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Arresting the 'dangerous,' censoring news authorized by secret directives

Bob Unruh

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Issue arose as Congress demanded access to plans for emergencies

There have been secret presidential directives in the past in the United States that, if activated, would have authorized the detention of those considered "dangerous."

They also would have allowed the suspension of habeas corpus.

And provided for martial law.

They also would have allowed for the searches and seizures of people and property, and the declaration of war.

TRENDING: Trial by jury ... sort of

And authorized censorship of news reports.

These actions all have been confirmed by a report from the leftist Brennan Center, which said they come from Presidential Emergency Action Documents.

They are executive orders, proclamations and more that are prepared for use during emergency scenarios.

"First created during the Eisenhower administration as part of continuity-of-government plans in case of a nuclear attack, PEADs have since been expanded for use in other emergency situations where the normal operation of government is impaired. As one recent government document describes them, they are designed 'to implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations,'" the report said.

They are classified secret and the report said no PEAD ever has been declassified or leaked. But there have been, "over the years," multiple unclassified documents that have been made available that talk about them, the center reported.

"Through these documents, we know that there were 56 PEADs in effect as of 2017, up from 48 a couple of decades earlier. PEADs undergo periodic revision; although we do not know what PEADs contain today…"

The center has posted online links to multiple references to the various orders from presidents since Eisenhower.

The New York Times said the documents about the secret orders "shed a crack of light on secret executive branch plans for apocalyptic scenarios."

"Until now, public knowledge of what the government put into those classified directives, which invoke emergency and wartime powers granted by Congress or otherwise claimed by presidents, has been limited to declassified descriptions of those developed in the early Cold War. In that era, they included steps like imposing martial law, rounding up people deemed dangerous and censoring news from abroad," the report said.

The Times explained, "Newly disclosed documents, which relate to the George W. Bush administration’s efforts to revise the draft orders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, offer clues. Several of the files, provided to The New York Times by the Brennan Center for Justice, show that the Bush-era effort partly focused on a law that permits the president to take over or shut down communications networks in wartime. That suggests the government may have developed or revised such an order in light of the explosive growth in the 1990s of the consumer internet."

The Times worried, "Underscoring how little lawmakers and the public can infer, another file, from the summer of 2008, mentioned that Justice Department lawyers were revising an unidentified draft order in light of a recent Supreme Court opinion. The memo does not specify the ruling, but the court had just issued landmark decisions on topics that could relate to government actions in an emergency — one about gun rights in the United States and another about the rights of Guantánamo detainees to court hearings."

"The bottom line is that these documents leave no doubt that the post-9/11 emergency actions documents have direct and significant implications for Americans' civil liberties," the Brennan Center's Elizabeth Goitein said. "And yet, there is no oversight by Congress. And that’s unacceptable."

The Brennan Center got its details about Bush-era orders from the Bush presidential library under a Freedom of Information Act process.

The issue has become a flashpoint in Congress because of a Democrat plan in Congress, called Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would limit executive power and was proposed as Democrat Joe Biden was becoming president.

It would, among other things, require disclosure of the documents to Congress.

It was passed by the House in December, but remains unlikely to pass in the Senate.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., proposed the requirement, saying Congress must be able to "evaluate the constitutionality of any future president's attempt to exploit an emergency to assume extraordinary powers."

While past orders have included martial law, censorship and detaining people, the Times reported, "It is unclear whether the current set includes similar actions."

Among the comments about the orders that have appeared included criticism of the World War II process through which Japanese Americans were interned in camps.

The DOJ recommended after the fact that plan be dropped, because, "It is open to serious question whether any similar program should be authorized which would permit the removal or detention of American citizens as a group based solely on their race, religion or national origin."

Under both Barack Obama and President Donald Trump there were budget requests to review the legality of the documents.

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