If history gets this recent era right, future textbooks will have to show that the US narrowly averted a carefully planned but thorough and unmistakable conspiracy to subvert the rule of law and the process of democracy from 2001-2008. For three years, since writing End of America, I have been arguing that the Bush team sought irretrievably to subvert our liberty. Fortunately, this appalling and conceivably irrevocable subversion of the tenets of freedom was narrowly averted by citizens at every level -- from the grassroots to the courts -- resisting in time. But the release this week by the Justice Department of the "secret memos" sought valiantly by the ACLU confirms that Bush's legal architects were building up the framework for something even scarier than our most anguished projections.
You can see the documents themselves online -- but, as usual, there is a gap between the cautious journalistic interpretation of the event and the dense legalese in which they are written, and no one yet has really explained to citizens who are not attorneys what these memos claimed to give Bush the right to do. This is my initial reading of these documents:
Most dramatically, one memo asserts that Bush can deploy the military within the United States -- all of the military if he so wishes -- overriding Posse Comitatus, which has kept us safe from military policing for over a century. As many heard me warn in October and November of last year, when the first troops were sent to US streets, history shows that once the military is deployed domestically to "keep order" in a civil society, it is over. This memo is especially galling, since last fall's red alert from us was met with alarm by citizens but by ridicule by mainstream media outlets. Turns out we were right. This `deployment' memo proves that Bush indeed, as we feared, wanted the power to deploy military for domestic policing purposes, a mission that Northcom spokesmen denied -- apparently falsely -- when a few critics from non-mainstream platforms raised the alarm last November about the deployment of the First Brigade from Iraq to the US. This memo shows that Bush sought the power to deploy any number of U.S. military into the U.S. itself for any reason he chose; direct them to rip through your home without a warrant, even if you have not been charged with anything; seize material and documents; and even gave Bush the power to use deadly force against you -- yes, you, innocent US citizen -- "in self-defense." In your homes and streets -- not on a faraway battlefield. Major David Antoon confirmed that this power -- to send US military to control, arrest and even shoot US civilians in self-defense -- was in Bush's hands last fall when I asked Antoon about it. Turns out this memo shows Bush indeed wanted to have that power.
Another memo would give the power to Bush -- at his discretion -- to close down or censor newspapers, radio and the Internet - override the First Amendment in the interest of "national security." So if he had deployed, say, ten brigades -- 37,000 warriors -- in key cities (he deployed three before the election and 20,000 are due to be deployed domestically by 2012 unless we stop it), you would not be able to hear about it through the news media if he invoked this power to suspend free speech. And if you protested -- if you dared -- well, his actions would have been -- thanks to John Yoo and others, who will go down in history along with the criminal Nuremberg lawyers as one of Satan's willing attorneys -- perfectly legal.
Yet another memo gives Bush not only the right to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant" and hold him or her indefinitely - a danger we knew about, and one that we have tried hard to alert citizens to, a warning that has seemingly penetrated collective consciousness. The newly released memo demonstrates that was the very surface of the powers over US citizens Bush claimed. For three years when I have cautioned citizens about this power Bush invoked to seize US citizens as "enemy combatants" I reassured them that he did not yet have the power to torture US citizens, "only" drive them mad through prolonged isolation in a navy brig. Well, this memo asserts Bush's right to do whatever he wants to innocent US citizens in this kind of custody, and rejects the notion that Congress would have any role in how US citizens are held or treated -- say, by the hypothetically deployed military - on US soil. It seems also to claim the right to hold innocent US citizens in domestic military custody while Bush has the right to do anything he wants to them. Anything he wants. Remember this is an administration in which Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Cheney have now been proven by Jameel Jaffer's revelations in Administration of Torture to have known about and okay'd not just waterboarding as a policy but ok'd the discretion for interrogators to use tactics such as electrodes attached to genitals, sexual assault, threats against family members, suffocation, the beating of prisoners' legs to "pulp," and in some cases the covering up of their murders. This memo gives Bush the authority to do those things if he wants to innocent US citizens.
Still another memo gives Bush the right to ignore any international treaties -- to take over any country, say, or render and citizen anywhere, and do whatever he wants to the citizens of any country against any law, without consent of Congress.
The Washington Post called these memos "legal errors." We need to stare them in the face and understand them: they are evidence that the groundwork was laid out that gave the president the legal power effectively subvert the Republic. We need to understand the full darkness of what we narrowly escaped -- for now, our work is hardly begun. We need to build these lessons into our history and to use the terror they represent to dismantle the last of Bush's evil legacy -- a legacy that could have been activated by any US president in the future, including Obama or McCain -- and see these memos for what they are: the revealed architecture of an intended edifice of what amounts to treason again our republic and against all of us, regardless of belief, station of life, or political party.