By STEWART M. POWELL
Copyright 2005 Hearst News Service
WASHINGTON - The law is from a bygone era, it has a Latin name and it's never led to a prosecution, much less a conviction.
Yet the mere hint that President Bush might try to tinker with the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act is stirring opposition across the political spectrum, prompting conservative and liberal activists to line up against any move that would empower U.S. troops to shoot or arrest civilian looters in the chaotic aftermath of national disasters.
The Civil War-era law bars federal troops from carrying out law enforcement duties inside the United States during peacetime, short of suppressing an insurrection. Congress enacted the prohibition to curtail alleged excesses by Union occupation forces in former Confederate states after the Civil War.
Bush signaled that the law was up for review when he said in a nationally televised address from New Orleans on Sept. 15 that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed "a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan later said revision or repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act was an issue that "needs to be looked at" by Congress and the administration, adding that officials are in the "early planning of discussing it."
Deployed in the U.S.A.:
The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front
by Gene Healy, senior editor at the Cato Institute.
National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Office select your state
National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Expanded Mission Statement says:
Supporting Current Law Enforcement Capabilities
The National Guard supports local, state and federal law enforcement agencies by helping fill the gap between what law enforcement has the ability to do on their own, and what they want to be able to do in order to effectively address the drug problem. Many smaller agencies can't afford to fly and maintain a helicopter, or hire extra officers to analyze data or run a counterdrug task force supply operation. And most aren't capable of rapidly adding manpower for short periods of time-a surge capacity that the National Guard can give by bringing on skilled people to fill specialized roles, and allow sworn law officers the freedom to concentrate on efforts that directly support community law enforcement activities.