Tuesday, January 03, 2006

NSA Wiretaps and Posse Comitatus

The stance that this administration is taking with regard to the NSA wiretapping scandal reminded me of something from a few months back. Back during the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when attention was focused on the administration's failure to act promptly, the right wing argued vigorously that President Bush could not possibly have sent in military personal to help out because of the Posse Comitatus act. Now the Posse Comitatus act is a piece of legislation past by congress after the Civil War which forbids the military from performing police functions within the US. See Dadahead for a list of right wingers insisting that this act of congress prevented Bush from acting. As Bob Barr put it, "A frustrated President Bush could only stand by and watch as the horror unfolded until he received the request for help." because to do otherwise would violate federal law. Now as Dadahead correctly points out the right wing argument was nonsense at the time. Federal law does indeed prevent the president from using military personnel for police functions, but it in no way prevents the use of military personnel for other functions, with or without the request of the governor.

What strikes me now, however, is the fact that all the time that the right wing was insisting that the President could not act because federal law barred his action, the President was violating the terms of the FISA statute on the basis of his claim that he has near absolute authority to act. His claim that congress has no power to restrict his actions. Does this not mean that according to the President he was not in any way prevented from using the military at the time of Katrina? That even if the Posse Comitatus restricted his actions in the way he claimed, that by his standards he could have simply ignored it?

We have here what I am coming to see as a standard part of conservative thinking. Namely that one is free, as far as conservatives are concerned, to assert both a statement and its contradiction.

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