In yet another indication of how extreme Bush officials were in their war on terrorism, the New York Times is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney and others pushed former President George Bush to send troops into Buffalo New York to arrest a group of men accused of terrorism.
What is interesting about this story is that such use of military force was completely unnecessary and shows how Bush officials used terrorism to advance their agenda to expand the authority of the presidency. Many Bush officials like John Yoo, Viet Dinh and others had advocated radical views of presidential authority before 9-11. If true, this is the most obvious example of how 9-11 was viewed by Bush officials as an opportunity to achieve their objectives to re-structure the American presidency along the lines of what is often called an “imperial presidency.” The Bush people articulated a view that dwarfed even Richard Nixon who is most associated with the imperial presidency model.
The debate over a military intervention in the suburbs of Buffalo occurred in 2002 — precisely the time when the unlawful programs on torture and warrantless surveillance were ramping up. Indeed, the usual suspects were present in these meetings calling for extreme measures: the lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty authored the primary memo supporting the move. They argued implausibly that the move would be supported by federal law since the president was recognized to have authority “to take military actions, domestic as well as foreign, if he determines such actions to be necessary to respond to the terrorist attacks upon the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and before.”
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity, but Bush officials were highly antagonistic toward the act and its limitations. Congress allowed Bush to expand the domestic use of the military after 9-11 — part of its passive and infamous legacy in the aftermath of the attacks.
The targets were the Lackawanna Six and the Bush officials wanted them declared enemy combatants and a military intervention launched. These were relatively low-grade terrorist wannabes who were convicted of material support — a relatively easy charge for prosecutors when they cannot prove actual terror plots or conspiracies. Mukhtar Al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, Shafal Mosed, Yaseinn Taher, and Yahya Goba all received sentences of ten years or less. The very idea of intervening with active military units for such a group is further evidence of the opportunistic conduct of Bush officials to achieve their vision of an all-powerful chief executive. To his credit, Bush refused to order the military intervention.
Notably, most of the framers opposed a standing army rather than a people’s militia because of their fear of the tendency of the military in history to exert political and social control over countries. We have seen how a domestic role of the military in other countries has produced instability and abuses.
What is truly frightening is how close we came. A single person stood in the way of tearing down one of our most important legal and political traditions. The bar on domestic law enforcement activities distinguishes this country from other countries where the military holds tremendous power like Iran. The recent military takeover in Honduras is an example of the dangers. We have long believed that people raised under our freedoms (and particularly trained in our laws) would be opposed to such attacks on our traditions and values. Yet, a vice president and top legal advisers facilitated an effort that was not just unlawful but unnecessary. It shows that, even in the most successful democracy in history, we can still stand just one vote away from a path of abuse or even tyranny. The alarm over this story is magnified by the utter failure of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to exercise checks and balances during this period. We came down to George Bush — no civil libertarian — to block this effort — though this may have been more of a political and legal calculation.
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