From Information Clearing House:
The Late, Great American Nation
“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.” —James Madison
Click here to watch a corresponding video commentary with John Whitehead
By John W. Whitehead
We live in a fundamentally different country since 9/11. Not only do many Americans view their government with suspicion, but how their government views them has drastically changed. A perfect example of this took place last fall.
Prior to the elections that transformed the makeup of Congress, the Bush Administration pushed for the inclusion of two stealth provisions into a mammoth defense budget bill. The additions made it easier for the government to declare martial law and establish a dictatorship.
Since the days of our Founding Fathers, when King George III used his armies to terrorize and tyrannize the colonies, the American people have understandably distrusted the use of a national military force to intervene in civilian affairs, except in instances of extreme emergency and limited duration. Hence, as a sign of the Founders’ concern that the people not be under the power of a military government, control of the military was vested in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief.
And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 furthered those safeguards against military law, making it a crime for the government to use the military to carry out arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other activities normally handled by a civilian police force.
However, with the inclusion of a seemingly insignificant rider into the massive defense bill (the martial law section of the 591-page Defense Appropriations Act takes up just a few paragraphs), the Bush Administration has managed to weaken what the New York Times refers to as “two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty.”
One is posse comitatus. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which limits a president’s domestic use of the military to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion where a state is violating federal law or depriving the people of their constitutional rights.
Under these new provisions, the president can now use the military as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
According to the new law, Bush doesn’t even have to notify Congress of his intent to use military force against the American people—he just has to notify them once he has done so. The defense budget provision’s vague language leaves the doors wide open for rampant abuse. As writer Jane Smiley noted, “the introduction of these changes amounts, not to an attack on the Congress and the balance of power, but to a particular and concerted attack on the citizens of the nation.
Bush is laying the legal groundwork to repeal even the appearance of democracy.”
The main reason we do not want the military patrolling our streets is that under martial law, the Bill of Rights becomes null and void. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the American people of any vestige of freedom. Thus, if we were subject to martial law, there would be no rules, no protections, no judicial oversight and no elections. And unless these provisions are repealed, the president’s new power will be set in stone for future administrations to use—and abuse.
[continue reading at link above]