Posse Comitatus

Posse Comitatus:

Arms and the Law has a short but useful post on the built-in exceptions in Posse Comitatus. If you aren't familiar with the phrase yet, you will want to become familiar with it, as you'll be hearing a lot about it in the wake of the New Orleans disaster. The term means "power of the county," although comitatus has an ancient and highly honorable heritage: the word, which is related to "comrade," meant in early Germanic society the warrior band that kept company with, and often elected, the king. These are the men who became Charlemagne's Paladins; these are the men who became knights and great nobles when the qualification for such status was a strong arm and a brave heart.

In the American legal tradition, Posse Comitatus is a law that limits the military's ability to be used as a law enforcement agency -- for example, to suppress riots and restore order in ruined New Orleans. However, one can offer another example: to storm houses of people suspected of illegal conduct in normal times, or to "stop" cars in the fashion our Mr. Yon explained is universal: by putting cannon rounds from a helicopter gunship through the vehicle's engine block. Assuming you don't miss, which even the most well-trained soldier will on occasion.

This is the law, in other words, that prevents the government from making war on the American people -- or, at least, the criminal element of the American people, as best as it can be identified by the government's agents. It is a law we ought to be very glad to have. We ought to be deeply suspicious of attempts to overturn that law. I yield to none in my respect and admiration for the US military, but their training and their firepower is not meant to be used against Americans except in extraordinary circumstances.

It would tarnish their honor to let the politicians use them in that way. It is not what they are for, nor what they are sworn to do. As Arms and the Law demonstrates, it is also not necessary -- legal exceptions exist to cover most extraordinary situations. As it is neither needful nor desirable, we ought to mistrust legislators who attempt it.

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