John Whitehead: The Late, Great American Nation


Richard Moore

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The Late, Great American Nation
By John W. Whitehead

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        John Whitehead:

³It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.² ‹James 

We live in a fundamentally different country since 9/11. Not only do many 
Americans view their government with suspicion, but how their government views 
them has drastically changed.

A perfect example of this took place last fall. Prior to the elections that 
transformed the makeup of Congress, the Bush Administration pushed for the 
inclusion of two stealth provisions into a mammoth defense budget bill. The 
additions made it easier for the government to declare martial law and establish
a dictatorship.

Since the days of our Founding Fathers, when King George III used his armies to 
terrorize and tyrannize the colonies, the American people have understandably 
distrusted the use of a national military force to intervene in civilian 
affairs, except in instances of extreme emergency and limited duration.

Hence, as a sign of the Founders¹ concern that the people not be under the power
of a military government, control of the military was vested in a civilian 
government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 
1878 furthered those safeguards against military law, making it a crime for the 
government to use the military to carry out arrests, searches, seizure of 
evidence and other activities normally handled by a civilian police force.

However, with the inclusion of a seemingly insignificant rider into the massive 
defense bill (the martial law section of the 591-page Defense Appropriations Act
takes up just a few paragraphs), the Bush Administration has managed to weaken 
what the New York Times refers to as ³two obscure but important bulwarks of 
liberty.² One is posse comitatus. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, 
which limits a president¹s domestic use of the military to putting down 
lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion where a state is violating federal law 
or depriving the people of their constitutional rights.

Under these new provisions, the president can now use the military as a domestic
police force in response to a natural disaster, disease outbreak, terrorist 
attack or to any ³other condition.² According to the new law, Bush doesn¹t even 
have to notify Congress of his intent to use military force against the American
people‹he just has to notify them once he has done so. The defense budget 
provision¹s vague language leaves the doors wide open for rampant abuse. As 
writer Jane Smiley noted, ³the introduction of these changes amounts, not to an 
attack on the Congress and the balance of power, but to a particular and 
concerted attack on the citizens of the nation. Bush is laying the legal 
groundwork to repeal even the appearance of democracy.²

The main reason we do not want the military patrolling our streets is that under
martial law, the Bill of Rights becomes null and void. A standing army‹something
that propelled the early colonists into revolution‹strips the American people of
any vestige of freedom. Thus, if we were subject to martial law, there would be 
no rules, no protections, no judicial oversight and no elections. And unless 
these provisions are repealed, the president¹s new power will be set in stone 
for future administrations to use‹and abuse.

A fundamental principle of American government is to not trust public officials.
But modern Americans, primed by television pablum and ignorant of their history,
have a tendency to trust people in office simply because they appear to share a 
common faith, say the right things or come from a certain region of the country.
But lest we forget, power has a tendency to corrupt; absolute power corrupts 

Furthermore, the way this was handled proves that we cannot trust government 
officials. By sneaking this provision in as a rider to a larger bill, public 
debate and media attention were avoided. Had the provision been openly discussed
and debated, there would have been opposition and outcry. And it most likely 
would have been soundly rejected. Instead, it was rushed through the 
Republican-controlled Congress prior to the elections and enacted into law.

The Founding Fathers would have literally been up in arms over Bush¹s actions. 
They understood the dangers inherent in vesting power in a single person, which 
is exactly what this legislation purports to do. There¹s no limit to what the 
president can now do: the ³any condition² language opens the door for total 
power, a dictatorship. The people are left with no defense.

Furthermore, this legislation erases the balance between the state and federal 
government. The state governors understood this, and that¹s why many vocally 
opposed the provisions. But it was to no avail.

Who¹s to blame here? Congress has utterly failed to exercise its power to check 
the growing power of the Executive Branch. The media have also been woefully 
remiss. Although a handful of bloggers sounded the alarm, the major media 
outlets failed to report on it. If it weren¹t for a recent editorial in the New 
York Times, most people would still be in the dark. What¹s the point of a free 
press if you can¹t rely on the media to report the news?

However, the larger blame rests with the Bush Administration, whose actions over
the past six years suggest that the American people are the enemy. Think about 
some of the changes that have already moved us closer to a police state: the 
invasive USA Patriot Act; the increased domestic surveillance of citizens¹ 
emails and telephone calls; attempts to deny habeas corpus to prisoners; a 
national ID card; and now this alarming new law. In addition to opening the 
doors to a military state, the law also facilitates militarized police round-ups
and detaining of protesters in detention camps that are already being built on 
American soil by the Halliburton corporation. Americans are incredibly naïve if 
they believe those camps being built are just for illegal aliens.

A pattern is emerging, predicated on one horrific incident in 2001. The current 
administration is laying the groundwork for a military state, and this is our 
final wake-up call.

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