Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's Just A Goddamn Piece Of Paper

President Bush's infamous quote on the Constitution takes on new meaning today due to this story in the NY Times.
Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.

Some of the advisers to President George W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.

Mr. Bush ultimately decided against the proposal to use military force.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 pretty much strictly prohibits the use of the American military for law enforcement duties (ourside of the Coast Guard) Our old friends Dick Cheney and John Yoo had some up with the notion that it was legal to send our troops into Buffalo because we were at war. The Act only mentions the Army and Air Force specifically, but a further regulation in the United States Code prohibits all branches of the military from engaging in "a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law." Dickster there figured they had the power to authorize it because it was a national security issue, not law enforcement.
“The president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States,” the memorandum said.

The memorandum — written by the lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty — was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked the department about a president’s authority to use the military to combat terrorist activities in the United States.

The memorandum was declassified in March. But the White House debate about the Lackawanna group is the first evidence that top American officials, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, actually considered using the document to justify deploying the military into an American town to make arrests.
And that's the absolutely scary thing. Dick Cheney and John Yoo wanted to use military troops on U.S. soil to capture "terrorists." Say what you will about the armament of your average big city police department, with SWAT teams and weapons and whatnot, but they don't have tanks and bombers and cruise missiles and helicopter gunships and Predator drones. You see, once you go down that road using the military to enforce laws, who is there to stop them from enforcing anything they want?

Since 2002, we've seen what the Bush administration (and the Obama administration for that matter) is willing to do in order to "target terrorists" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They haven't exactly taken great care not to leave tens of thousands dead in collateral damage. Imagine that same standard applied here in your hometown. Hey, the guy down the street is a terrorist. Sorry about your house. Sorry about you car. Sorry about your family. You have our deepest sympathies.

And before we all go "Yay, Bush saved us from this evil" let's remember that Congress and Bush signed into law the ability to declare martial law and take control of the National Guard for use inside the United States. That part of the bill was repealed a year later, but it was clear Bush could have at any point there for a while declared martial law and taken a state's National Guard...or all the states' National Guard...and mobilized them under his command. It would have amounted to the same thing in the end.

Next time anyone accuses Barack Obama of being a fascist, turn them on to that NY Times article. Steve Benen has a great observation:
Why would Cheney oppose sending the FBI to go get the suspected bad guys? Because he feared the evidence may not be compelling enough to justify an arrest and conviction. It was better, he said, to have the military take the Lackawanna Six into custody, declare them enemy combatants, and not worry about due process or meeting legal standards.
Which actually makes the most sense as to why Cheney wanted to do it, plus the climate of fear they were trying to create in 2002 to get every other concession from Congress and the American people would have been well-served by it. Marcy Wheeler adds:
Which to me is just as interesting as the news that Cheney was pushing to do this: Imagine how well it would work to impose military rule just in time for the first anniversary of 9/11, and just as you're rolling out the case for the Iraq War?
Which is also very true. Remember what the goal was in terrify us into war with Iraq. We went anyway, of course...but what other concessions would Bush/Cheney have gotten if they had established they were willing to use the military to detain "suspected terrorists" inside the US?

I'll go one step further. What would have stopped them from deploying troops in major Democratic Party urban centers in November 2002, less than two months after the anniversary of 9/11 to "protect our high-value target election precincts from terrorists?" If you were a minority voter in New York or Washington D.C. or L.A. or Chicago, are you really going to go into a platoon of Army soldiers or Marines and security checkpoints and all that just to vote? (Mysteriously, these overtly armed soldiers and security checkpoints would be missing from more rural Red precincts.)

How many fewer urban votes would that have caused in 2002? And of course, the public would demand that kind of safety in 2004 again too...and 2006...and about the ultimate in voter supression.

No, Cheney knew exactly what he was doing. Bush said no at the time, so Cheney relied on other methods to get us into Iraq. It could have been much worse. You see now why we have to fully investigate all the leftover garbage Bush left behind? The Warren Terrah was almost a shooting war on our soil, and the shooting was going to be done against American citizens by the American military.

[UPDATE 10:00 AM] Steven D at the Frog Pond adds:
So, because of the media drumbeat about the dangers of these minor and frankly insignificant members of an upstate New York Yemeni community, Cheney and others tried to bamboozle Bush and the rest of the country into authorizing something that no President had done since the Civil War -- use US soldiers to capture "enemy combatants" on US soil. Lincoln might be forgiven that excess, considering the South was in open rebellion and fielded armies in the field capable of invading the Northern states (which they did on several occasions). Cheney on the other hand saw these inept young men as an excuse to eliminate the Fourth Amendment whenever the President deemed it necessary. Spying on US citizens using the resources of the NSA to sweep up information on our financial, medical and online transactions and communications wasn't enough for this Dick. Truly, this was an attempt at an executive branch power grab of monumental proportions.

Good thing Cheney never sent his CIA "death squads" after Bush. Imagine what a President Cheney would have done had he not been hindered by such a lazy faux cowboy like Dubya?

Indeed. How close did we come back then to a functional coup led by dysfunctional assholes?

[UPDATE 1:11 PM] The Double G weighs in on just how horrific that John Yoo memo was from a legal and Constitutional standpoint.
[I]n 2002, Dick Cheney and David Addington urged that U.S. military troops be used to arrest and detain American citizens, inside the U.S., who were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda. That was done pursuant to a previously released DOJ memo (.pdf) authored by John Yoo and Robert Delahunty, addressed to Alberto Gonzales, dated October 23, 2001, and chillingly entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the U.S." That Memo had concluded that the President had authority to deploy the U.S. military against American citizens on U.S. soil. Far worse, it asserted that in exercising that power, the President could not be bound either by Congressional statutes prohibiting such use (such as the Posse Comitatus Act) or even by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which -- the Memo concluded -- was "inapplicable" to what it called "domestic military operations."

Though it received very little press attention, it is not hyperbole to observe that this October 23 Memo was one of the most significant events in American politics in the last several decades, because it explicitly declared the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights -- inoperative inside the U.S., as applied to U.S. citizens. Just read what it said in arguing that neither the Fourth Amendment -- nor even the First Amendment -- can constrain what the President can do when overseeing "domestic military operations" (I wrote about that Memo when it was released last March and excerpted the most revealing and tyrannical portions: here).
It was a bold and frightening step towards military rule of the country, prevented only by an apparent failure of will to stomach proceeding to the logical endpoint of the Memo's assumptions on the plenary executive. Bush wouldn't cooperate, and Cheney wasn't going to go all the way.

I guess he got cold feet. There but for the grace of God goes our Republic...what's left of it, anyway.

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