October 14, 2008

More Strands in the Noose

In late 2006, I wrote a post entitled Martial Law Made Easy, which discussed the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (JWNDAA), and noted:
... what is most striking and frightening about the Warner Defense Authorization Act is that it explicitly targets citizens of the United States.

Two federal laws, the Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, govern the president's ability to deploy troops on domestic soil for the purposes of, respectively, putting down "lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion," and broader law enforcement. Together, they are highly restrictive of presidential power, and they are the primary bastion against the use of America's military against its own citizens. H.R. 5122 removes this safeguard by modifying the Insurrection Act and effectively gutting Posse Comitatus provisions.

Section 1076 of the Warner Defense Authorization Act states:
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...

In short, it allows the President to declare a "public emergency" and station troops anywhere in the United States, commandeering state-based National Guard units without the consent of governors or local authorities.
The JWNDAA has, to date, passed largely beneath the public radar, but last month brought new developments when the Army Times reported that:

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.
But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

Even in isolation - if this were the only effort by the government to diminish civil liberties - this is a development that should be of concern to every American who cherishes the Constitution and loathes the creeping police state transformation of the United States since September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, the deployment of active duty troops to home soil for use in quelling civil unrest didn't happen in isolation.

Concurrently, Attorney General Michael Mukasey finalized new guidelines for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that grant the agency broad new powers to investigate groups and individuals with broad discretion and little or no supporting evidence. While the new framework is touted as a flexible tool that will enable the aggressive pursuit of terrorists, the simple fact is that the FBI was caught last year violating the already-lax civil liberties protections of the USA PATRIOT Act more than 1,000 times. Given the abusive, pre-emptive arrests of both journalists and peaceful demonstrators in Minnesota during the Republican National Convention (RNC), it is clear that the current culture of law enforcement remains focused on gaining new power at the expense of the citizenry.

Assigning active troops for deployment within our own borders is the logical next step in what began with the USA PATRIOT Act, which granted the government broad wiretapping powers and sneak-and-peak search powers. PATRIOT Act powers were in turn extended with the warrantless surveillance conducted illegally by the Bush Administration, and advanced by the Military Commissions Act, which allows the president to unilaterally deny individual rights and imprison people without access to counsel or even the right to trial. It has been carried even further by the JWNDAA, police tactics during the RNC, the removal of restraints on the FBI, and now, the stationing of the Army on American territory for use within the homeland.

The abridgment of civil liberties almost never occurs in one fell swoop. Instead, like the boiling of a proverbial frog it is incremental, and every bit as deadly. I have heard the argument made that this is a silly concern, and that we should trust the government because it is made up of people who only have our best interests at heart. But while there may have been no terrorist attacks on the United States since the anthrax mailings that followed 9/11, there is not a single shred of evidence indicating that the deliberate, coordinated erosion of civil liberties has had anything to do with that fact.

Ask yourself this: What has changed since passage of the JWNDAA in 2006 that makes it necessary to station active duty military personnel on American soil to quell domestic unrest? What makes the protections spelled out in the Insurrection Act and the Posse Comitatus Act no longer desirable, when the first has been in place for more than two centuries and the second for more than 125 years, a period spanning the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and the Cold War?

From the point of view of the citizenry, the answer to both of these questions is that nothing makes these changes necessary or desirable, but for an authoritarian government more concerned with power than individual freedom, these measures are highly advantageous. The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act, along with the deployment of active duty troops it permits, is another strand in the noose that is being woven slowly and inexorably around the neck of fundamental American freedoms. It is the next logical step in the systematic destruction of civil liberties carried out by the Bush Administration and the modern Republican Party, and it is one more betrayal by our government that must be undone.

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