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Martial Law Threat is Real: Lucky the Military is Breaking Down

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By Dave Lindorff

The looming collapse of the US military in Iraq, of which a number of generals and former generals, including former Chief of Staff Colin Powell, have warned, is happening none too soon, as it may be the best hope for preventing military rule here at home.

From the looks of things, the Bush/Cheney regime has been working assiduously to pave the way for a declaration of military rule, such that at this point it really lacks only the pretext to trigger a suspension of Constitutional government. They have done this with the active support of Democrats in Congress, though most of the heavy lifting was done by the last, Republican-led Congress.

The first step, or course, was the first Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in September 2001, which the president has subsequently used to claim—improperly, but so what? —that the whole world, including the US, is a battlefield in a so-called “War” on Terror, and that he has extra-Constitutional unitary executive powers to ignore laws passed by Congress. As constitutional scholar and former Reagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein observes, that one claim, that the US is itself a battlefield, is enough to allow this or some future president to declare martial law, “since you can always declare martial law on a battlefield. All he’d need would be a pretext, like another terrorist attack inside the U.S.”

The 2001 AUMF was followed by the PATRIOT Act, passed in October 2001, which undermined much of the Bill of Rights. Around the same time, the president began a campaign of massive spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, conducted without any warrants or other judicial review. It was and remains a program that is clearly aimed at American dissidents and at the administration’s political opponents, since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would never have raised no objections to spying on potential terrorists. (And it, and other government spying programs, have resulted in the government’s having a list now of some 325,000 “suspected terrorists”!)

The other thing we saw early on was the establishment of an underground government-within-a-government, though the activation, following 9-11, of the so-called “Continuity of Government” protocol, which saw heads of federal agencies moved secretly to an underground bunker where, working under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, the “government” functioned out of sight of Congress and the public for critical months.

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It was also during the first year following 9-11 that the Bush/Cheney regime began its programs of arrest and detention without charge—mostly of resident aliens, but also of American citizens—and of kidnapping and torture in a chain of gulag prisons overseas and at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.

The following year, Attorney General John Ashcroft began his program to develop a mass network of tens of millions of citizen spies—Operation TIPS. That program, which had considerable support from key Democrats (notably Sen. Joe Lieberman), was curtailed by Congress when key conservatives got wind of the scale of the thing, but the concept survives without a name, and is reportedly being expanded today.

Meanwhile, last October Bush and Cheney, with the help of a compliant Congress, put in place some key elements needed for a military putsch. There was the overturning of the venerable Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which barred the use of active duty military inside the United States for police-type functions, and the revision of the Insurrection Act, so as to empower the president to take control of National Guard units in the 50 states even over the objections of the governors of those states.

Put this together with the wholly secret construction now under way--courtesy of a $385-million grant by the US Army Corps of Engineers to Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc--of detention camps reportedly capable of confining as many as 400,000 people, and a recent report that the Pentagon has a document, dated June 1, 2007, classified Top Secret, which declares there to be a developing “insurgency” within the U.S, and which lays out a whole martial law counterinsurgency campaign against legal dissent, and you have all the ingredients for a military takeover of the United States.

As we go about our daily lives--our shopping, our escapist movie watching, and even our protesting and political organizing—we need to be aware that there is a real risk that it could all blow up, and that we could find ourselves facing armed, uniformed troops at our doors.

Bruce Fein isn’t an alarmist. He says he doesn’t see martial law coming tomorrow. He says, "“This is all sitting around like a loaded gun waiting to go off. I think the risk of martial law is trivial right now, but the minute there is a terrorist attack, then it is real. And it stays with us after Bush and Cheney are gone, because terrorism stays with us forever.” (It may be significant that Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, has called for the revocation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq, but not of the earlier 2001 AUMF which Bush claims makes him commander in chief of a borderless, endless war on terror.)

Indeed, the revised Insurrection Act (10. USC 331-335) approved by Congress and signed into law by Bush last October, specifically says that the president can federalize the National Guard to “suppress public disorder” in the event of “national disorder, epidemic, other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” That determination, the act states, is solely the president’s to make. Congress is not involved.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has added an amendment to the upcoming Defense bill, restoring the Insurrection Act to its former version—a move that has the endorsement of all 50 governors--but Fein argues that would not solve the problem, since Bush still claims that the U.S. is a battlefield. Besides, a Leahy aide concedes that Bush could sign the next Defense Appropriations bill and then use a signing statement to invalidate the Insurrection Act rider.

Fein argues that the only real defense against the looming disaster of a martial law declaration would be for Congress to vote for a resolution determining that there is no “War” on terror. “But they are such cowards they will never do that,” he says.

That leaves us with the military.

If ordered to turn their guns and bayonets on their fellow Americans, would our “heroes” in uniform follow their consciences, and their oaths to “uphold and defend” the Constitution of the United States? Or would they follow the orders of their Commander in Chief?

It has to be a plus that National Guard and Reserve units are on their third and sometimes fourth deployments to Iraq, and are fuming at the abuse. It has to be a plus that active duty troops are refusing to re-enlist in droves—especially mid-level officers.

If we are headed for martial law, better that it be with a broken military. Maybe if it’s broken badly enough, the administration will be afraid to test the idea.



Sidebar: Why US troops should question orders:

Mounting evidence (1 & 2) that football star Pat Tillman, who famously gave up a high-paying pro career to sign up as an Army Ranger and fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, may have been assassinated in a high-level conspiracy to prevent him from returning to the US as a prominent war critic should make even hardened military people question orders from their commander in chief, particularly if those orders involve arresting or shooting American citizens. Tillman, it is now known, had turned strongly against the war in Iraq as early as late 2003, and was telling his platoon to vote against Bush. There are reports too that he was contacting war critics like Noam Chomsky from Afghanistan about coming out as a war critic in 2004--a prospect which must have terrified the war-mongers in the White House and Pentagon.

The military initially claimed Tillman had been killed in combat, then later claimed his death was from friendly fire. It is now known that an investigation at the time found no evidence of any enemy fire at all, and Tillman's death came from three close shots from an M-16 to the forehead, execution-style. Memos have been found from Pentagon lawyers congratulating each other for having buried a doctor's report on the possibility of murder.

If this is what the government does to its critics, how can soldiers believe anything they are being told?

Of course, the shabby treatment afforded to insured troops should also be having an effect on morale.

Maybe the way to respond to a declaration of martial law is, like the Israelites on the first Passover, to prominently display a sign on one's front door saying, "Support the troops: Bring them home!"

DAVE LINDORFF is a veteran, award-winning investigative reporter based in Philadelphia. His latest book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)

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Luck has nothing to do with our military(National ... by Hayesml47 on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 3:46:10 PM
I came in here to say that.--------------------and... by RCG on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 4:09:29 PM
more worried bout the mercs than the reg troops...... by k kelly on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 5:09:39 PM
"We need OUR military home where they belong ... by jpsmith123 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 8:24:42 PM
I just could not wait.  The placement of Blackwat... by Hayesml47 on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 7:42:55 PM
just did a bit of preliminary research, and f... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 6:31:50 AM
That is how long I havce been writing about a coup... by Professor Emeritus Peter Bagnolo on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 7:56:00 PM
It is the timing of the order that's significa... by Swami Bogananda on Sunday, Jul 29, 2007 at 2:15:29 PM
    Since and because of  the ... by chariotdrvr14 on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 8:22:17 PM
This articles raises some very good points.  ... by J. Vorhees on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 9:02:33 PM
You seem to be, and if so do vets sit around and p... by dsgarvin on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 11:49:39 PM
Scheduler,  I am a disabled Vietnam Vet. ... by Hayesml47 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 8:20:32 AM
I have heard commentaries indicating that Presiden... by Lance L. Landon on Friday, Jul 27, 2007 at 11:56:42 PM
Bush has no need for foreign troops.  He has ... by Hayesml47 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 8:25:43 AM
From the ranks of the U.S. military I would think,... by jpsmith123 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 8:32:31 PM
I would suspect that Blackwater gets most of their... by Hayesml47 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 9:28:42 PM
"I would suspect that Blackwater gets most of... by jpsmith123 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 10:33:45 PM
Sorry JP, You and Mel Gibson have been sniffing th... by Hayesml47 on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 11:31:55 PM
"Jewish What?"Maybe you can find a sympa... by jpsmith123 on Sunday, Jul 29, 2007 at 5:58:09 AM
Sorry JP, I just cannot keep up with your supreme ... by Hayesml47 on Sunday, Jul 29, 2007 at 10:02:02 AM
You made some utterly mindless statement... by jpsmith123 on Sunday, Jul 29, 2007 at 6:31:10 PM
I have not made any mistakes other than attempting... by Hayesml47 on Monday, Jul 30, 2007 at 8:50:03 PM
BLACKWATER NORTH, Mount Carroll, Illinois Overvi... by walley on Sunday, Jul 29, 2007 at 10:08:26 AM
about foreign troops being used, but I'm highl... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jul 28, 2007 at 6:39:24 AM