observer said seemed like a metaphor for the broader apathy toward the situation in Gaza.

Sophia Jones / Foreign Policy

The Cable

SFRC planning hearing on War Powers Resolution and Libya

Congressmen are not happy about the White House's new argument that the Libya intervention doesn't rise to the level of "hostilities" and therefore doesn't come under the jurisdiction of the War Powers Resolution.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Republican, sent a letter to chairman John Kerry (D-MA) on Thursday morning asking for a hearing on the matter and Kerry responded that he supported the idea, a Lugar aide told The Cable. Lugar wants the State Department's top lawyer, Harold Koh, to testify. June 28 is the likely date for the hearing, the Lugar aide said.

SFRC spokesman Frederick Jones told The Cable that no firm date has been set, but that Kerry was working on it.

"The Foreign Relations Committee has debated the Libyan action at several hearings over the last two months. The committee held a hearing on the War Powers Resolution last Congress. In conjunction with Sen. Richard Lugar, the Committee's ranking Republican, Chairman Kerry is working to schedule a hearing later this month to address the issue," said Jones.

Suffice it to say that Lugar is not happy with the administration's claim that the War Powers Resolution does not apply to the Libya intervention.

"The Administration's position is both legally dubious and unwise. The United States is playing a central and indispensable role in military operations that have no end in sight. The Administration estimates that the cost of these operations will exceed $1 billion by September," Lugar said in a statement on Thursday. "Military operations of this significance, with far reaching consequences on our military, security and relations with other nations, require the clear support of the American people. For this reason, our Constitution provides that powers related to the use of military force are shared between the President and Congress."

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, White House Counsel Bob Bauer said that the administration will argue that military intervention in Libya is not subject to that law, due to the limited nature of the U.S. role in the conflict.

"Our view is even in the absence of the authorization we are operating consistent with the resolution," Bauer said in response to a question from The Cable. "We are now in a position where we are operating in a support role. We are not engaged in the any of the activities that typically over the years in War Powers analysis has considered to constitute hostilities within the meaning of the statute."

Other senior Republicans who aren't buying that argument include House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), who said on Thursday that "The administration made an announcement that will strike most of my colleagues as a confusing breach of common sense."

But while Lugar is against the military intervention in Libya, McCain supports it. However, his efforts with Kerry to craft a resolution endorsing the action have yet to surface in Congress. Meanwhile, 10 House members are suing the administration under the War Powers Resolution, and various efforts to defund the Libya war are underway in the lower chamber.

"The result of all this, I hate to say, is plain in the actions of our colleagues on the other side of the Capitol in the House," McCain said. "The accumulated consequences of all this delay, confusion and obfuscation has been a wholesale revolt in Congress against the administration's policy."