Revolution #93, June 24, 2007


Bush Signs Directive Giving President Dictatorial Emergency Powers

In Revolution #83 (3/25/2007), we reported on the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 that Bush signed into law in October 2006. Quietly slipped into the law at the last minute, at the request of the Bush administration, were sections changing important legal principles, dating back 200 years, which limit the U.S. government’s ability to use the military to intervene in domestic affairs. These changes would allow Bush, whenever he thinks it necessary, to institute martial law—under which the military takes direct control over civilian administration. (See “Bush Paves the Way for Martial Law”, online at

On May 9 Bush took another big step in this direction, without almost any notice in the mainstream press. Bush signed an order designated as National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD 51) and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (HSPD 20). This decree calls for Bush or a subsequent president to assume what is, in essence, dictatorial powers in the event of a “catastrophic emergency.”

The Directive defines “catastrophic emergency” very loosely, saying that it “means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.” Under this definition, everything from another hurricane like Katrina to a severe economic crisis could be used as a reason for the President to invoke the powers spelled out in the Directive. The “incident” doesn’t even have to take place within the United States.

While the U.S. has historically had various contingency plans in the event of a crisis, this directive breaks in significant ways with what is known about previous directives as well as what historically has been the way the U.S. government has operated. In particular, the Directive gives the President power over the judicial and legislative branches of the U.S. government. The Directive’s definition of “National Essential Functions” includes “ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government,” “defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” “protecting the nation’s economy and ensuring public confidence in its financial systems.” The Directive says that “the President shall lead the activities of the Federal government for ensuring constitutional government.”

There are some references in the Directive to the separation of powers between the three branches of the U.S. government. And it refers to a “cooperative effort among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Federal government.” But the Directive makes it clear that all this is to be “coordinated by the President” and that consultation by the President with other branches “are a matter of comity [courtesy – Revolution].”

Major parts of the Directive, called “continuity Annexes” are classified and have not been made public.

NSPD #51 is just one of a number of measures enacted recently that pave the way for the U.S. President to assume extraordinary new powers. This Directive is also part of an effort by those around Bush to push for a “unitary executive,” where the President has a supreme power over the other branches of government. This constitutional theory has been used, for example, to justify the extensive wiretapping within the U.S., authorized by Bush, which is in clear violation of laws passed by Congress.

The new National Security Directive is part of an extreme agenda of the current core of the U.S. ruling class, which is setting out to create a world empire that is unchallenged and unchallengeable and has embarked on an endless war to bring this about. Along with this, the Bush regime has been greatly intensifying the whole repressive apparatus in the U.S.

Michael Ledeen, a White House advisor during the Reagan administration and a fellow of the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute, wrote, “Paradoxically, preserving liberty may require the rule of a single leader—a dictator—willing to use those dreaded 'extraordinary measures,' which few know how, or are willing, to employ." (Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today As Five Centuries Ago, Truman Talley Books, 2007) These words of Ledeen, who has a lot of influence within the Bush regime, bring to mind how the Hitler regime assumed total control in Germany. On February 27, 1933, a fire broke out in the Reichstag (government) building in Germany. The next day Hitler and his Minister of the Interior Hermann Göring drafted the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended civil liberties and gave the central government total power. The decree was signed into law within days. After that point, opposition to Hitler became much more difficult.

As we wrote in the article “Bush Paves Way for Martial Law”: “In the U.S. today, extreme measures much like the Reichstag Fire Decree are already being put into place—making it even more urgent that a determined struggle be waged to drive out the Bush regime and reverse this dangerous trajectory.”

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