Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Martial law declared!

Last night, in a stunning announcement, an ashen George W. Bush called out the National Guard to quell armed insurrection in the former Mexican territory of the southwest United States. Bush has the authority to federalize the various state Guard units and declare martial law to put down insurrection or civil unrest, and of course, to meet a possible invasion threat from the Mexican army.

Spotty, Bush didn’t declare martial law. Yes he did. No, he didn’t.

Well, it sure sounded like he did. Spot may be forgiven for his error. Bush did announce the serial call-up of six thousand Guard members at a time to, well, hang around on the border with Mexico. The prez told us it was not his intention to “militarize” the border. Well, the Guard can’t police the border either, for reasons that Spot will describe in a moment, so it’s doubtful that the Guard will be of much or any use, especially rotating in and out as quickly as Bush envisions.

Okay, boys and girls, who has ever heard of posse comitatus? Oh Spotty, that ‘s just a bunch of fat guys sitting in camo lawn chairs, wearing dark green clothes, and cleaning rifles while talking about black helicopters. Ah yes, grasshopper, but it is so much more:
The origins of “posse comitatus” are to be found in domestic law. Black's Law Dictionary defines the term “posse comitatus” as:

the power or force of the county. The entire population of a county above the age of fifteen, which a sheriff may summon to his assistance in certain cases as to aid him in keeping the peace, in pursuing and arresting felons, etc.

The Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S. Code, Section 1385, an original intent of which was to end the use of federal troops to police state elections in former Confederate states, proscribes the role of the Army and Air Force in executing civil laws and states:

Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

This Reconstruction era law has proven to be a wise policy, and it’s why you don’t see tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles in the streets routinely the way you might in some banana republic. At least not yet.

There are exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act for things like insurrection, civil unrest, or national disaster. But absent martial law being declared, the armed forces in the US do not have arrest, seizure, or detention authority.

Here’s your quiz to see what you have learned, boys and girls:

Bush’s action in calling up the Guard in these circumstances is 1) a political stunt, 2) a serious erosion of the barrier between the military and law enforcement, or 3) both.


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