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The US federal government has made strong preparations for “continuity of government” in the event of a national catastrophe. A full army brigade is now on active duty within domestic borders, and the Bush administration has issued a directive which allows the president to coordinate all three branches of the federal government in such an event. The Real News spoke to Bruce Fein.

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US prepares for “continuity of government”

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: With recent warnings of potential terrorist attacks coming from US authorities, civil liberty proponents are growing increasingly concerned about preparations the federal government is making for a potential emergency situation. As of October, a full army brigade is on active duty within the United States to deal with civil unrest and crowd control. According to a late-September Army Times article, the brigade will be under the control of Northern Command as a federal response force for natural or man-made emergencies, including terrorist attacks. The Real News spoke to American Freedom Project founder Bruce Fein to discuss the constitutional significance of this development.

BRUCE FEIN, FOUNDER, AMERICAN FREEDOM AGENDA: The United States has had a long tradition of frowning on the use of the military for domestic law enforcement purposes, and that finds expression most vividly in what’s known as the Posse Comitatus Act, passed in the late 1800s, which, generally speaking, makes it a crime to use the military for domestic law enforcement unless Congress has expressly authorized an exception to that prohibition. The most gaping hole created in the act was the provision sponsored by Senator John Warner, called the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. And it basically said Congress hereby creates an exception for Posse Comatatus any time that the president says there’s a terrorist incident, a natural disaster, and then this open-ended loophole: “or other other conditions” that makes him conclude that state authorities are not sufficient to suppress insurrection, domestic violence, rebellion, or otherwise. So that statute now basically endows the president with authority, in his own unilateral discretion, to decide that he will use the military any time he wishes for domestic law enforcement purposes, and this brigade or this combat unit is certainly prepared to do such implementation at the president’s beck and call.

NKWETA: In May 2007, President Bush signed the National Security Presidential Directive 51. The unclassified portion of NSPD 51 states that in the event of catastrophic emergency, a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government coordinated by the president will replace normal governmental procedure.

FEIN: Combined with the Posse Comitatus Act, and now having that look more like [inaudible] than the rule against the military running the government, we have this National Security Directive 51 that is equally problematic. Number one, the greatest problem: it’s not known to the American people, and after all, in a government by the people, of the people, for the people, the government has to tell the people what it’s doing to know whether it has authorization to do so. Sovereignty is the people, not the government. But this directive purports to establish a regime that would take hold in the event of some kind of huge national disaster, where you’re trying to ensure a continuity of the government when it’s made impossible, because of an attack, for the Congress or the Supreme Court or even the president’s cabinet to meet. This situation has never happened in the history of the United States. The Constitution does not contemplate any emergency other than an invasion or a domestic rebellion, whereby you could suspend habeas corpus. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says we revert to a state of nature, and the president then can become all branches to himself in the name of keeping the country alive. And this secret national security directive—and we don’t know all of it, because it remains classified—insinuates that it’ll be the president opposed to the other two branches of government who will be the steward of the nation’s sovereignty in the event of a crisis and would then direct other branches as to what their duties should be. And it’s outrageous, in my judgment, that these ideas or plans for a continuity of government that would purport to have the force of law should occur in secret. You know, secret government is what you do in the old Soviet Union or in communist China, not in the United States of America where the people rule.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Bruce Fein is the founder of the American Freedom Agenda. He served in the US Justice Department under President Reagan and has been an adjunct scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a resident scholar at the Heritage Foundation, a lecturer at the Brookings Institute, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He was an advisor to Ron Paul. Bruce is also the author of the book "American Empire: Before the Fall."