By Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston

Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with Al Qaeda, according to former administration officials.

Some of the advisers to President George W. Bush, including Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that a president had the power to use the military on domestic soil to sweep up the terrorism suspects, who came to be known as the Lackawanna Six, and declare them enemy combatants.

Mr. Bush ultimately decided against the proposal to use military force.

A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.

The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

In the discussions, Mr. Cheney and others cited an Oct. 23, 2001, memorandum from the Justice Department [see attached document] that, using a broad interpretation of presidential authority, argued that the domestic use of the military against Al Qaeda would be legal because it served a national security, rather than a law enforcement, purpose.

“The president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States,” the memorandum said.

The memorandum — written by the lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty — was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked the department about a president’s authority to use the military to combat terrorist activities in the United States.

The memorandum was declassified in March. But the White House debate about the Lackawanna group is the first evidence that top American officials, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, actually considered using the document to justify deploying the military into an American town to make arrests.

Most former officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations about the case involved classified information. They agreed to talk about the internal discussions only after the memorandum was released earlier this year.

New information has recently emerged about the deliberations and divisions in the administration over some of the most controversial policies after the Sept. 11 attacks, like the decision to use brutal interrogation methods on Qaeda detainees.

Click here to read full article

Attached documents


DOJ 23 October 2001 Memorandum: Authority for Use of Military Force To Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States


(PDF - 6.3 Mb)

Source: The New York Times