Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you"

Seriously, it is hard to shock me these days. Every day brings a new outrage. It has gotten to the point that I have been catching myself thinking like a conspiracy theorist, and I do not like that feeling. And I really hate that I might be right to be paranoid.

I happen to believe that government can benefit the citizens and that free people tend toward responsible governance. No “Invisible Hand” necessary, liberal applications of common sense and the rule of law served us quite well for over two centuries.

Then along came George.

A year ago, the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2007 was tweaked, and language was inserted into the bill that effectively suspended the Insurrection Acts of 1807 and Posse Comitatus. It went relatively unnoticed, with the exception of a few bloggers, but the day that bill was signed into law, the relationship ordinary citizens have with our government and our military changed fundamentally.

The Insurrection Acts of 1807 limited the power of the president to deploy the armed forces within the United States to act in a law enforcement capacity, and Posse Comitatus further refined and quantified the use of the military in the United States to enforce the law.

This bit of Federal Law is was the only U.S. criminal statute that outlaws military operations directed against the American people under the guise of law enforcement.

Posse Comitatus reads as follows:

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

With a stroke of a pen on 16 October 2006, those two pillars of our republic were negated, and the ability of the president to declare martial law went from unthinkable to a horrifying possibility, while simultaneously the governors, all 50 of whom objected, lost command of their National Guard contingents when the act federalized the Guard.

The following text is from page 19 of the Defense Authorization act of 2007. (Emphasis is mine.)

Use of Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies. Section 1042 would amend the Insurrection Act to make explicit the President’s authority to deploy the armed forces, including the National Guard, within the United States to restore order or enforce federal law after a major public emergency, such as a natural disaster, epidemic, or terrorist attack. Current practice, in a major public emergency, is for the governor or legislature of a state to request assistance from the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency then organizes the federal government’s response to that request.

This provision would clarify the President’s authority to deploy the armed forces in response to public emergencies without first receiving a request from state authorities in cases where the President determines such action is necessary to restore public order or enforce federal law. This section also would authorize the President to direct the Secretary of Defense to provide supplies, services, and equipment to persons affected by such an emergency. If this clarification would encourage the President to use the armed forces more frequently or more intensively than is the current practice, the potential cost could be significant. However, because CBO does not have a basis for determining the frequency of such emergencies or the magnitude of the potential involvement of the armed forces, CBO has no basis for predicting the potential cost of this section.

When the bill was being deliberated, exactly one Senator raised a note of protest over this egregious power grab. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was the lone voice of dissent. On 29 September, Leahy entered into the Congressional Record that he had "grave reservations about certain provisions of the fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill Conference Report," the language of which, he said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law." Leahy claimed that this provision had been "slipped in,as a rider with little study while other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals." Leahy went on "The implications of changing the (Posse Comitatus) Act are enormous. There is good reason," he said, "for the constructive friction in existing law when it comes to martial law declarations. Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy. We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the President to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty." (emphasis mine) Leahy finished his comments by wondering aloud how we got to this point. "Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point. It seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived the Conference because the Pentagon and the White House want it."


Now, almost a year later, folks seem to be noticing. It might have had something to do with Michael Chertoff's stomach trouble. What ever it was that set the alarm bells ringing, it got the attention of the electorate in the Oregon-04, and they started calling their congressman, Peter Defazio, who holds a seat on the Homeland Security Committee.

Representative DeFazio, a populist Democrat, requested access to the secure "bubbleroom" in the capitol to review the contingency plans that the federal government has should a "public emergency" arise. initially, his request was approved, then inexplicably, DENIED.

"I just can't believe they're going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack," DeFazio says.

Homeland Security Committee staffers told his office that the White House initially approved his request, but it was later quashed. DeFazio doesn't know who did it or why.

"We're talking about the continuity of the government of the United States of America," DeFazio says. "I would think that would be relevant to any member of Congress, let alone a member of the Homeland Security Committee."

Bush administration spokesman Trey Bohn declined to say why DeFazio was denied access: "We do not comment through the press on the process that this access entails. It is important to keep in mind that much of the information related to the continuity of government is highly sensitive."

This is the first time DeFazio has been denied access to documents. DeFazio has asked Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to help him access the documents.

"Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right," DeFazio said.

Norman Ornstein sees it the same way Representative DeFazio and the voters of the Oregon-04 see it. Ornstein, said he "cannot think of one good reason" to deny access to a member of Congress who serves on the Homeland Security Committee. "I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House."

I have never been one for conspiracy theories. Trying to get enough people on the same page and sharing the same commitment to guarding/pushing the same agenda to pull off a worthy conspiracy borders on the impossible. But the obsessive/compulsive secrecy of this administration is enough to make even the most cynical among us think that there is malevolence most foul lurking just below the surface, just waiting for the opportunity to strike, and as bad as it pains me to say it, I would not put this particular crew of miscreants above making something happen if the prophetic gut is wrong. I absolutely hate saying this, but if an attack happened tomorrow, my first thought would be "false flag operation" and it would likely take a lot more than standard evidence to make me believe otherwise. And you have no idea how fiercely I resent even having thoughts like that.

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