I can hear Sulla marching through the streets of Rome. It was illegal to bring troops into the capitol city, back then. Unfortunately, a brilliant
general named Lucius Cornelius Sulla had different ideas.
The conflict started simply. Sulla was returning from a campaign of conquest
in the East. He was used to having his way. The soldiers were tired after many years of fighting, and they wanted land on which to settle down. Sulla wanted more; namely, Rome. When the Senate would not give in to his demands, Sulla marched with his legions into the Capitol, thereby taking control.
Thousands died in Sulla's reign of terror, which lasted for four long and
bloody years. Whole families were wiped out, and Rome was in ruins. A fatal precedent had been set; one that would enable Caesar, only a few years later, to turn Rome from a Republic into an Empire.
What do we have before us now? An ex-National Guardsman, not brilliant by the standards of many, but smart enough to get himself elected President. He wants something too, but his wants are a little harder to pin down than Sulla's. Shrub says he wants security for the American people. Ok, so do I. He says he wants peace, freedom, and what have you else. Ok, so do I.
It makes you wonder why a nice guy from Texas who wants only freedom and
peace for his people is considering bringing in the military for domestic law enforcement. I mean, isn't that just a little bit Hitler? Not to
complain or anything, of course.
It's great to hear the spin that those in the Bush government are putting on
this story. The comment by Ralph Eberhart, Air Force general, is
particularly amusing. "We should always," says he, "[B]e reviewing things
like Posse Comitatus and other laws if we think it ties our hands in
protecting the American people."
So what exactly is Posse Comitatus, and why should you be up in arms if your government overthrows it? Basically, it's a law against martial law. It says that the Federal Government cannot use any branch of the military (save the National Guard, Coast Guard, and troops under the direct control of the governors of individual states) to enforce any domestic law. Period. That means that the Army can't arrest you for theft or speeding or jaywalking, the Navy can't come after you for illegal interstate commerce, and that the Air Force is not going to fly over your house if you should water your lawn during water rationing.
Why don't we want the Army patrolling our neighborhoods? Besides creating a scene that looks something like mid-'90s Bosnia, besides terrorizing old women and young children when a paratrooper with a machine gun comes to the door, and even besides the ugly suits (I'm still waiting for them to roll out that Storm Trooper-like armor) the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are not trained law enforcement officials. Bringing them in would cause more trouble than it would help prevent.
Tom Ridge (here's another brilliant fellow) says he wants to talk about
giving the military authority to arrest members of the populace. Instead of
the military being a force used to defend the people from outside enemies,
it will be a force used to keep "subversives" (including yours truly) nice
and quiet. Armed with a broad definition of terrorism (under the PATRIOT Act, domestic terrorism is defined as an act which is "dangerous to human life" or "intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population [or] to
influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion"). They'll be making the rounds to visit you at home, work, or school.
Once upon a time, the government and military of our nation were servants of
the people. Their purpose was not to send troops against the people, to pepper the offices and residences of citizens with informers and electronic listening devices, or to track a person's every movement with "smart chips" and national IDs. The original (and the only valid) purpose of the government was to maintain the system whereby civilians were safe from harm and anyone with a legitimate complaint could have his say, his vote, his day in court.
Posse Comitatus is the only barrier (and a thin one at that) protecting us from martial law. Can you imagine your cities looking like military bases?
Can you imagine being asked for your papers should you wish to travel to the ocean on holiday? Can you imagine anyone, for any or no reason, being imprisoned on a mere whim? How about torture? This is not the movies. It is possible today, in this country, if we let Posse Comitatus go.
"But the military will just be an option! They won't declare martial law right away!" you say. True. It will be only a temptation, to start with.
Bush will send the military after the drug lords--he already has, with a dispensation from Congress. Then he'll send them after a few "terrorists," like the Texan doctor who was falsely imprisoned and beaten by the FBI for being an Arab. Then he'll go after the folks who speak out against his excesses. People like me, and all of the other great writers on this site. What about the people who read these articles? They'll be next. By then, it'll be anyone who bats an eyelash in the wrong way. Hitler's Germany; just add bloodshed.
Now if you thought Operation TIPS was bad, look where the "security at any
price" mentality is leading us. The government is no longer your servant. They may not be out to get you, but they're sure as heck out to get your freedom.
U.S. Mulls Military's Domestic Role
The Posse Comitatus Act
Domestic Role for Military Gains Support