The Bush administration debated sending troops to the Buffalo area. New York Times article here.
Cheney and others had argued that using the military on domestic soil against al-Qaida was legal “because it served a national security, rather than a law enforcement, purpose,” the Times reported.
“The president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States,” an Oct. 23, 2001 Justice Department memorandum said. The memo was declassified earlier this year.
While those in favor of using troops in Lackawanna cited the memo, other Bush aides were dead set against using the military on domestic soil.
“What would it look like to have the American military go into an American town and knock on people’s door?” a former official in the debate told the Times.
Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel agreed that keeping troops out was a good idea. “If we had tanks rolling down the streets of our city, we would have had pandemonium down here,” Michel told the Times. He could not be reached by The Buffalo News Friday.
High level Bush aides were among those who opposed the proposed military maneuver, including Condoleeza Rice, then the national security adviser; John B. Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security Council; Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Michael Chertoff, then the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, the Times said.
Today’s NYT report is the first which reveals that high-level Bush officials actively considered and even advocated that the power to use the military to arrest American citizens on U.S. soil be used. In this instance, Cheney and Addington argued that the U.S. Army should be deployed to Buffalo to arrest six American citizens — dubbed the “Lackawanna Six” — suspected of being Al Qaeda members (though not suspected of being anywhere near executing an actual Terrorist attack). The Cheney/Addington plan was opposed by DOJ officials who wanted domestic law enforcement jurisdiction for themselves, and the plan was ultimately rejected by Bush, who instead dispatched the FBI to arrest them [all six were ultimately charged in federal court with crimes (“material support for terrorism”); all pled guilty and were sentenced to long prison terms, and they then cooperated in other cases, once again illustrating how effective our normal criminal justice and federal prison systems are in incapacitating Terrorists].
All that said, the Bush administration did use a very similar power when it dispatched FBI agents to arrest U.S. citizen Jose Padilla on American soil (at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport), but then very shortly thereafter transferred him to military custody, where he was held for the next 3 years with no trial, no charges, and no contact with the outside world, including lawyers. The only thing distinguishing the Padilla case from what Cheney/Addington argued be done in the Lackawanna Six case was that the military wasn’t used to make the initial apprehension of Padilla. But Padilla was then transferred to military custody and held on U.S. soil for years in a brig, incommunicado and tortured, with no charges of any kind (another U.S. citizen, Yaser Hamdi, was treated similarly until the Supreme Court ruled he was entitled to some sort of hearing, after which he was sent to Saudi Arabia).
So what did the Bush administration do besides consider the novel ways in which it could break very clearly written laws? It’s not clear that you can’t use the military in a variety of capacities inside the United States. But it’s very clear, thanks to Posse Comitatus, that you can’t use the military in the United States for law enforcement. Somehow this distinction was lost on Dick Cheney, who in 2002 urged George Bush to send soldiers to New York to arrest the suspected sleeper cell called the Lackawanna Six.
[…] In the end this case is academic. Bush did the right thing, in the sense that me not bludgeoning my beloved dog to death is the “right thing.” But I was having dinner with friends yesterday and we got to discussing a circumstance I’ve been tossing around called What Makes Us More Like A Banana Republic. Is it BR-like to have a gang in power that breaks a lot of laws and then gets prosecuted for it by the opposing political party when it wins power? Whatever the merits of that, we’d have to stipulate that it’s pretty fucking problematic as a precedent, as it guarantees retaliation and the slope slips for the law to slouch into the land of pretext. But is it more BR-like to have the gang face no legal sanction, sending the message that the lawful course of action is just one policy option among many?
Ooooh…..they “debated“…in 2002….Scary, scary stuff.
[…] So what?
Like the reportage of the CIA plan that never became operational (imagine…plotting to assassinate those trying to kill Americans- what was Darth Cheney thinking?!), what’s the purpose of the story, here?
Rabid Cheney Derangement Syndrome.
Jeralyn at Talk Left
What interests me here is the fact that the task was easily within the capabilities of the FBI who did the job. What Cheney was doing here was making a point: that he believes that the president can impose the equivalent of martial law inside the country at any moment he feels it’s necessary, even if it isn’t. What Cheney was about was making a point about his own untouchable power outside the constitution to wage a war, even in America itself against American citizens. Remember also that Cheney strongly believes in the power of torture as well – as integral, as he has put it, to American constitutional practices.
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.