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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Martial Law Coming to a Theatre Near You!

Presumably President Bush learned many lessons from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation in New Orleans. Unfortunately, it appears that one of his biggest "takeaways" was the need for a President to be able to declare martial law and quell disturbance after a natural disaster and any number of other unpredictable "incidents." The Bush Administration slipped a clause into the 2006 "Defense Bill" that changed the "Insurrection Act" that has been on the books since just after the Civil War. That act spelled out the only times a president could override state governors and send in Federal troops against U.S. citizens and also take over control of the state's national guard. Though it had some vague language of its own it basically only allowed for Presidential martial law in the case of insurrection or a state's refusal to follow federal law. Now, the name of the Insurrection Act has been changed to "Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order" Act and it clearly authorizes the President to impose martial law after a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, or 'other condition.'' We now have one "Decider" who can overrule governors in many different difficult situations - even if that "decider" is woefully ignorant of conditions on the ground, or just plain ignorant in general.

The governors association is against this new law and on February 7th, Senator Leahy of Vermont, introduced S1712 to ressurect the old Insurrection Act and delete the new Restore Public Order" Act. It's currently in the Judiciary Committee and the Committee of Armed Services.

The scariest thing about it is how easy it is to give up basic rights and protections guaranteed by our constitution. When you don't know how unprecedented this Bush-driven law is and how relatively untouchable, the "posse comitatus" restrictions have been, it is easy to erase its limitations on the President. In fact it's pretty easy to relinquish a myriad of constitutional liberties and protections in the aftermath of 9/11. We're getting used to the dire warning that there is a terrorist behind every Bush, and how we need to prioritize our security over our liberty. How often that seems to translate into letting the president decide what violence, surveillance, and control to employ on our behalves.

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