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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Oh When the Troops / Come Marching In...

Oh When the Troops / Come Marching In...
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

If you found the military knocking on your door in the middle of the night, what would you do? You might not have many choices about what to do if the president has authorized them to sweep your neighborhood because Bush has assumed the authority to use the military in "anti-terrorism" efforts without the oversight of the courts. Your home could be searched and you can be taken into custody without warrant. You wouldn't be able to assume that you'd be provided with the niceties of civilized societies like lawyers, a judge, or a court of law.

Perhaps if the military appears at your door, you should be thankful that they are knocking and haven't already knocked the door in. It wasn't that long ago — ah, the good old days — when speculations about sending the military to conduct warrantless searches and arrests would have been limited to just the the farthest extremes of nutty conspiracy theorists. In today's climate, such speculations sound almost conservative in nature.

We don't have a Congress that is quite craven enough to pass a law giving Bush dictatorial powers, but we have a president arrogant and authoritarian enough to ignore the parts of the laws he doesn't like, to amend them to his liking, and to interpret them in whatever manner is most consistent with his desire to act without checks, balances, or oversight. How so? According to a footnote in a John Yoo memo, his office had concluded that "the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations."

As if that weren't troubling enough, the original memo in which this had been concluded — and which the administration won't release — is called "Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States." Apparently, the Bush administration believes they are already engaged in military operations in the United States. Specifically, the domestic and warrantless surveillance seems to be treated as a military operation. The Department of Defense even asserts that that the AUMF, authorizing military force against al Qaeda and its allies, includes "warrantless electronic surveillance to intercept enemy communications both at home and abroad."

Would it be inappropriate to point out that Adolf Hitler at least had the decency to obtain explicit legislative approval before his Machtergreifung? In comparison, George W. Bush has moved in a manner that depends more on legal sophistry than the mechanisms of real government. Then again, Hitler had Carl Schmitt whose arguments on behalf of authoritarian government were at least based on serious legal reasoning and political philosophy — that's part of what made his writings so dangerous. Bush only had John Yoo, whose arguments on behalf of authoritarian government can't be described as even remotely serious.

Today the Bush administration says that it no longer believes that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to military operations in America. Should we believe this? If the administration is still conducting warrantless surveillance operations on American citizens, how likely is it that they have given up this particular rationalization? Has the Bush administration ever given us any reason to believe that they are servants of the law?

I hope that next week I'm not ranting about black helicopters...

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.