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Repealing Posse Comitatus Would Mean Iraq Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
George Bush has become a classic Johnny One Note: If there's a problem, call out the troops.
That, of course, was his response to 9/11.
It was his belated response to the flooding of New Orleans too, you may recall. The first thing the president did when he finally left off his vacation and returned from his fund-raising event, was to get M-16-armed troops (and, apparently, Blackwater mercenaries with even heavier weaponry) into the city to start shooting to kill people who were desperately trying to survive.
Now, confronted with the lowest public support figures of his (or almost any) presidency, this singularly detached and inept president is proposing that Congress repeal the 127-year-old Posse Comitatus Act so that the Pentagon can send active duty troops into domestic crisis zones without even so much as an executive order.
Presumably the folks who came up with this horrible idea (it's got Karl Rove’s greasy fingerprints all over it), figure that this plays to Bush's "strength"--the carefully tended myth that this drug-and–alcohol addled Vietnam-era National Guard AWOL somehow knows how to be tough and to use military "assets".
Lord knows where this idea gets its legs. He certainly hasn't displayed any particular military leadership skills in his handling of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which surely will become (like Hitler's decisions not to invade Britain and to invade Russia) classic case studies in what not to do in military schools from the Virginia Military Institute to West Point for decades to come. But be that as it may, we should be doubly concerned about this very bad idea.
First of all, why would anyone want people who were trained to shoot off everything they've got in a 360-degree radius whenever they sense danger being sent into American neighborhoods to rescue people or to restore order? American troops have been firing off an average of 90,000 rounds of ammunition per soldier in Iraq, and at best they've killed maybe a few thousand insurgents (that would be one insurgent per 250 U.S. soldiers, or looked at another way, one insurgent per 22.5 million shells). Clearly these guys are not good at shooting enemies. What they have been pretty good at, unfortunately, is killing innocents. Hey, nobody’s counting (the U.S. occupation authorities won’t let anyone count), but the estimates for civilian deaths in Iraq caused largely by American forces range somewhere between 25,000 and 125,000--most likely the latter.
Are these the kind of guys you want coming into your neighborhood when you have a flood or a tornado?
I think not.
Then there's the matter of our basic rights.
Remember those? No illegal search and seizure. No billeting of troops in homes. Freedom of speech and assembly. All those sacred Constitutionally-protected rights went down the toilet when Bush's troops rolled into New Orleans. And that is what we can expect to see become routinized if this latest Bush/Rove scheme gets the nod from Congress.
Beyond that, one thing that has distinguished the U.S. from much of the rest of the world, and that has helped to preserve what democracy we have in this country, is that the army has remained very professional and removed from politics. There has not been a military coup in the U.S. since the country's founding, and many military leaders thankfully have a strong distaste for involving the uniformed forces in that kind of thing.
That said, during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, there were well-documented plans developed (with names like Operation Garden Plot, and Rex Alpha) for establishing martial law in the nation, or in parts of the nation--something that it appears has also been going on in the bowels of the White House and the Pentagon during this president's two terms.
The Posse Comitatus Act makes establishing military rule much harder to do. It gives those military officers who might want to resist martial law orders something to hang on to.
That bar to using the armed forces domestically should not be lightly tossed out just because of one example of incompetence by the White House and Homeland Security.