October 23, 2005
Both the Avian
Flu threat, which has taken on a political twist, and the hurricane
disasters are being used by the Bush White House to justify a greater
role for the Military in the country's civilian affairs.
Bush hinted, offhandedly, at the height of Hurricane
Rita that the Military should become the "lead agency" in disaster
"Is there a natural disaster--of a certain
size--that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead
agency in coordinating and leading the response effort? That's going to
be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."
A few weeks later at a White House
Press Conference, President Bush pointed to a role for the
Military in enforcing quarantines in the case of an outbreak of avian
"I have thought through the scenarios of what an
avian flu outbreak could mean. ... If we had an outbreak somewhere in
the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country?
And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine? ... And who best to be able
to effect a quarantine? One option is the use of a military that's able
to plan and move. So that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an
important debate for Congress to have." (White House Press conference,
October 4, 2005)
Meanwhile, a new media consensus is in the
making. Highlighted in the tabloids and on network TV, the
threats of natural disasters are now casually lumped together with
those associated with a terror attack on the Homeland. According
to Daniel Henniger writing in the Wall Street Journal:
"The question raised by the Katrina fiasco. is
whether the threat from madmen [Osama and Al Zarqawi] and nature is now
sufficiently huge in its potential horror and unacceptable loss that we
should modify existing jurisdictional authority to give the Pentagon
functional first-responder status."
What is the dividing line, from the point of view of emergency procedures, between these two distinct phenomena? Or is there
a dividing line between a humanitarian disaster resulting from a
natural cause on the one hand, and a real or perceived "terror attack
on America" on the other?
The Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan (NRP) (December2004) eliminates the distinction between a civilian and a national security emergency situation:
"This approach is unique and far reaching in that it, for the first time, eliminates
critical seams and ties together a complete spectrum of incident
management activities to include the prevention of, preparedness for,
response to, and recovery from terrorism, major natural disasters, and
other major emergencies. The end result is vastly improved
coordination among Federal, State, local, and tribal organizations to
help save lives and protect America's communities by increasing the
speed, effectiveness, and efficiency of incident management."
http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRPbaseplan.pdf italics added
The NRP is fully operational: the militarisation of emergency procedures is, in many regards, "a done deal".
The NRP is built around emergency procedures
in the case of a "terrorist attack": it focuses on ":incident
management". It is endorsed by lead federal agencies and government
departments (including the CIA and the DoD).
Deployment in the case of a major civilian emergency
(e.g. hurricane and/or avian flu pandemic) would be governed by the
same criteria in conformity with the basic tenets of the "war on
terrorism". The latter also characterize the workings of both the DHS
The Militarization of "Civil Society" Relief Organizations
The militarisation of disaster relief has also been endorsed by the American Red Cross , the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)
These key organizations are signatories of the National Response
Plan. They have endorsed Homeland Security's definition of a national
emergency. Under the NRP, these key civilian organizations are
directly under the authority of the DHS, FEMA and the Pentagon.
Distinct from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the
NVOAD regroups a large number of individual non-governmental organizations . In signing the NRP, these organizations have foregone their "civilian" mandate in disaster relief.
In relation to Hurricane Wilma, the DoD has set up a
Defense Coordinating Office, which operates out of the State Emergency
Operations Center in Tallahassee, Florida.
More significantly, the Pentagon has dispatched US
Northern Command officials to FEMA national headquarters. According to
Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security Adviser to President Bush,
the U.S. Northern Command "planners" have a mandate "to deploy the
military if needed." (quoted in Seattle Times, 22 Oct 2005).
Criminal Charges against Bush Administration officials
The renewed call for a greater role for the military
in the country's civilian affairs has emerged at a critical political
juncture. The Plame-CIA leak investigation, led by Special Counsel
Fitzgerald could result in criminal charges and impeachment procedures
directed against key members of the Bush Cabinet, including Vice
President Dick Cheney.
While the "war on terrorism" is still the main
pretext for a greater role of the military, natural disasters
constitute a new and innovative justification.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian disaster in the Gulf as
well as the perceived threat of a bird flu pandemic are being used to
deflect public attention from the broader issue of conspiracy and war
crimes revealed by counsel Fitzgerald. More generally, heightened
terror alerts or the perceived dangers of an avian flu pandemic, could
also be used to trigger emergency procedures with a view to creating an
atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, in a letter to the
Attorney General, has called for Special Counsel Fitzgerald "to expand
his investigation to include a criminal investigation to examine
whether the President, the Vice President, and members of the White
House Iraq Group conspired to deliberately deceive Congress into
authorizing the war in Iraq."
This initiative follows that of Congressman John
Conyers and 90 other Congressional Democrats who addressed a letter to
President Bush regarding "a coordinated effort to fix the
intelligence and facts to justify the war. Congressman Conyers and
other Congressional Democrats on June 16 held an unofficial hearing
concerning the Downing Street Memo that resembled an impeachment
Congressman Nadler's letter to the Deputy Attorney
General points to the "'White House Iraq Group' whose sole
purpose appears to have been to market and sell a decision to go to war
The letter also points to the leaked Downing Street memo:
"Although Mr. Fitzgerald’s investigation has yet to
determine whether a crime was committed by any Administration
official(s) in leaking the identity of Wilson's wife as a covert CIA
operative, it is abundantly clear that the White House Iraq Group was
engaged in an effort to discredit revelations of the falsity of the
Administration’s justifications for the war, and to intimidate and
punish those who would reveal the truth.... We now know that top
Administration officials, including Vice President Cheney’s Chief of
Staff, I. Lewis Libby, misrepresented to the media the scope and nature
of what the U.S. intelligence community knew and didn’t know about
Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs before the war.
It is self-evident that the Administration cannot
investigate itself in this matter. I therefore urge you to expand the
Special Counsel’s investigation to include these matters crucial to our
national security and national integrity."
For full text of the letter to the Deputy Attorney General
An impeachment procedure could be undermined by the Administration in a number of ways.
We recall, in this regard, how Clinton launched
punitive bombing raids on the Sudan and Afghanistan on the day Monica
Lewinsky was summoned before a grand jury in August 1998. The bombing
raids immediately contributed to deflecting attention from the issue of
impeachment. (August 21, 1998). Similarly, a few months later, December
16, 1998, Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq. The bombs were dropped
on Baghdad on the very same as the launching of an impeachment motion
in the House of Representatives. Overriding the UN Security Council,
Sec of State Madeleine Albright had ordered the withdrawal of UN
weapons inspectors, who left Iraq on December 15th, a day prior to the
To galvanize public support, Cheney and Rumsfeld
could take the opportunity of the UN report into the assassination of
former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, to launch punitive
bombings against Syria. Military action against Syria is already
contemplated and has been part of the US military agenda since
An impeachment process directed against Bush,
Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. would inevitably undermine the entire
neoconservative construct. Iit would also backlash on the Pentagon's
top military brass. If criminal charges are laid, Vice President Cheney
would be one of the main targets:
The Oct. 11 grand jury appearance by New York Times
reporter Judith Miller has shifted the focus of attention to Cheney's
office. Miller's hour-long testimony, according to news accounts,
focussed on a third meeting that she had with Cheney's chief of staff
Lewis "Scooter" Libby in June 2003—a month prior to the publication of
Valerie Plame's name in a Robert Novak syndicated column. Plame, the
wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, was "outed" by Novak as a
CIA officer. Novak reported that he had been given Plame's name by two
"senior administration officials," now widely believed to be Libby and
President Bush's chief political counsel Karl Rove.
However, Fitzgerald's probe, from the outset, has
centered on an obscure but powerful White House unit, the White House
Iraq Group, which was constituted in July-August 2002, to coordinate
all Bush-Cheney Administration efforts to win support for an Iraq
invasion. Rove and Libby, along with White House Chief of Staff Andrew
Card, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen
Hadley, White House Counsellor Karen Hughes, and a half-dozen other
White House and NSC senior staffers were all part of the WHIG. (See Jeffrey Steinberg )
In the eventuality of criminal charges and/or an
impeachment procedure, a national emergency could be used to suspend
the legal procedures required to carry out the indictments against key
Bush administration officials.
In other words, the Administration could use a
national disaster as a pretext for Martial law, in which case all
criminal charges would be thwarted through the (temporary) suspension
of constitutional government. Under a Code Red alert, US Northern
Command (NORTHCOM) would take over the functions of civilian