Somehow congressional delay in passing the administration's Homeland Security bill, which creates yet another appendage of the vast federal leviathan, supposedly to protect us from terrorists and their colleagues, has not yet resulted in the destruction of the Republic.
While senators are bickering over the managerial details of the new department, they might also want to stop for a few minutes and ask themselves just how far they're ready to go in creating the infrastructure of a police state.
Pretty far, if what senior Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware said a few weeks ago. Spouting off on one of the Sunday talk shows, Mr. Biden, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that the military should be empowered to arrest civilians. Not since the days of Reconstruction has the federal government actually done anything like that, but then, "reconstruction" is more or less exactly what the Republic is facing these days.
Mr. Biden said the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the military from performing law enforcement functions and arresting civilians, "has to be amended." The rationale he offered was that "it's not very realistic" for soldiers who might be checking out a supposed weapon of mass destruction, to "not be able to exercise the same power a police officer would in dealing with that situation."
"Right now," he explained, "when you call in the military, the military would not be able to shoot to kill, if they were approaching the weapon," and they couldn't arrest anyone either.
Therefore the law must be changed.
Mr. Biden apparently thinks the soldiers would arrest the weapon. The point of course is for soldiers trained in such matters to detect and disarm the weapon. The police can arrest the suspects. As for shooting to kill, if the troops needed to do that to protect their lives or those of others, nobody is going to object.
In short, Mr. Biden offered only the thinnest reasons for yet another vast expansion of federal power.
Tom Ridge, the current security czar, said on the same day that he thought the need for such powers was "very unlikely," and that's refreshing—perhaps—though not as much as what he might have said. Mr. Ridge, as well as the attorney general and maybe even the president himself, might have said that what the Delaware Democrat was suggesting was totally unwarranted and unjustified and that under no circumstances would they favor giving the military the power of rounding up civilians.
It's interesting no one said that.
What administration spokesmen did say, aside from Mr. Ridge's opaque remark, came from the president's appointed general in charge of domestic security, Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, the commander of the Pentagon's Northern Command. "We should always be reviewing things like the Posse Comitatus Act and other laws," said the general, "if we think it ties our hands in protecting the American people." Sure, but does it tie anyone's hands, and should it be amended?
The general didn't say, but the New York Times to which he didn't say it, reported that what he did say about amending the law reflects a "shift in thinking by many top Pentagon officials, who have traditionally been wary of involving the military in domestic law enforcement." [NYT, "Wider Military Role in U.S. Is Urged" — Eric Schmitt July 21, 2002 Capitalist pay archive—free copy here!!]
They haven't been the only ones wary of it, nor is their thinking the only one to start shifting.
The Posse Comitatus Act was passed to outlaw military intervention in Southern elections after the end of Reconstruction but also to avoid what many Americans of that day understood to be a danger to Republican government—having the military, an arm of the federal government, perform a function that citizens, through their local communities, were supposed to do for themselves.
Today, of course, neither top brass like Gen. Eberhart nor leading senators like Mr. Biden have the foggiest notion of what a republic is, how it functions, and how confusing functions can destroy it.
Nor is there anyone in the Bush administration who knows much more.
What no one seems to have noticed, in the 11 months that have passed since Sept. 11, is that there has been no need whatsoever for most of the drastic "emergency" counter-terrorist measures that the administration has insisted were needed to fight terrorism and prevent future attacks.
The one measure that is necessary—deporting illegal aliens and halting all legal immigration, at least for a while—has not even been suggested.
Nor has anyone shown any "need" to turn the military into policemen.
Before lawmakers and Pentagon desk jockeys come up with any more bright ideas for turning what once was a constitutional republic into a full blown police state, maybe they should all sit down and read a few good books on what a free republic really is and how it does—and doesn't—survive..
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