Kiss My Posse Comitatus

Kinky sexual position? New vodka drink?
No, just another old law Dubya wants to poke at in the name of fear

by Mark Morford, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 24, 2002

Of course they sneak the more diabolical stuff under your radar when they know you're too busy watching your WorldCom stock tank and your AOL stock tank and all those thick snickering gold-plated megaconglomerate CEOs smirk and shirk and declare bankruptcy and get their financial wrists slapped and do zero jail time and then get invited to Dubya's ranch for ribs and a new Cabinet post.

It's called the Posse Comitatus Act, it's being quietly bandied about in the White House and among top military brass, and it's got nothing to do with a tub of warm margarine and some carefully placed tongues at some sort of delightful SF fetish orgy. But it should.

It's actually a Reconstruction-era law (circa 1878) that absolutely prohibits any division of the U.S. military -- whether Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines -- from becoming involved in arrests and seizures and conflicts -- any aspect of domestic law enforcement, actually. As it should be.

In other words, the Posse Comitatus Act means the Army can't march in and arrest you for, say, growing medical pot in your basement, Marines can't be sent in to crack skulls at a WTO protest, the president can't call in clandestine patrols of masked Green Berets to shove burning tires around the bodies of liberal hecklers at a GOP/Exxon pep rally. Among other limitations.

And it's been obvious and freedom ensuring and clearly enforced for well over 100 years because, well, we aren't Stalinist Russia, and we aren't insane, and most of us are well aware that an overzealous military empowered with such draconian authority is essentially what every sociopathic fist-clenched dictator from Marcos to Hitler used to gain power and maintain control and hack away at the very soul of humanity and pick up their personal dry cleaning on the nation's tab.

And now, yes, the U.S. is reconsidering the original law.

It's true. "A complete re-thinking" of Posse Comitatus, as ordered by Geedubya and as scowled over by oddly neckless Homeland Security overlord Tom Ridge and as endorsed by two prominent military-drunk Democrats no less, because it's a new world order and icky terrorists are afoot and you never know what sort of chaos looms and you should be very very afraid, they say, oh please be afraid, otherwise this sort of thing won't work at all.

Because apparently it's just not enough to re-arm our nuclear arsenal and engage the country in an endless indefinable budget-reaming war and detain immigrants for no reason, scour your email and scan your shoes at the airport.

Oh dear no no no, say the powers that be -- we aren't really considering giving the military any such freedom-crushing control, wouldn't even think of allowing the federal government to be suddenly armed with such despotic authority over you swarthy and increasingly war-wary citizens including you obvious evildoers sporting terrifying airport-paralyzing belt buckles. No no no. Well, maybe a little.

They are considering it. They are re-thinking the military's role in policing domestic affairs. Because as we all know it is a time of forced paranoia and false terrorist warnings and of increasingly obvious co-opting of 9/11 for oil and powermongering and political gain on both sides of the aisle. And you know what that means. Exactly: The government does whatever the hell it wants, calls it anti-terrorism, and please repress your deep cringing.

And hey while everyone's still scared and while everyone's scrambling to get the hell out of the stock market why not sneak a peek at some old well-established laws to see if we can't reach just a tiny bit further into the orifices of your personal life, only if we absolutely have to which, gosh sorry, it looks like we do, just a little, this won¹t hurt a bit, oops sorry was that your sense of decency and outrage? Let's just snip that right off.

There is of course negligible chance that the government will actually overhaul Posse Comitatus to allow the Air Force to bust up your rave and confiscate your porn collection and arrest your Pakistani neighbor for selling bootleg flags.

There is almost zero chance that Congress would stand for anything remotely close to this; the country is just not quite dumb or culturally numbed enough to allow them to ream this sort of thing through without enormous outcry and voter disapproval and much hurling of patriotic tomatoes.

But they are considering it. And perhaps this should be frightening enough. They are digging it out and dusting it off and poking their forked tongues into its crevices, re-examining how to better police the nation and crack your skull if necessary and keep you in check and make sure everyone's extra-super lockdown safe or else.

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Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. He also writes the Morning Fix, a deeply skewed thrice-weekly email column and newsletter.

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