As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Tanks Of Lackawanna

This is the second story in a week about how noble George W. Bush averted disaster. First he stuck to his principles about honesty and refused to pardon Scooter Libby (who he did already commute, incidentally, somehow that didn't make it into the paean of an article). Today we learn he was all that stood between us and tanks rolling down the streets:

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.

A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.

The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

It's not that I disagree that this was brought up as an option, it's the positioning of Bush as the defender of the Constitution that kind of galls me. Cheney was the Constitution's chief beta-tester ("testing the Constitution" is quite a turn of phrase, no?), and considering the wealth of other illegal actions, all justified like this one by at-the-ready memos from John Yoo, I just doubt that Bush really made these decisions, even if he felt like he did.

Frankly, all this dumping on Dick seems like part of the Bush Legacy Project to me. While Fourthbranch has been ready for his closeup throughout the Obama Administration - right up until the moment that Eric Holder started talking seriously about prosecutions that didn't involve him, that is, then he slithered back into the undisclosed location - Bush has kept a low profile in Dallas, gave a couple speeches, told stories about walking his dog and being jus' folks, and one by one all of these articles showing how he wasn't SO bad - he didn't want to use the military in American cities, after all! - keep popping up, using anonymous sources. It's a nice kickoff for the library.

Meanwhile, there is an important component to all of this, namely, the stated reason why the authority to use military force was sought:

Former officials said the 2002 debate arose partly from Justice Department concerns that there might not be enough evidence to arrest and successfully prosecute the suspects in Lackawanna. Mr. Cheney, the officials said, had argued that the administration would need a lower threshold of evidence to declare them enemy combatants and keep them in military custody.

Earlier that summer, the administration designated Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and sent him to a military brig in South Carolina. Mr. Padilla was arrested by civilian agencies on suspicion of plotting an attack using a radioactive bomb.

(This shows once again how the construction of Bush as a savior of the Constitution is false - he USED the powers granted by Yoo to designate Padilla an enemy combatant.)

So because of concerns that the evidence was weak, Cheney wanted to use "a lower threshold of evidence," and denote the Lackawanna Six enemy combatants to keep them outside the criminal justice system. We've gotten rid of the enemy combatants term, but not really the thinking of getting around the standards of evidence when dealing with terrorism suspects. While the report on detention policy and Guantanamo Bay has been delayed a number of months, in the preliminary report, we see the seeds of a three-tiered system of justice based on the amount of evidence gathered, altering the due process granted to ensure that the government can continue to confine anyone it captured relating to the so-called war on terror. As Glenn Greenwald writes today, in reaction to the NYT article:

All of this underscores why it is so important to vigorously oppose the efforts of the Obama administration (a) to continue many of the radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism programs and even to implement new ones (preventive detention, military commissions, extreme secrecy policies, warrantless surveillance, denial of habeas corpus) and (b) to endorse the core Orwellian premise that enables all of that (i.e., the "battlefield" is anywhere and everywhere; the battle against Terrorism is a "War" like the Civil War or World War II and justifies the same powers). By itself, the extreme injustice imposed by our Government on the individuals subjected to such tyrannical powers (i.e., those held in cages for years without charges or any prospect for release) should be sufficient to compel firm opposition. But the importance of these issues goes far beyond that. Even if the original intention is to use these powers in very limited circumstances and even for allegedly noble purposes ("only" for Guantanamo detainees who were tortured, "only" for people shipped to Bagram, "only" for the Most Dangerous Terrorists), it's extremely dangerous to implement systems and vest the President with powers that depart from, and violently betray, our core precepts of justice [...]

Those are the stakes when it comes to debates over Obama's detention, surveillance and secrecy policies. To endorse the idea that Terrorism justifies extreme presidential powers in these areas is to ensure that we permanently embrace a radical departure from our core principles of justice. It should come as no surprise that once John Yoo did what he was meant to do -- give his legal approval to a truly limitless presidency, one literally unconstrained even by the Bill of Rights, even as applied to American citizens on U.S. soil -- then Dick Cheney and David Addington sought to use those powers (in the Buffalo case) and Bush did use them (in the case of Jose Padilla). That's how extreme powers work: once implemented, they will be used, and used far beyond their original intent -- whether by the well-intentioned implementing President or a subsequent one with less benign motives. That's why it's so vital that such policies be opposed before they take root.

Those Presidents who fail to show respect and deference for the system of justice that has held over two centuries and more, even if they do not use the powers granted to them, set in motion a process to devolve that system. The precedents set by the Bush Administration, and potentially the Obama Administration, will have a lasting impact. So pardon me if I don't send a thank you note over to the 43rd President for not ordering an up-armored Humvee through a Buffalo suburb.

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