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Militarizing law enforcement?

In 1878, Congress enacted the Posse Comitatus law, which bans the use of American military personnel in domestic law enforcement. The inspiration for that law was the abusive behavior of military personnel used to enforce Reconstruction policies in the conquered South.

During debate over the measure, one congressman offered this grim recital of official abuses: "Our Army, degraded from its high position of defenders of the country from foreign and domestic foes, has been used as a police; has taken possession of polls and controlled elections; has been sent with fixed bayonets into the halls of State Legislatures in time of peace and under the pretense of threatened outbreak." The Posse Comitatus Act was intended to prevent a relapse of such outrages, as well as to fortify the critical barrier between law enforcement and the military.

In 2002, the Bush administration urged Congress to undertake a review of the Posse Comitatus law, with a view toward modifying it (or perhaps repealing it outright) in the name of fighting terrorism. The armed violence that erupted in New Orleans subsequent to Hurricane Katrina has triggered a renewed focus on "reexamining" Posse Comitatus.

In a September 14 letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) wrote: "I recommend that you conduct a thorough review of the entire legal framework governing a President's power to use the regular armed forces to restore public order in those limited situations involving a large-scale, protracted emergency like the present one. This review should include the Posse Comitatus Act itself.... The inquiry should not be limited to natural disasters, but should also include large-scale public health emergencies, terrorist incidents, and any other situations which could result in serious breakdowns in public order." (Emphasis added.) Senator Warner's formulation could be used to justify imposition of martial law in the event that a post-Super Bowl victory celebration gets out of hand.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has embraced this idea. On September 25, President Bush indicated "that he may ask Congress to put the Pentagon in charge of the response to domestic disasters such as the two recent hurricanes--a change that could take authority from the hands of governors and local officials," reported the Houston Chronicle.
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Title Annotation:INSIDER REPORT
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 17, 2005
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