By William H. White
National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), signed by Bush and released without comment by the White House on May 9, 2007 has given George W. Bush and subsequent presidents the dictatorial powers hinted at in NSPD-51. To quote from NSPD-51: “This policy establishes ‘National Essential Functions,’ prescriptive continuity requirements … that will enhance the creditability of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.”
Under NSPD-51, only limited of government will continue, which may or may not include Congress and the courts. NSPD-51 assures us: This which usually refers to the informal and voluntary recognition of jurisdiction among courts, is a troublesomely ambiguous phrase in this context wherein the president determines this as he “coordinates.”
Unfortunately, NSPD-51 provides limited “guidance” to state and local governments, as “This directive…shall be protected from unauthorized disclosure, provided that, except for Annex A, the Annexes attached to this directive are classified and shall be accorded appropriate handling, consistent with applicable Executive Orders.” In other words, all the details are secret and even the non-secret “Annex A” remains undisclosed by the White House.
Our national media have ignored NSPD-51, with the exception of the Washington Post and Boston Globe, and Bush has not troubled us with any rational for this directive.
The Bush administration has even repeatedly denied the House Committee on Homeland Security access to NSPD-51, about which Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) complained in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. Apparently, the “matter of comity” among the three branches of government referred to in NSPD-51 does not include allowing the directive to be read by members of Congress, which the Congress, in a continuing pattern of acquiesce, has not challenged.
This almost entirely secret directive can be invoked when the president decides occurred. Bush alone will decide when he must assume this burden, though surely only upon prayerful contemplation but without needing consult Congress. In addition, because of a change to the Insurrection Act of 1807, enacted as part of the 439-page 2007 Defense Authorization Bill signed into law in October 2006, Bush need no longer obtain a governors national guard units.
This same bill overturns the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which limited the use of US military forces within the United States for law enforcement. In addition, Bush issued an executive order on July 17, 2007 authorizing the government to seize the assets of anyone “undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq” under provisions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Could this include critics of the Iraq war, whom Bush has repeatedly accused of undermining the war effort?
When presented with the votes of 13 Town Meetings calling for impeachment of Cheney and Bush, Massachusetts Representative, John W. Olver responded that he opposed any impeachment move against Bush because “the current autocratic executive [Bush] would attack Iran from the air, declare a national emergency, institute martial law, and call off the 2008 elections were the Democrats to initiate impeachment.”
Should Bush declare a national emergency and begin exercising the many powers available to him in law, with unchecked decision making and with the genuine rule of law no longer an available guide, it would likely become increasingly difficult, in the absence of reliable information, to understand and deal with the originating crisis–however real or contrived. The inability to address difficulties arising from the declaration of a national emergency itself has sadly occurred in many other countries, with the result being a self-sustaining crisis. The crisis which would be compounded by errors in governance and crimes by those who seized power would be likely sustained by their fear for what would happen to them should they give it up. The long-term prospect would likely include national decline, insurrection and an even more unpredictable array of international consequences starting with a widening war.
In the short term, one can imagine Congress, demonstrating its usual wisdom and courage, finding some comfort in the “delay” of the 2008 elections, given Bush’s decision to allow all incumbents, including those temporarily detained, to remain in office, which many in Congress would praise for its “unifying bipartisan comity.” Just as many in corporate America would appreciate the need to “delay” collecting cap9ital gains and corporate taxes in the interests of helping the economy in a time of national crisis. Besides, how could anyone resist the perfectly Orwellian logic of declaring a dictatorship to ensure “Constitutional Continuity” for the “homeland” while setting aside the actual Constitution of the United States?
Whatever unknowable future a declaration of national emergency might bring, clearly many are going to be profoundly unhappy with such a turn of events. And that may be why Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, is already building detention centers around the nation to “support the rapid development of new programs” that could accommodate those incompatible with Constitutional Continuity, the dead-enders who actually protest or resist, plus the usual suspects who might think to object.
But how would all those potential incompatibles, certainly tens of thousands and likely far more, find their way to an appropriate detention center? The justice Department has been conducting mass arrest exercises code named Operation Falcon, whereby thousands of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and local agencies arrested some 10,000individuals within seven days, working from lists provided by the US Marshall’s Service, all coordinated to commence across the country simultaneously. Since practice makes perfect, three mass arrest exercises have been conduced: Two national (Falcon I April 4-10, 2005 arresting 10,340; Falcon II April 17-23, 2006 arresting 9,037); and one (Falcon III October 22-28, 2006 arresting 10,733).
What can not be found among these data is mention of any legitimate law enforcement purpose served by these mass arrests. While some arrested were serious criminals, most were of the unanswered-warrantee and support-payment-delinquent sort. The important element here appears to be getting operational experience and, perhaps most critically, habituating state and local police agencies to conduct mass arrests from lists provided by the federal government. In the eastern regional Falcon III alone, 103 state agencies, 430 county sheriff’s offices and 482 police departments did just that according to the US Marshal’s Service web site. At the current pace, perhaps Falcon IV will be the last drill and then the real thing: Operation Falcon V.