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Domestic Terrorism: General Ashcroft's
"Enemy Citizens," Martial Law and Internment Camps

One of General Ashcroft's campaigns that has received a minimum of coverage in the press are efforts to set up detention and internment camps in the United States as part of preparations for the possibility of declaring martial law. This past summer, journalist Ritt Goldstein wrote two articles -- "Foundations are in place for martial law in the US" and "Internment Camps and Authoritarian US Fast Becoming Reality[49] -- that detail how "democratic freedoms which have long defined American life are under seige."

This goes back to President Jimmy Carter's creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through Executive Order 12148 in 1979. While FEMA's charter originally called for planning and training activities concerning "natural disasters, nuclear war, the possibility of enemy attack on U.S. territory, and incidents involving domestic civil unrest," it was with the advent of the Reagan era in 1981 that FEMA's scope was augmented to be a "national emergency" entity, headed by a federal "emergency czar".[50]

"The birth of FEMA's dark side originated in secret during the Reagan administration. FEMA's domestic disaster management role was then broadened to allow it to practice for the imposition of martial law and the internment of so-called aliens and radicals. During this period, a joint exercise was held with the military to prepare for such a contingency, Rex-84. Concurrently, FEMA began assembling files on those whom the Agency might target. . . . The exercise's purpose was to test military capabilities in anticipation of `civil disturbances, major demonstrations', incidentally illustrating the evolution of civil defense into civil control." [51]

After a period of abuse of power, culminating with the constitutional crisis later labeled Iran Contra (which was never fully revealed in public as vital moments during congressional hearings were conducted behind closed doors [52]), then Attorney General William French Smith concluded that activities FEMA had been involved in were openly unconstitutional including compiling dossiers on those it might seek to intern. "The FBI challenged FEMA's right to pursue domestic spying, resulting in FEMA's turning over `12,000 political dossiers' to the Bureau." [53]

FEMA's involvement in martial law plans surfaced momentarily during the Iran Contra hearings. What was arguably the most important question of those hearings never got a public answer. In July 2002, Southwestern University School of Law Professor Butler Shaffer pondered the question, "Will a Police State Protect Your Liberty?":

"It requires no great genius or years of scholarly study to understand how the future is implicit in the present. In July, 1987, the Miami Herald, along with some other newspapers, ran news stories about secret plans, in the Reagan White House, to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, turn over the functioning of the US government to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and have military commanders running state and local governments, in the event of a national crisis. One of the architects of this plan was the conservative godling, Lt. Col. Oliver North. There were even rumors, in some circles, that government concentration camps were being readied for such a possibility.

"While news of such a plan failed to arouse the attention of most legislators, there was one -- Congressman Jack Brooks of Texas -- who, during the Iran-Contra hearings then being conducted, sought to question North about such reports. Brooks was quickly cut off by the Committee chairman, Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye. In the New York Times report of July 14, 1987, Inouye told Brooks: `that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area,' to which Brooks responded: `I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan developed, by that same agency [NSC], a contingency plan in the event of emergency, that would suspend the American Constitution.' Inouye concluded: `May I most respectfully request that that matter not be touched upon, at this stage. If we wish to get into this, I'm certain arrangements can be made for an executive session.' In other words, Sen. Inouye was determined to live up to the pronunciation of his name: `in no way' are we going to let the public know what we have planned for them!" [54]

It is not publically known what process and command structures of FEMA's past are deceased, dormant or active today. Goldstein cites an August 15th 2002 Los Angeles Times story recounting ``Ashcroft's announced desire to create "camps for US citizens he deems to be `enemy combatants'" [and that] Ashcroft aides "have indicated that a `high-level committee' will recommend which citizens are to be stripped of their constitutional rights and sent to Ashcroft's new camps"''.[55] This is described in conjunction with a July 15th story that FEMA is pursuing a "crash effort" to build "sprawling temporary cities to handle millions".

John Ashcroft resorts to euphemistic subterfuge when he pretends that he can simply rename a citizen of the U.S. as an "enemy combatant". With Ashcroft's penchant for portraying 9-11 as an act of war, he is now seeking to strip any American he wants to target of their constitutional rights and liberties by labeling them "enemy combatant". In terms of Americans, General Ashcroft should call such person's "enemy citizens" since such person is still protected by our constitutional system of law, even if Ashcroft would rather deny them their rights.

Given General Ashcroft's zeal to create camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants" (although FEMA's public claim is to handle millions of displaced persons in the event of a terrorist attack), it is not unreasonable to expect such camps will be employed to intern Americans. What would be Ashcroft's grounds for internment? Many people will go to the streets to challenge the brazen and continued aggrandizement of power in the hands of the Chief Executive and his officers if another alleged terrorist attack supplies them with more justification to identify and lock up enemy citizens.

FEMA's activities during Reagan's terms included national training exercises in preparation for a suspension of the constitution in case of massive domestic political turmoil. The Department of Homeland Security intends to "build upon the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as one of its key components." [56] Goldstein stresses that FEMA's 1980s downfall (of pursuing openly unconstitutional goals) "was a direct outgrowth of its pursuit of proactive methods, its attempt to legitimize the assumption of extraordinary powers under the very cloak of `counterterrorism'."

"At present, the final contents and disposition of the Reagan security initiatives, part of a national crisis plan, remains beyond public knowledge. But given the `War On Terror's' scope, even if a formal crisis is not declared, speculation exists that a de facto drift into an effective deployment of FEMA's crisis powers could occur. And this February, the former FEMA executive, John Brinkerhoff, who reportedly drafted the martial law/internment portions of the national crisis plan, revealed it was `approved by Reagan, and actions were taken to implement it.'" [57]

"A Miami Herald article on July 5, 1987, reported that the former FEMA director Louis Guiffrida's deputy, John Brinkerhoff, handled the martial law portion of the planning. The plan was said to be similar to one Mr Giuffrida had developed earlier to combat `a national uprising by black militants'. It provided for the detention `of at least 21 million American Negroes' in `assembly centres or relocation camps'." [58]

General Ashcroft clearly is up to the task he believes he faces. Given last December's performance, when he aggressively bullied the Senate Judiciary Committee with extreme doublespeak such as "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists" and "terrorists are taught how to use America's freedoms as a weapon against us", it would be more accurate to charge the General with applying newspeak tactics to promote his idea of freedoms as a weapon against the people of this nation-state.

It is not clear how far the General's zealotry will carry him and us. Nat Hentoff, writing on September 4th about "General Ashcroft's Detention Camps, Time to Call for His Resignation" notes the status of two American citizens, Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla, currently "locked up in military brigs as `enemy combatants.'"

"In Hamdi's case, the government claims it can hold him for interrogation in a floating navy brig off Norfolk, Virginia, as long as it needs to. When Federal District Judge Robert Doumar asked the man from the Justice Department how long Hamdi is going to be locked up without charges, the government lawyer said he couldn't answer that question. The Bush administration claims the judiciary has no right to even interfere. . . .

"Returning to General Ashcroft's plans for American enemy combatants, an August 8 New York Times editorial -- written before those plans were revealed -- said: `The Bush administration seems to believe, on no good legal authority, that if it calls citizens combatants in the war on terrorism, it can imprison them indefinitely and deprive them of lawyers. This defiance of the courts repudiates two centuries of constitutional law and undermines the very freedoms that President Bush says he is defending in the struggle against terrorism.'

"Meanwhile, as the camps are being prepared, the braying Terry McAuliffe and the pack of Democratic presidential aspirants are campaigning on corporate crime, with no reference to the constitutional crimes being committed by Bush and Ashcroft. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis prophesied: "The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people." And an inert Democratic leadership." [59]

As with the bedrock of law in the international arena, we are now witnessing the Bush II repudiation of two centuries of the domestic span of constitutional law undermining the basis of freedoms we presume to be cast in concrete and impermeable to the wiles of such aggrandizement of power. This nullification is being justified behind the all-encompassing façade of a holy "war" against, not a another national entity, but an ambiguous idea that means different things to different people. The supine leadership of Congress is in collusion with this renunciation of constitutional law proceeding apace, given that Congress is not exercising its constitutionally mandated powers of oversight over the Department of Justice.

Last month Mr. Hentoff wrote about retired California Congressman Don Edwards as "the Congressman from the Constitution". On August 10th Edwards received the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for his "unswerving devotion to the Constitution and its values throughout his career."

"He served in the House from 1962 to 1995; for 23 years, Don was chair of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights-which has oversight of the FBI. Himself a former FBI agent, Don set unprecedentedly high standards for containing the FBI within the bounds of the Constitution, very much including the Bill of Rights. . . .

"In the 1970s, Edwards -- along with Senator Frank Church and his committee -- exposed the FBI's pervasive abuses of civil liberties in J. Edgar Hoover's Cointelpro (counter-intelligence program), which monitored, infiltrated, and disrupted entirely lawful civil rights and anti-war organizations.

"Edwards . . . worked with Gerald Ford's attorney general Edward Levi in formulating FBI investigative guidelines faithful to the Constitution. It is these guidelines that John Ashcroft has contemptuously discarded in order to allow the FBI to go back to the hunting fields of Cointelpro.

"Characteristically, Edwards, though respected even by his opponents in Congress, refused a repeated request that he join the Intelligence Committee. He said that the people's business should be done in public, and through his influence in the House he blocked various expansions of unreviewable intelligence-authorization powers.

"Recently, I asked Don Edwards what he thought of the Bush-Ashcroft conception of the Bill of Rights. `The Bill of Rights,' he said, `is under assault. For example, locking people up-citizens or noncitizens-without being charged and without access to a lawyer is wrong. Under our system of justice, you must have a lawyer if you're imprisoned.

"`Also,' he added vigorously, `Congress is not exercising its oversight powers over the Department of Justice, including the FBI. Committees should be hauling in Justice Department officials to justify what they're doing.'" [60]

So far General Ashcroft and Bush II have felt justified in locking up two citizens of the United States without access to a lawyer and claiming the judiciary has no right to interfere. Aides to Ashcroft "have indicated that a `high-level committee' will recommend which citizens are to be stripped of their constitutional rights and sent to Ashcroft's new camps." We find ourselves living our own contemporary Scoundrel Time and must draw inspiration from Lillian Hellman and her accounts of how people stood up to and challenged the unconstitutional authority of an earlier pack of scoundrels: ruthless, ambitious politicians who engaged in their own assault on our constitutional laws and principles.

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