WASHINGTON — Newly revealed documents have shed light on the secret executive’s plans for apocalyptic scenarios — such as the aftermath of a nuclear attack — when the president can activate war powers for national security emergencies.
Until now, public knowledge of what the government has put into those classified guidelines, which invoke emergency and war powers granted by Congress or otherwise claimed by presidents, has been limited to declassified descriptions of those developed in the early Cold War. At the time, they included steps such as imposing martial law, arresting people deemed dangerous and censoring news from abroad.
It hasn’t been clear what’s in the modern guidelines — known as presidential emergency action documents — because none have been made public or shown to Congress under the administration of either party. But the newly unveiled documents, relating to the George W. Bush administration’s attempts to revise draft orders after the September 11, 2001 attacks, offer clues.
Several of the files, provided to DailyExpertNews by the Brennan Center for Justice, show that Bush-era efforts were, in part, aimed at a law that would allow the president to take over or take down communications networks in wartime. Close. That suggests that the government may have developed or revised such an order in light of the explosive growth of the consumer internet in the 1990s.
To underscore how little lawmakers and the public can conclude, another file, from the summer of 2008, noted that Justice Department lawyers are reviewing an unidentified draft injunction in light of a recent Supreme Court opinion. The memo doesn’t specify the ruling, but the court had just made landmark decisions on topics that could involve government emergency action — one on gun rights in the United States and another on Guantánamo detainees’ rights to court hearings.
“The bottom line is that these documents leave no room for doubt that the post-9/11 emergency response documents have direct and significant implications for the civil liberties of Americans,” Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice told IPS. the New York University. “And yet there is no oversight by Congress. And that is unacceptable.”
While it’s unclear how the guidelines have evolved since the later stages of the Cold War, Ms Goitein said they likely expanded to include scenarios other than a devastating nuclear attack. The documents show that later versions have expanded from one category to seven, although their topics remain secret and come under the jurisdiction of agencies with different areas of focus.
The newly revealed documents show that there were 48 of the directives when the Bush administration took office; by 2008, that number had grown to 56. Vice President Dick Cheney’s office was involved in reviewing and “cleaning up” the orders. The documents do not indicate any consultations with Congress.
Several Bush administration officials named in the documents spoke in the background to discuss matters that remain secret, portraying the effort as bureaucratic “good housekeeping.” It seemed sensible as the government refocused after the Sept. 11 attacks to focus on national security, they said.
The Brennan Center for Justice, which has been collecting material on the presidential emergency response documents, obtained the files under the Freedom of Information Act from the Bush presidential library. The disclosures ran to about 500 pages, while about 6,000 more pages were withheld as classified.
The revelations come after the House passed a bill in December that would significantly curb the executive branch after the Trump years, including a provision that would require disclosure of the emergency action documents to congressional overseers.
The bill, called the Protecting Our Democracy Act, is not expected to pass the Senate, where Republicans can block it with a filibuster. But proponents of imposing new limits on emergency presidential powers, with some bipartisan support, are discussing a bid to tie part of it to an annual defense authorization bill considered “must-pass” later this year. legislation.
It is not yet clear whether the provision on emergency measures will be included in such a step. But Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey, who drafted the provision as a standalone legislation in 2020, said Congress has a chance to take some responsibility for emergency planning.
“It is our duty as lawmakers to require the executive branch to hand over documents so that Congress, as representatives of the American people, can assess the constitutionality of a future president’s attempt to exploit an emergency to exercise extraordinary powers. take over,” he said in a statement. to The Times.
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Mr. Markey proposed his bill after President Donald J. Trump claimed he exercised “total” authority in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and declared a national emergency.
More has been made public about the versions of the draft emergency action orders from the 1950s and 1960s, as some have been mentioned or described in memos released since then. For example, they include directives that impose versions of martial law, censor information about the border, and suspend court hearings for detainees. It’s unclear if the current set contains similar actions.
Another early emergency action order, from the 1950s, was being prepared to establish military zones that banned certain categories of people. The directive echoed how the government barred Japanese and Japanese Americans from large areas of the West Coast during World War II, leading to their internment. In 1967, the Justice Department recommended dropping it, a memo released in 2019.
“The broad criticism of Japan’s relocation program is well known and well-founded,” the 1967 memo said, adding: “It is open to serious doubt as to whether a similar program should be allowed to permit the removal or detention of U.S. citizens. as a group based solely on their race, religion or national origin.”
Other orders of the time included a declaration that a state of war existed, a directive to reconvene Congress in a secure location, and the creation of an agency empowered to impose sweeping controls over the economy. . That agency, reporting to the president, could perform controls such as reclaiming private property and allocating materials; imposing wage, price and rent controls; rationing; and resolving labor disputes.
For several years now, the Obama-era Department of Justice stated in budget documents submitted to Congress that the Office of Legal Counsel had begun reviewing the legality of the 56 presidential emergency measures in 2012. In 2017, Trump’s Justice Department reiterated that reference in its own budget request, after which it was dropped from annual submissions.
But subsequent budget documents have failed to disclose any further changes the Obama administration and Trump have made to them.