The Martial Law Act of 2006
(By James Bovard, 15 April, 2008, blog: “Lew Rockwell”)
Martial law is perhaps the ultimate stomping of freedom. And yet, on September 30, 2006, Congress passed a provision in a 591-page bill that will make it easy for President Bush to impose martial law in response to a terrorist “incident.” It also empowers him to effectively declare martial law in response to what he or other federal officials label a shortfall of “public order” (whatever that means). It took only a few paragraphs in a $500 billion, 591-page bill to raze one of the most important limits on federal power. Congress passed the
“Insurrection Act” in 1807 to severely restrict the president’s ability to deploy the military within the United States. The “Posse Comitatus Act” of 1878 tightened those restrictions, imposing a two-year prison sentence on anyone who used the military within the United States without the express permission of Congress. note: This act was passed after the horrid depredations of the U.S. military throughout the Southern states during Reconstruction.
There is a loophole (note: there is always a loophole) as “Posse Comitatus” can be waived if the president invokes the “Insurrection Act.” The Insurrection Act and “Posse Comitatus Act” aim to deter dictatorship while permitting a narrow window for the president to temporarily use the military at home. The 2006 reforms basically threw any concern about dictatorial abuses out the window. Section 1076 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2006 changed the name of the key provision in the statute book from “Insurrection Act” to “Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order Act.” The Insurrection Act of 1807 stated that the president could deploy troops within the United States only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The new law expands the list of pretexts to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition” (note: “condition” not defined or limited). One might think that given the experience with the “USA Patriot
Act” and many other abuses of power that followed that Congress would have been very leery about giving this president his biggest blank check yet to suspend the Constitution. That would have been naive. This legislation was put in place in response to the human disaster that
was the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The absurdity of this was that an enormous increase of power to the source of the problem, the President, the “decider,’ himself. As such the politicians could “do the Pontius Pilate hand was” and maintain that they had addressed the problem with new legislation.
The new law also empowers the President to commandeer the National Guard of one state to send to another state for as many as 365 days. Bush could send the South Carolina National Guard to suppress anti-war protests in New Haven. Or the next president could send the Massachusetts National Guard to disarm the residents of Wyoming, if they resisted a federal law that prohibited private ownership of semi-automatic weapons. The State Governors’ control of the National Guard can be trumped with a simple Presidential declaration. Section 1076 of the legislation had bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, including support from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
On the other hand, every governor in the country opposed the changes. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned on September 19, 2006, that “We certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law.” Leahy’s alarm got no response. Ten days later, he commented in the Congressional Record, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” The new law vastly increases the danger from the actions of government provocateurs. If there is an incident now like the first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993, it would be far easier for the president to declare martial law – even if, as then, it was an FBI informant who taught the culprits how to make the bomb (which is clear and demonstrative evidence at this time). Even if the FBI master-minds a protest that turns violent, the President could invoke the new legislation to suspend the Constitution. “Martial law” is a euphemism for military dictatorship ( the ‘juanta‘ seizes power seeking to maintain itself ‘ad infinitum’ )
When foreign democracies are overthrown and a junta establishes martial law, we recognize that a fundamental change has occurred. Section 1076 is more ominous in light of the Bush administration’s long record of “Posse Comitatus“ violations.
There is no Honesty-in-Absolute-Power mandate in the federal statute books. The more power government seizes, the more easily it can sup–press the truth. There is nothing to prevent a President from declaring martial law on false pretexts – any more than there is to prevent him from launching a foreign war on false pretenses. And when the lies become exposed years later, it could be far too late to resurrect lost liberty.
Note: This Article was written by James Bovard, author of the just-released: “Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil.” He serves as a policy advisor for “The Future of Freedom Foundation.”