Of Martial Law Is Real
By Dave Lindorff
-- -- The looming collapse of the US military in Iraq,
of which a number of generals and former generals, including
former Chief of Staff Colin Powell, have warned, is
happening none too soon, as it my be the best hope for
preventing military rule here at home.
From the looks of things, the Bush/Cheney regime has been
working assiduously to pave the way for a declaration of
military rule, such that at this point it really lacks only
the pretext to trigger a suspension of Constitutional
government. They have done this with the active support of
Democrats in Congress, though most of the heavy lifting was
done by the last, Republican-led Congress.
The first step, or course, was the first Authorization for
Use of Military Force, passed in September 2001, which the
president has subsequently used to claim-improperly, but so
what? -that the whole world, including the US, is a
battlefield in a so-called "War" on Terror, and that he has
extra-Constitutional unitary executive powers to ignore laws
passed by Congress. As constitutional scholar and former
Reagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein
observes, that one claim, that the US is itself a
battlefield, is enough to allow this or some future
president to declare martial law, "since you can always
declare martial law on a battlefield. All he'd need would be
a pretext, like another terrorist attack inside the U.S."
The 2001 AUMF was followed by the PATRIOT Act, passed in
October 2001, which undermined much of the Bill of Rights.
Around the same time, the president began a campaign of
massive spying on Americans by the National Security Agency,
conducted without any warrants or other judicial review. It
was and remains a program that is clearly aimed at American
dissidents and at the administration's political opponents,
since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would
never have raised no objections to spying on potential
terrorists. (And it, and other government spying programs,
have resulted in the government's having a list now of some
325,000 "suspected terrorists"!)
The other thing we saw early on was the establishment of an
underground government-within-a-government, though the
activation, following 9-11, of the so-called "Continuity of
Government" protocol, which saw heads of federal agencies
moved secretly to an underground bunker where, working under
the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, the
"government" functioned out of sight of Congress and the
public for critical months.
It was also during the first year following 9-11 that the
Bush/Cheney regime began its programs of arrest and
detention without charge-mostly of resident aliens, but also
of American citizens-and of kidnapping and torture in a
chain of gulag prisons overseas and at the Navy base at
The following year, Attorney General John Ashcroft began his
program to develop a mass network of tens of millions of
citizen spies-Operation TIPS. That program, which had
considerable support from key Democrats (notably Sen. Joe
Lieberman), was curtailed by Congress when key conservatives
got wind of the scale of the thing, but the concept survives
without a name, and is reportedly being expanded today.
Meanwhile, last October Bush and Cheney, with the help of a
compliant Congress, put in place some key elements needed
for a military putsch. There was the overturning of the
venerable Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which barred the use
of active duty military inside the United States for
police-type functions, and the revision of the Insurrection
Act, so as to empower the president to take control of
National Guard units in the 50 states even over the
objections of the governors of those states.
Put this together with the wholly secret construction now
under way--courtesy of a $385-million grant by the US Army
Corps of Engineers to Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc--of
detention camps reportedly capable of confining as many as
400,000 people, and a recent report that the Pentagon has a
document, dated June 1, 2007, classified Top Secret, which
declares there to be a developing "insurgency" within the
U.S, and which lays out a whole martial law
counterinsurgency campaign against legal dissent, and you
have all the ingredients for a military takeover of the
As we go about our daily lives--our shopping, our escapist
movie watching, and even our protesting and political
organizing-we need to be aware that there is a real risk
that it could all blow up, and that we could find ourselves
facing armed, uniformed troops at our doors.
Bruce Fein isn't an alarmist. He says he doesn't see martial
law coming tomorrow. But he is also realistic. "Really, by
declaring the US to be a battlefield, Bush already made it
possible for himself to declare martial law, because you can
always declare martial law on a battlefield," he says. "All
he would need would be a pretext, like another terrorist
attack on the U.S."
Indeed, the revised Insurrection Act (10. USC 331-335)
approved by Congress and signed into law by Bush last
October, specifically says that the president can federalize
the National Guard to "suppress public disorder" in the
event of "national disorder, epidemic, other serious public
health emergency, terrorist attack or incident." That
determination, the act states, is solely the president's to
make. Congress is not involved.
Fein says, "This is all sitting around like a loaded gun
waiting to go off. I think the risk of martial law is
trivial right now, but the minute there is a terrorist
attack, then it is real. And it stays with us after Bush and
Cheney are gone, because terrorism stays with us forever."
(It may be significant that Hillary Clinton, the leading
Democratic candidate for president, has called for the
revocation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military
Force against Iraq, but not of the earlier 2001 AUMF which
Bush claims makes him commander in chief of a borderless,
endless war on terror.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has added an amendment to the upcoming Defense
bill, restoring the Insurrection Act to its former version-a
move that has the endorsement of all 50 governors--but Fein
argues that would not solve the problem, since Bush still
claims that the U.S. is a battlefield. Besides, a Leahy aide
concedes that Bush could sign the next Defense
Appropriations bill and then use a signing statement to
invalidate the Insurrection Act rider.
Fein argues that the only real defense against the looming
disaster of a martial law declaration would be for Congress
to vote for a resolution determining that there is no "War"
on terror. "But they are such cowards they will never do
that," he says.
That leaves us with the military.
If ordered to turn their guns and bayonets on their fellow
Americans, would our "heroes" in uniform follow their
consciences, and their oaths to "uphold and defend" the
Constitution of the United States? Or would they follow the
orders of their Commander in Chief?
It has to be a plus that National Guard and Reserve units
are on their third and sometimes fourth deployments to Iraq,
and are fuming at the abuse. It has to be a plus that active
duty troops are refusing to re-enlist in droves-especially
If we are headed for martial law, better that it be with a
broken military. Maybe if it's broken badly enough, the
administration will be afraid to test the idea.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an
Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
His n book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can't be
Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff's
newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: email@example.com
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