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Do the Secret Bush Memos Amount to Treason? Top Constitutional Scholar Says Yes

Legal expert Michael Ratner calls the legal arguments made in the infamous Yoo memos, "Fuhrer's law."

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If you are familiar with the history of dictators, coups and fascism (as I know you are), they (the planners) prefer a veneer of legality. Hitler killed 6 million Jews with a veneer of legality -- getting his dictatorial powers through the Reichstag and the courts.

These memos gave the Bush administration's [lawless] practices the veneer of legality.

NW: So are you saying that these memos actually created a police state that we did not know about?

MR: If you look at police state as various strands of lawlessness, we knew about some of this lawlessness even before this latest set of memos.

But the memos revealed how massive the takeover of our democracy was to be -- that this wasn't just going to be a few individuals here or there who suffered the arrows of a police state.

These memos lay the groundwork for a massive military takeover of the United States in cahoots with the president. And if that's not a coup d'etat then, nothing is.

NW: Can I ask something? I keep thinking about the notion of treason. In America now, people tend to read the definition of treason in the Constitution as if they are thinking of a Tokyo Rose or an American citizen acting as an agent for an enemy state -- very much a World War II experience of the traitor to one's country.

But I've been reading a lot of 16th and 17th century history, and it seems to me that the founders were thinking more along the lines of English treason of that era -- small groups of Englishmen, usually nobility, who formed cabals and conspired with one another to buy or recruit militias to overthrow the crown or Parliament.

The notion that a group might conspire in secret to overthrow the government is not a wild, marginal concept, it is a substantial part of European, and especially British, Renaissance and Reformation-era history and would have been very much alive in the minds of the Enlightenment-era founders. (I just visited the Tower of London where this was so frequent a charge against groups of English subjects that there is a designated Traitor's Gate.)

So clearly you don't have to act on behalf of another state to commit treason. The Constitution defines it as levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. It says nothing about the enemy having to be another state.

When the Constitution was drafted, the phrase "United States" barely referred to a singular country; it referred to a new federation of many united states. They imagined militias rising up against various states; it was not necessarily nation against nation.

Surely, when we have evidence Bush prepared the way to allow the military to imprison or shoot civilians in the various states and created law to put his own troops over the authority of the governors and the national guard of the various states, and when the military were sent to terrorize protesters in St. Paul, [Minn.], Bush was levying war in this sense against the united states?

Hasn't Bush actually levied war against Minnesota? And if our leaders and military are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, and there is clear evidence now that Bush and his cabal intended to do away with it, are they not our enemies and giving aid and comfort to our enemies? Again, "enemy" does not seem to me to be defined in the Constitution as another sovereign state.

MR: You are right. Treason need not involve another state. Aaron Burr was tried for treason. I do think that a plan to control the military, use it in the United States contrary to law and the Constitution and employ it to levy a war or takeover that eliminates the democratic institutions of the country constitutes treason, even if done under the president of the United States.

 
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