In October 2006, Bush signed into law the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. Quietly slipped into the law at the last minute, at the request of the Bush administration, were sections changing important legal principles, dating back 200 years, which limit the U.S. government’s ability to use the military to intervene in domestic affairs. These changes would allow Bush, whenever he thinks it necessary, to institute martial law–under which the military takes direct control over civilian administration.
Sec. 1042 of the Act, “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies,” effectively overturns what is known as posse comitatus. The Posse Comitatus Act is a law, passed in 1878, that prohibits the use of the regular military within the U.S. borders. The original passage of the Posse Comitatus Act was a very reactionary move that sealed the betrayal of Black people after the Civil War and brought the period of Reconstruction to an end. It decreed that federal troops could no longer be used inside the former Confederate states to enforce the new legal rights of Black people. Black people were turned over to the armed police and Klansmen serving the southern plantation owners, and the long period of Jim Crow began.
During the 20th century, posse comitatus objectively started to play a new role within the bourgeois democratic framework: as a legal barrier to the direct influence of the powerful military establishment and the armed forces over domestic U.S. society. It served to some degree as an obstacle against military coups and presidents seizing military control over the country. (However, National Guard troops have been legally available to the ruling class for use inside the U.S., and there have been other loopholes to the prohibition of the use of armed forces domestically, as in the mobilization of Marine troops during the 1992 L.A. Rebellion.)
So the changes to posse comitatus signed into law by Bush are extremely significant and ominous. Bush has modified the main exemptions to posse comitatus that up to now have been primarily defined by the Insurrection Act of 1807. Previously the president could call out the army in the United States only in cases of insurrection or conditions where “rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.” Under the new law the president can use the military in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or “other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order.”
The new law requires the President to notify Congress “as soon as practicable after the determination and every 14 days thereafter during the duration of the exercise of the authority.” However Bush, as he has often done during his presidency, modified this requirement in his signing statement, which declared, “The executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive.” In other words, Bush claims that he does not even need to inform Congress that martial law has been declared!