Saturday, October 01, 2005

Posse Comitatus Act

The Posse Comitatus Act was established in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, and continues in force to this day. It prohibits the application of the US Army and Air Force to enforce civilian laws domestically.

However, recent events in the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita have caused some to question the appropriateness of the Posse Comitatus Act. Those who do, think that it might have prevented the Federal government from being able to control the social disorder in the wake of the disaster -- particularly in New Orleans. The logic is that lives might have been saved if the Posse Comitatus Act was not in effect.

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute summed up this philosophy in a nutshell last week when he referred to it as a "federal war on hurricanes." He is asking that America not make rash decisions while still strongly influenced by the emotional response to the hurricane disaster. Healy is questioning whether an extremely rare case should drive policy that can be applied at any time.

No one questions that the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast was turned around in large part by Lieutenant General Russel Honore. It's also clear that the US military is the most effective mass logistics force on Earth. Military personnel and equipment can play a crucial role in domestic recovery following a natural disaster. However, the more important question is whether that role should include law enforcement. Even Honore constantly ordered his troops to point their weapons down and remember they were not in Iraq.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow from the Center for American Progress inadvertently stated the gravest danger to abolishing the Posse Comitatus Act while attempting to justify doing so. When asked under what criteria US troops should be activated domestically, Korb responded that, "the president has to make that judgement." This becomes a dangerous situation when the president has poor judgement -- the danger is compounded when the president additionally lacks intelligence, critical thinking skills, and respect for any form of government other than the Federal executive branch, as is the case with George W. Bush.

The US military has overwhelming power that can be beneficial in a domestic disaster when directed by local authorities. However, in the wrong hands, that power can also be very destructive. Since local authorities know local needs better than Federal authorities ever could, the decision to apply US military forces in a locality should be left up to the respective mayors and governors. That way, if the local authorities make poor decisions, the local citizens can lay the blame on them and not on our troops.

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