Talking Points from the Office of Rep. Cynthia McKinney
ˇ In the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has continued to make widespread and unnecessary changes in laws and administrative powers that undermine the most basic Constitutional principles and protected rights of citizens in a democracy.
ˇ Recently, both President Bush and Senator Mark Warner (VA) have renewed calls to undermine or reverse the Posse Comitatus Act of 1867, which re-established the Constitutional principle and practice of separating military and police functions in a democracy. The experience of the founding fathers with the British model that combined the functions was enough to cause them to set that division sharply in administrative powers and civilian command of the military.
ˇ The principles began to be eroded in the period following the end of the Civil War, and the effective occupation of areas of the south by federal troops who were holding military tribunals, carrying out executions of citizens and usurping local police and judicial control. Their excesses came to the attention of the post-war Congress and they passed the Posse Comitatus Act to forbid the military being used to enforce laws.
ˇ Further erosion followed the end of the Vietnam War, when police departments were increasingly militarized in training and equipment as well as employing a large number of returning war veterans. SWAT teams were created, a clearly militarized police function, getting training on military bases with advanced weapons.
ˇ When President George HW Bush came into office in the 1980s, his programs made increased use of military troops and equipment in the war against drugs, supporting police and collecting intelligence in regard to civilian crimes. Joint Military Task Forces were created that combined DOD, FBI, SWAT, ATF and local police in sieges at Wounded Knee, Waco, Texas and against MOVE in Philadelphia, using tanks and military explosives.
ˇ President Bush has ample authority under provisions of existing laws on disaster response to mobilize and command any and all federal assets, including military forces. State directed National Guard units have always worked in conjunction with federal troops without being put under federal control themselves. Both National Guard and regular military forces are authorized under federal and state laws to use force to protect lives, property and public safety during a declared emergency. Police functions have been wisely left to local police and state National Guard forces, except when the situation was so dire they could not function.
ˇ In his most recent call to use federal troops in a martial law situation is based on the projected need to quarantine those affected by a virulent and quick-spreading flu or virus, such as the Asian Flu, but again state, local and federal health officials already have powers to quarantine areas in such a situation. Public health officials work closely with the federal Center for Disease Control, as they did during the anthrax attacks in Octoberr of 2001. There is no need to federalize all responses to emergencies, and many reasons not to.
ˇ Congress must renew their commitment to the Posse Comitatus Act and support the principle of separation of military and police functions, and the existing laws regarding federalization of resources during emergencies, as they did in 2003. Bush did not need those authorities to move troops and federal assets into New Orleans and the Gulf States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and he does not need them for other public health emergencies. Existing law is sufficient, and the Congress needs to investigate the New Orleans response by FEMA and government troops, as well as examine and reject the Bush administrationšs claims that they need more power than the Constitution envisions or allows.