Don’t Let Katrina be the Excuse to Blow Away Our Liberty

October 5, 2005

By Tom DeWeese

In typical fashion the federal government is using a real disaster to scare us into giving it more power in case an unrelated, perhaps man-made (terrorist-related), disaster might possibly occur. President Bush has announced that he wants to federalize emergency responses. When does it stop?

Katrina was the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States. As a result, all levels of government were caught off guard. Some elected officials were most certainly inept at dealing with the situation. People suffered as a result. So, accept it for what it was. Katrina was a once in a life time experience. Now, clean up the mess and move on.

But no, according to President Bush, Katrina showed us what would happen if there was a terrorist attack in a large population center. What if we had to move whole populations in case of some toxic or nuclear attack? There’s only one answer, according to the Bush Administration. We must prepare by putting the military in charge. There’s that excuse again. Terrorism. Oh, please!

What President Bush is really telling us is that, in our next disaster, he wants to immediately declare Martial Law. How far is he willing to go to enforce it? First, he wants the Pentagon to serve as the nerve center where the response is organized. What are locally elected officials to do while the military prepares for war on their city? Are they to be involved? After all, local officials know the territory best. They know the people and their needs. Moreover, the military is trained to blow things up — not gently deal with citizens.

The first the thing the military was assigned to do in New Orleans was to get rid of all of the people. They pulled people from their homes, even though they didn’t want to leave. Some of those people wanted to stay to protect their possessions from looters. Some of those possessions, in that historic city, date back to before the Civil War. Anyone can understand that citizens who have had such property in their family for generations would want to stay and protect it. Others, the very poorest, wanted to stay because that land was all they had in the world. Regardless of the dangers, they wanted to stay. It was their choice. It was their land. It was their life. Local leaders would understand this. Soldiers following orders would not. Today, in our cocoon-of-safety mentality, such considerations aren’t acceptable.

So, under the proposed Martial law, will the President be able to suspend Habeas Corpus? That means that the rule of law is thrown out the window. It means there is no due process. No fair trials. No bail. That would be a valuable tool to the military in dealing with those bothersome holdouts who were just trying to protect their property. They would just be swooped off the streets and out of their houses and locked away until someone in power decided to let them out.

But, some would argue, the news media wouldn’t allow such abuses. With all of our twenty four hour cable news breathing down the necks of politicians, rights and security would certainly be safeguarded. The military would just be an efficient tool to help. It’s an emergency!!

Really? Under Martial law, the president has the power to suppress the media. Let an article or editorial or Geraldo Revere say a discouraging word about the government’s actions, and they can be shut down and jailed for interfering with the emergency effort. And remember, with the suspension of Habeas Corpus, they wouldn’t even get a trial. Soldiers with guns and orders to enforce would be the rule of the day.

So how far is the President willing to go in using the military as the central force in dealing with disasters? His words: “it may require a change of law.” What law needs to be changed to give him the power to put the military in charge of undefined disasters? Posse Comitatus, of course. The 1878 law that says the military must never be in charge of civilian law-enforcement activities.

There are specific reasons why wise lawmakers of the past forbade such activity. They feared the creation of a totalitarian state. Using military force that was created to bring mass destruction on our nation’s enemies was considered extreme overkill and dangerous to the civil liberties of the citizens of this nation. The history of that justifiable concern can be traced back directly to George Washington when he surrendered his military power to the civilian government after the Revolution. Washington knew it had to be done to prevent the creation of a military dictatorship.

The great statesman, John C. Calhoun said, in 1831, “Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting solidly on the basis of the sovereignty of the States, or on the unrestrained will of the majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, violence and force must ultimately prevail.”

If George Bush gets his way and the laws are changed to allow the military to take control over the locally elected representatives of the people, then John C. Calhoun will finally get his answer. The United States of America will be a consolidated, absolute power resting on the unrestrained will of those in charge, with the use of force as the ultimate solution. And there will be no way to turn back. The power structure of the nation will have been changed.

President Bush is as wrong and misguided in this scheme as the Supreme Court was in it’s decision in the Kelo case to give local governments the power to take any home in order to pad the pockets of their cronies. The federal government is truly upside down in its view of how liberty is sustained. Certainly there needs to be cooperation between local officials and federal aid. But when it comes to putting the army in charge of disasters, let it be the Salvation Army, not the Pentagon.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.