Finally, about five months too late, some “respectable” people are beginning to understand the implications of what happened on October 17, when Bush doodled his signature onto two measures that effectively destroyed our republic.
The first was the Military Commissions Act, which effectively abolished habeas corpus and laid the foundation for a military tribunal system to try those designated “unlawful enemy combatants.” Those provisions apply primarily to non-citizens, but can be applied to U.S. Citizens. Key elements of that act were upheld yesterday by a federal court. And Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has insolently stated that the ancient Anglo-Saxon principle of habeas corpus – which is literally the foundation of the American concept of due process of law – isn't protected by the Constitution.
The second republic-killer signed on October 17 was a provision in the Defense Authorization Act – call it the Martial Law Codicil -- permitting the president to seize control of state National Guard units for use in “natural or man-made disasters” -- the latter referring to disruptions of social order, including insurrection and rebellion or any activity the Regime chooses to describe as such. This measure revised two obscure but indispensable laws, the Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878; those statutes provided a critical bulwark against the centralization and militarization of law enforcement.
In a house editorial a couple of days ago, the New York Times noted that because of what happened on October 17, the president can now “override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law” by using “military troops as a domestic police force.”
What makes all of this “fit to print now” is the existence of a measure co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Christopher Bond of Missouri that would repeal the Martial Law Codicil. Exhausting its annual quota of sensible conclusions, the Times editorial board urges passage of the Leahy-Bond bill, which is the very least that must be done. The MCA should likewise be demolished immediately, and Senator Leahy has co-sponsored another measure – this one with Republican Arlen Specter – entitled the “Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007” that would accomplish this, as well.
But the most important action that could be taken to prevent our descent into full-fledged despotism would be to prevent the war in Iraq from metastasizing into a regional conflict involving Iran. The Martial Law measures enacted last October make perfect sense as preparations for a broader and more painful war that would involve economic hardship, social upheaval, and at least a measure of regimentation.
“Try as I might, I cannot imagine martial law in the US, except as something the population would agree to under threat from...from whom?” writes liberal commentator Jane Smiley. “Correct me if I am wrong (I know you will), but the last time martial law was declared was during the Civil War, and Americans, though the threats to the Union were profound and omnipresent, didn't like it then. I can't even imagine what would happen now.”
Without minimizing the significance of last October's Martial Law provisions, Smiley continues, “I have to wonder who Bush, Cheney [et. al.] think they are governing. Were they planning to spring these things on us? One day, we were supposed to wake up, and martial law would be declared, and we were supposed to actually pay attention to it? Where are they keeping the troops who were going to patrol our neighborhoods? Who was it who was going to disarm the population? Who was their base going to be, when they sought public support for martial law? Who was going to round us up and where were they going to put us?”
These are eminently sensible questions that are relatively easy to answer. Let's take several of them in turn:
*Where are the troops who would patrol our neighborhoods? Well, some of them are already patrolling our neighborhoods. Those particular “troops” are from nominally local police departments that are appendages of the national Homeland Security system. As I pointed out not long ago, many of them are receiving material aid through the Pentagon's Law Enforcement Support Organization (LESO), including combat weaponry, armored personnel carriers, and other assets entirely incompatible with law enforcement operations – but entirely suitable for martial law.
In the event of martial law, militarized “local” police would work in tandem with National Guard units acting under presidential orders, as well as other elements of the Homeland Security apparatus: the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement would likely play a large role, as would federally subsidized mercenary outfits like Blackwater.
*Who will disarm the population? See the answer above. Recall as well that “local” police, backed by National Guard units, confiscated firearms in New Orleans when the city was placed under martial law following Hurricane Katrina.
*Who would support martial law? When examining the antic parade of authoritarian misfits constituting the “conservative” movement, the question becomes: Who among this sorry lot would not support martial law? When neo-Trotskyite fanatics like Frank Gaffney describe criticism of the Regime's escalation strategy (commonly called the “surge”) in Iraq as a literal hanging offense, and GOP-aligned “legal scholars” like Hugh Hewitt endorse assassination of civilians by presidential decree, why does it seem unlikely that martial law would find a constituency?
*Who will round us up, and were would we be put? To answer the first question, see the first bullet item above. The correct answer to the second question is: We would be put anywhere that's convenient for those doing the round-ups. And it should be understood that this has already happened, after a fashion, in any community that has been blighted by a presidential visit in the last several years. The mechanism used to provide “security” for those visits would serve the needs of martial law quite well.
“When President Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up `free speech zones' or `protest zones,' where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined,” explains the irreplaceable James Bovard. Those who dare to display unapproved sentiments, either on signs or t-shirts, have been arrested and prosecuted.
The Feds command, and “local” police obey in the name of “presidential security.”
Furthermore, notes Bovard, these efforts to suppress protests “become more disturbing in light of the Homeland Security Department's recommendation that local police departments view critics of the war on terrorism as potential terrorists. In a May 9  terrorist advisory, the Homeland Security Department warned local law enforcement agencies to keep an eye on anyone who `expressed dislike of attitudes and decisions of the US government.' If police vigorously followed this advice, millions of Americans could be added to the official lists of terrorist suspects.”
Which is to say: If that view of dissent were taken literally, martial law would be considered a viable policy.
Bear in mind the date of that Homeland Security advisory; it was issued just weeks after the Regime began its war in Iraq. Should the war spread to Iran – as the Bu'ushists intend – it's reasonable to believe that dissenters would once again be viewed as gulag fodder.
This time, however, Bush would have the powers he arrogated to himself on October 17 – the ability to seize control of the National Guard, and to imprison – and torture – anyone he designates an “enemy combatant.”
Repealing the Martial Law measures is imperative, but the immediate task is to stop the Regime's plans for war with Iran.
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