Posse Comitatus, Requiescat In Pace

Towards Freedom: Bush Moves Towards Martial Law

In a stealth maneuver, President Bush has signed into law a provision which, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law (1). It does so by revising the Insurrection Act, a set of laws that limits the President’s ability to deploy troops within the United States. The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331 -335) has historically, along with the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C.1385), helped to enforce strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. With one cloaked swipe of his pen, Bush is seeking to undo those prohibitions.

Public Law 109-364, or the “John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007″ (H.R.5122) (2), which was signed by the commander in chief on October 17th, 2006, in a private Oval Office ceremony, allows the President to declare a “public emergency” and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder”

And from Truthout which has covered this story:

Congress changed the Insurrection Act to list “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident” as conditions under which the president can deploy U.S. armed forces and federalize state Guard troops if he determines that “authorities of the state or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.”

Interesting that the primary focus is epidemics, it seems that those who wrote the law have been reading Roger Brent’s new paper (Hat tip: Bugs n Gas Gal):

Roger Brent, molecular biologist and director of the nonprofit Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California, has advised the U.S. Government for the past several years about this issue and the ever-increasing biosecurity risks that have grown out of the revolution in biological sciences. In a paper ominously titled “In the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” Brent summarizes a timeline of risk related to the biological revolution and proposes actions we should be engaged in now to prevent a biological catastrophe in the future.

Of course, it would be good if Bush did actually make some of the required public health improvements necessary to minimize the effects of a public health emergency. But, at least he’ll be able to lock up all the sick people and prevent any pictures of them from getting on the news. At least for the little while that he stays in power after a serious bioterror attack…

Posse Comitatus, Requiescat In Pace

4 thoughts on “Posse Comitatus, Requiescat In Pace

  1. Its a sense of balance that needs to be achieved. In context of bioterrorism the key response has to be restriction of movement to prevent further spread of infection ASAP. Once that is achieved it is merely a matter of time before any event is over.

    Is there a provision for a joint congressional forcible repealling of “the marshal law measure” after a set time? *Based on recommendations from independent scientists?* Thus using the old “separation of powers principle”.

    If so then surely this will alieviate some of the fears expressed in the post, along the lines of some future conspiracy/tyrannical regime?

    Here in the UK it is much different… but the response is exactly what is described in the above post. Army and reserves called in to restrict movement. Ultimately, separation of power is ensured since the oath of alliegence by soldiers on the ground is to the monach and to act in the interests of the nation in (her) name, acting under the government with oversight by a cross-party committee in the UK parliament (by all accounts) or via the COBRA committee made up of the government and privy councillors (to the Queen). Ultimately, in serious situations such as those – the danger is so great it becomes a matter of faith in our public servants to do everything they can…

    Ultimately the acid test is – actual usage of such laws over in the US. Surely any American President will actively strive NOT too implement such measures (being obviously policitally negative) – and congress will be monitoring closely such events with powers of censure/impeachment if deemed to have been implemented without “due cause”?

    Difficult decisions in any event.

  2. Mark CR UK noted above:

    “Its a sense of balance that needs to be achieved. In context of bioterrorism the key response has to be restriction of movement to prevent further spread of infection ASAP. Once that is achieved it is merely a matter of time before any event is over.”

    Well, I agree there is room for more balance and less hysteria. But the laws as they existed would allow for the Governor of a State to impose a quarantine, and it is hard, though not strictly impossible, to imagine a situation where a Governor would not co-operate to implement necessary public health measures. I think there are other reasons why this law grabs power beyond what is necessary. Secondly, I am very concerned that the suppresion of Freedom of the Press, in this law and several others. The functioning of the free press is a critical component of a properly conceived bio-defense system. The issues are much more complex than just keeping people from panicing.


    Regarding your comment: “Once that is achieved it is merely a matter of time before any event is over,” this is most emphatically NOT the case. A properly designed bio-terrorist attack would consist of an infectious agent with a non-threatening prodrome, but which, perhaps even several years after infection, causes widespread mortality. After the infection is detected, there will be no more point to any quarantine, and there will be strong motivation of the government to keep accurate information from being dispersed. That’s why we urgently need a functioning accountable and transparent Syndromic Surveillance system, under the control of Public Health Authorities:

    On bio-warfare threats:

    On Syndromic Surveillance:

  3. I take your points.

    But how many functional enermies willing to disperse such agents and have the (alarming) patience to wait for for years before mortality begins?

    I mean is there any “real” defense from such a thing? If proven on a particular group – surely only knowledge of an “ultimate response” would provide deterence?

    Also as war and winning is often associated with “the moral high ground”… surely use of such an agent would be self defeating in the face of a backlash for the use of a banned and indescriminant biological weapon.

    Some of the talk on this – truly gives me shivers down my spine!

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