Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Incompetence Sure Does Come In Handy 

Through the kind agency of our distinguished colleague Shaula Evans we discovered, in the comments section of BOP News, a truly astonishing compendium of links to stories about the federal government's lethally mismanaged response to the submersion of New Orleans. (Kurt Nimmo, among others, has argued that FEMA's seeming ineptitude was quite deliberate.) Now Zemblan patriot J.D. directs us to a WaPo blog by William M. Arkin, author of Code Names, who offers further evidence that the Bush administration is using its own malfeasance to argue for -- what else? -- an unprecedented expansion of executive power:
Virginia Sen. John Warner (R.-VA) asked Donald Rumsfeld last week to conduct a "thorough review" of presidential authority to use the armed forces to "restore public order" in an emergency like Katrina. His letter (PDF) unleashed a torrent of speculation that lawmakers will soon modify or even repeal the Posse Comitatus Act, to some a thread-thin security blanket between civilian rule and martial law.

The back story? Warner, the long-standing chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is either confusing the President's inadequate response with legal handcuffs that don't actually exist, or he's playing the oldest Washington game in the book: asking the Defense Department to do something it already wants to do. I'm betting the latter.

Nothing in law prevents the President from employing the military in a Katrina-like emergency if state and local government really breaks down. In fact, the 130-year-old Posse Comitatus Act more symbolizes the military's subordination to civil authority than it actually restricts what the military can do.

And Warner, of all people, should be well aware that long before Katrina, the military began rewriting its policies, manuals, and war plans associated with what it now calls "defense support of civil authorities." Post 9/11 military contingency planning for "emergency" and "immediate" response by the Pentagon is already in the process of marginalizing any previously perceived legal constraints . . . .

Even before Katrina, contingency planners at the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the military's new homeland security command in Colorado Springs, were given marching orders by Rumsfeld to plan for the worst possible contingency domestically. The resulting plan, currently in draft and called CONPLAN 2002 (watch this space), is predicated on a scenario in which the Defense Department would have to take "the lead" from the Department of Homeland Security, civil agencies, and the States, that is, to act without civil authority.

I think we call that martial law.
We have written previously on Posse Comitatus, Northcom, and FEMA here. If you are wondering about the sort of circumstances under which martial law might be invoked, you will certainly be intrigued by an article that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald three years ago:
When president Ronald Reagan was considering invading Nicaragua he issued a series of executive orders that provided the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with broad powers in the event of a "crisis" such as "violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a US military invasion abroad". They were never used . . . .

From 1982-84 Colonel Oliver North assisted FEMA in drafting its civil defence preparations. Details of these plans emerged during the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal.

They included executive orders providing for suspension of the constitution, the imposition of martial law, internment camps, and the turning over of government to the president and FEMA.

A Miami Herald article on July 5, 1987, reported that the former FEMA director Louis Guiffrida's deputy, John Brinkerhoff, handled the martial law portion of the planning. The plan was said to be similar to one Mr Giuffrida had developed earlier to combat "a national uprising by black militants". It provided for the detention "of at least 21 million American Negroes"' in "assembly centres or relocation camps".

Today [July 2002] Mr Brinkerhoff is with the highly influential Anser Institute for Homeland Security. Following a request by the Pentagon in January that the US military be allowed the option of deploying troops on American streets, the institute in February published a paper by Mr Brinkerhoff arguing the legality of this.
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