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Congress may change the Posse Comitatus Act

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.breitbart.com/news/na/D8CM6FB00.html Military May Play Bigger Relief Role Sep 17 2:59 PM US/Eastern By ROBERT BURNS AP Military Writer WASHINGTON
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 17, 2005

      Military May Play Bigger Relief Role
      Sep 17 2:59 PM US/Eastern

      AP Military Writer


      President Bush's push to give the military a bigger
      role in responding to major disasters like Hurricane
      Katrina could lead to a loosening of legal limits on
      the use of federal troops on U.S. soil.

      Pentagon officials are reviewing that possibility, and
      some in Congress agree it needs to be considered.

      Bush did not define the wider role he envisions for
      the military. But in his speech to the nation from New
      Orleans on Thursday, he alluded to the unmatched
      ability of federal troops to provide supplies,
      equipment, communications, transportation and other
      assets the military lumps under the label of

      The president called the military "the institution of
      our government most capable of massive logistical
      operations on a moment's notice."

      At question, however, is how far to push the military
      role, which by law may not include actions that can be
      defined as law enforcement _ stopping traffic,
      searching people, seizing property or making arrests.
      That prohibition is spelled out in the Posse Comitatus
      Act of enacted after the Civil War mainly to prevent
      federal troops from supervising elections in former
      Confederate states.

      Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John
      Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services
      Committee, said, "I believe the time has come that we
      reflect on the Posse Comitatus Act." He advocated
      giving the president and the secretary of defense
      "correct standby authorities" to manage disasters.

      Presidents have long been reluctant to deploy U.S.
      troops domestically, leery of the image of federal
      troops patrolling in their own country or of
      embarrassing state and local officials.

      The active-duty elements that Bush did send to
      Louisiana and Mississippi included some Army and
      Marine Corps helicopters and their crews, plus Navy
      ships. The main federal ground forces, led by troops
      of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C.,
      arrived late Saturday, five days after Katrina struck.

      They helped with evacuations and performed
      search-and-rescue missions in flooded portions of New
      Orleans but did not join in law enforcement

      The federal troops were led by Lt. Gen. Russel Honore.
      The governors commanded their National Guard soldiers,
      sent from dozens of states.

      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is reviewing a
      wide range of possible changes in the way the military
      could be used in domestic emergencies, spokesman
      Lawrence Di Rita said Friday. He said these included
      possible changes in the relationship between federal
      and state military authorities.

      Under the existing relationship, a state's governor is
      chiefly responsible for disaster preparedness and

      Governors can request assistance from the Federal
      Emergency Management Agency. If federal armed forces
      are brought in to help, they do so in support of FEMA,
      through the U.S. Northern Command, which was
      established in 2002 as part of a military
      reorganization after the 9/11 attacks.

      Di Rita said Rumsfeld has not made recommendations to
      Bush, but among the issues he is examining is the
      viability of the Posse Comitatus Act. Di Rita called
      it one of the "very archaic laws" from a different era
      in U.S. history that limits the Pentagon's flexibility
      in responding to 21st century domestic crises.

      Another such law, Di Rita said, is the Civil War-era
      Insurrection Act, which Bush could have invoked to
      waive the law enforcement restrictions of the Posse
      Comitatus Act. That would have enabled him to use
      either National Guard soldiers or active-duty troops _
      or both _ to quell the looting and other lawlessness
      that broke out in New Orleans.

      The Insurrection Act lets the president call troops
      into federal action inside the United States whenever
      "unlawful obstructions, combinations or assemblages _
      or rebellion against the authority of the United
      States _ make it impracticable to enforce the laws" in
      any state.

      The political problem in Katrina was that Bush would
      have had to impose federal command over the wishes of
      two governors _ Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and Haley
      Barbour of Mississippi _ who made it clear they wanted
      to retain state control.

      The last time the Insurrection Act was invoked was in
      1992 when it was requested by California Gov. Pete
      Wilson after the outbreak of race riots in Los
      Angeles. President George H.W. Bush dispatched about
      4,000 soldiers and Marines.

      Di Rita cautioned against expecting quick answers to
      tough questions like whether Congress should define
      when to trigger the president's authority to send
      federal troops to take charge of an emergency,
      regardless of whether a governor agreed.

      "Is there a way to define a threshold, or an
      anticipated threshold, above which a different set of
      relationships would kick in?" Di Rita asked. "That's a
      good question. It's only been two weeks, so don't
      expect us to have the answers. But those are the kinds
      of questions we need to be asking."
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