!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Posse Comitatus Act
Posse Comitatus Act was a participant or observer in the following events:
In a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), says that the US has the absolute right to detain US citizen Jose Padilla without charge and without legal representation (see May 8, 2002). Bybee also claims that the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the US military from operating inside the US itself, “poses no bar to the military’s operations in detaining Padilla.” [US Department of Justice, 6/8/2002 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The day after this memo is issued, Padilla is classified as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to the US Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 9, 2002).
President Bush signs the 2007 Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to more easily declare “martial law” in the US. If Bush or a successor does so, the bill gives the administration the ability to strip much of state governors’ powers over their National Guards and relegate that authority to the federal government. Congress is likely to challenge that provision in the future. The bill makes significant changes to the Insurrection Act that allows the president to invoke the Act during events such as natural disasters, and thereby suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “[W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.” [US Senate, 9/19/2006] The relevant section of the bill is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” This section states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” [US Congress, 9/19/2006] GlobalResearch’s Frank Morales will write that the new law allows the federal government to, if it chooses, “commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military, and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against ‘disorderly’ citizenry….” Under the new law, the federal government may more easily order National Guard troops to round up and detain protesters, illegal aliens, “potential terrorists,” and just about anyone else, and ship them off to detention facilities. Those facilities were contracted out for construction to KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, in January 2006, according to the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, at a cost of $385 million over five years. The Journal noted that “the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers… for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing [immigration] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” [GlobalResearch (.ca), 10/29/2006] Virtually no Congressional lawmakers seriously objected to the bill’s provision during debate. One of the few exceptions is Leahy, who will, six weeks later, sharply criticize the provision during debate over a separate piece of legislation. Leahy will say, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three—three—[occasions] in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.… This is a terrible blow against rational defense policy-making and against the fabric of our democracy. Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point.… [I]t seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived… because the Pentagon and the White House want it.… Because of this rubberstamp Congress,… [w]e fail the National Guard, which expects great things from us as much as we expect great things from them. And we fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.” [US Senate, 10/29/2006]
Entity Tags: National Guard, Insurrection Act, Halliburton, Inc., GlobalResearch (.ca), George W. Bush, Frank Morales, Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, Patrick J. Leahy, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Posse Comitatus Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Congress rewrites a two-centuries-old prohibition against the president using federal troops, or state National Guard troops acting under federal control, to act as police on domestic soil. The prohibition dates back to the Insurrection Act of 1807, which stated that the only circumstance under which the president could use troops to enforce the law against US citizens is during a time of armed revolt. The ban on using troops against citizens was strengthened by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids any government official from using military soldiers as police without specific authorization from Congress. The new law stems from the reported lawlessness that swept New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of the city. The governor of Louisiana, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, refused to allow the federal government to take over the evacuation of the city, fearing that the change would amount to martial law (see 11:00 am EDT August 25, 2005). After this rejection, and the devastation wrought in Texas by Hurricane Rita just weeks later, President Bush began discussing the idea of a new law that would allow the president to impose martial law in a region for reasons other than citizen uprisings. He called it “making the Department of Defense the lead agency” in handling emergencies such as those created by Katrina and Rita, or by another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. (Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argues that the president does not need any new laws because his inherent authority as commander in chief lets him send federal troops anywhere he likes, no matter what the law says.) A year later, Congressional Republicans slip a provision into a large military appropriations bill allowing the president to deploy federal troops as police at his discretion, regardless of the possible objections of state governors. Any situation in which the president feels the “constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order” can trigger military control of a city, county, or state at the president’s behest. Bush signs the law into effect on October 17 with virtually no debate or public discussion. [Savage, 2007, pp. 316-319]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.