Thursday, December 21, 2006

(3) Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab

The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006
FOREIGN POLICY
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Dec. 21, 2006

When U.S. President George W. Bush signed the $532 billion federal defense spending bill in October, there were the usual budgetary turf battles on Capitol Hill. But largely overlooked was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law to restrict the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation.

Ostensibly, the move aims to streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies that left thousands of New Orleanians stranded last summer. Yet the Insurrection Act that existed when Katrina struck didn’t actually hinder the president’s ability to send federal troops. He simply chose not to.

Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Is martial law more likely than before? Perhaps not. But the fact that the revisions were slipped into a defense bill without a national debate gives ammunition to those who argue the administration is still trampling on civil liberties five years after 9/11.

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