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I am a neolibertarian minded individual who feels that freedom and individual rights take precedence over the wants of government. I believe government exists to serve the people and not to protect us from ourselves. I am an advocate for private firearms ownership, smaller government, reduced taxes and freedom to live your life however you choose, providing you do not directly hurt others.

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A Feast For Crows
This latest installment of Gearge R. R. Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series isn't quite as gripping as the previous books but is still a pretty good read.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bush vs Posse Comitatus

Whenever a crisis looms in this country, government officials look for an efficient way out, often without regard to civil liberties and privacy. A classic example of this is responding to 9/11 with the so called Patriot Act.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and with the imminent threat of a potentially deadly avian flu epidemic, the President is considering a solution that would further0 erode our liberty. In short, he wants to be able to use U.S. Armed forces to assume domestic police functions in the event of a "national emergency". This is contrary to the very foundations of our country.

One of the compelling reasons our nation came into existence was that the colonists who lived here resented British soldiers being sent here to enforce the laws of the British law. Here's a quote from the title article:

In the tumultuous years preceding the American Revolution the British military was sent to the colonies to enforce British control. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson expressly cited the use of the British military in America as one of the colonists' central grievances: “He [the king] has kept among us, in times of peace, standing militaries without the consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power."
Consider the differences between local police and Federal military forces:
Local policemen are answerable to your local government, are members of your local community, and enforce local laws that you probably had a chance to vote on. If you are wronged by a police officer, you can file a complaint, go through a locally controlled process or court and seek to redress your grievance in a timely manner. Local District Attorneys, Judges, Mayors and other people have a vested interest in keeping police personnel under control as they need your votes to get reelected every few years.

Federal soldiers acting to enforce martial law, however, will come from all over the nation and are unlikely have a special fondness for your community. Not only will they be unlikely to know your local laws, they will be free to disregard them. If they wrong you, your only available course of legal action is to hopefully find a Federal court that will listen to your complaint long after the emergency is over and the forces are withdrawn. If a national emergency is declared, the Federal forces that come to you will probably have far greater powers than your local police. For example, if martial law were declared, it is conceivable that the military could commandeer your private property and punish lawbreakers with imprisonment or death without the usual process of a civilian trial.

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 is what protects us from this sort of Federal oppression. Part of it reads:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
In plain English, this means that using Federal Troops to enforce the law is a criminal act, except for in a few very specific cases. It makes it very difficult for the Federal Government, the President of the United States, and high ranking military officers to impose their will on a community without due process. It's one of the key differences that makes us empowered citizens rather than the subjects of a whimsical regime.

If an emergency does occur, each state's governor already has the power to use National Guard troops to deal with it. Furthermore, the President already has the power to declare a state of emergency and use Federal troops to perform non-law enforcement tasks, such as provide technical assistance, transportation, labor, etc. The President also has the power to use Federal troops to quell insurrections. These existing powers should be sufficient to deal with any domestic emergency. There is no reason to alter the Posse Comitatus act and make it easier to use our military against citizens of this nation.

Here's something else to think about:
Currently, all of our armed forces consist of volunteers. The draft is not active at this time. Men and women voluntarily enlist to protect our nation with the expectation that if they have to use force against someone, it will probably be against a foreign enemy. Imagine, for instance, if a city experiences a deadly viral outbreak. A state of emergency is declared, and Federal troops are ordered to seal off the city to prevent it from spreading across the nation. Anyone who tries to leave that area is to be imprisoned or shot. (Think of the movie Outbreak as a rough scenario.) As horrible as this would be for the city in question, it would be equally odious to the Federal troops ordered to carry out the task. Such a thing could cause people to stop volunteering to serve in our military. If that ever happened, we would likely see a return of the draft, an abomination akin to slavery. Perhaps this is why the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld are reported to be obstructing efforts to change the Posse Comitatus Act.

Changing the Posse Comitatus Act to grant broader powers to the Federal government would be a grievous attack on our freedom and would redefine the very concept of liberty for citizens of this nation. I encourage you to write the President and urge him to abandon this folly.

Here are a few more articles on this issue if you would like more details.

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