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State of Emergency: Could Bush ever arbitrarily declare martial law like Musharraf has in Pakistan?

By       Message Matthew Clark       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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President Musharraf’s declaration of martial law in Pakistan has engendered two sorts of reactions in the world: mutiny and uproar from the legal community within Pakistan and doleful finger-wagging from most Western governments, nowhere more so than in the US. 

Speaking in front of reporters at a press conference beside Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Bush expressed disappointment with President Musharraf’s decision. “We expect there to be elections as soon as possible…and the president should remove his military uniform.” But any doubts about the Bush administration’s dependence on Musharraf were quickly dispelled. “We want to continue working with him to fight these terrorists and extremists,” Bush said. In addition, it’s been made clear that cuts in aid are extremely unlikely. “We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates. 

Given that the vast majority of arrests in Pakistan since martial law was declared have been lawyers, it’s somewhat ambiguous what President Bush means by “terrorists and extremists.” Of course, Pakistan does have a problem with Islamic extremists who are angry with Musharraf’s turnabout since 9-11. Previous to Musharraf’s deal with Washington— which for his help in Afghanistan lifted sanctions initially enacted over Pakistan’s nuclear defiance and poured in aid which has totaled $10.59 billion currently—he was a critical supporter to the Taliban. According to a policy paper written by Leon T. Hadara of the CATO Institute, “leading Pakistani political, military, and religious figures and radical Islamic groups were providing direct support in the form of financial resources and military assistance…(to the)…Taliban and al-Qaeda.” 

If Washington’s support for Musharraf as he seizes power to forestall a court decision on the legality of his dual power as president and military commander teaches us anything, it’s that democracy promotion is an afterthought in US foreign policy. Or better put, a euphemism for free-market promotion, whether in the cone of South America during the seventies or in Iraq today.

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But what about democracy at home? Here in the US? If the Bush administration ever felt desperate enough politically, could it or would it ever arbitrarily declare martial law? A yes answer might not be so far out there, and it would arguably be legal, thanks to a rider inserted in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act. 

Defense Authorization Acts are passed every fiscal year to authorize appropriations for the Department of Defense. When the 2007 draft was written, amendments were made to the “Insurrection Act,” a bill passed in 1807 to give the president power to deploy troops in the event of an insurrection or rebellion. The main changes made to the Insurrection Act were primarily in §333. The Defense Authorization Act of 2007 summarized the changes as follows:

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[(Sec. 1076) Revises federal provisions allowing the President to utilize the Armed Forces in connection with interference with federal and state law to allow the President to employ the Armed Forces and National Guard in federal service to restore public order in cases of natural disaster, epidemic or other public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or domestic violence. Requires the President to notify Congress within 14 days of the exercise of such authority. Authorizes the President, when exercising such authority, to direct the Secretary to provide supplies, services, and equipment to persons affected by the situation.] 

So in short, where the original Insurrection Act only permitted the declaration of martial law in the face of a rebellion, the new changes allow the president to declare martial law for virtually anything deemed an emergency.  

Also alarming was a phrase added to §334 of the new Insurrection Act. 

[Whenever the President considers it necessary to use the militia or the armed forces under this chapter, he shall, by proclamation, immediately order the insurgents or those obstructing the enforcement of the laws to disperse and retire peaceably to their abodes within a limited time.]

“Those obstructing the enforcement of the laws” could of course potentially be interpreted to apply to anyone the administration saw as an obstruction to its policies i.e. peaceably demonstrating activists, opposition political leaders, etc. 

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So now that the president has new broad powers to declare martial law, and, unlike Pakistan, a supreme court that’s in many ways philosophically aligned with the Bush Administration, the question is: are there any feasible scenarios under which Bush might declare martial law before his term is up? Though the likelihood for such a move might require a fickle time-line of events, it’s probably not as unlikely as some might think.  

Imagine the following occurs seven months from now: The Bush Administration is intent on bombing Iran but has been forestalled by a worsening of events in Iraq, perhaps Turkey invades the North. The administration fears a Democrat won’t take care of Iran as they see fit, and polls show the Democratic nominee has a fifteen point lead in the looming election. Then a hurricane devastates the Gulf Coast again. Claiming as its motive a wish to respond quicker than it did with Katrina, Bush declares martial law and suspends the upcoming election. Suddenly, there’s that critical extra time needed to expand the war.  

Again, though it requires a darkly fortuitous turn of events for the Bush administration, such reasoning might appeal to them if Vice President Dick Cheney’s reported fascination with expanding the war in the Middle East is threatened by something as burdensome and capricious as the people’s choice for change in the next election. In fact, I would argue that the Bush administration, apparently unbothered by low poll numbers, might see it as a necessity.  

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Matthew Clark is the name of a male Homo-sapian who once used to pay an inordinate amount of time fuming over the immoral politics of most governments on planet earth before he threw up his hands and joined the ignorant masses.

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