WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is looking at the possibility of using federal troops to enforce a quarantine in the event of an outbreak of pandemic bird flu in the United States, a senior official said on Wednesday.
President George W. Bush said last week he would consider using the military to “effect a quarantine” in response to any outbreak of avian influenza, but provided few details.
Bush at the time also suggested he might place National Guard troops, normally commanded by state governors, under federal control as part of the government’s response to the “catastrophe” of such a flu pandemic.
Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said quarantine law historically has been under the primary jurisdiction of states, not the federal government.
“And my expectation is that any quarantine measures that would be put in place would likely involve a substantial employment of the National Guard, probably under command and control of the governor of an affected state,” McHale told a group of reporters.
“However, we are looking at a wide range of contingencies, potentially involving Title 10 forces (federal troops) if a pandemic outbreak of a biological threat were to occur,” McHale added.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has killed or forced the destruction of tens of millions of birds and infected more than 100 people, killing at least 60 in four Asian nations since late 2003.
Experts fear that the virus, known to pass to humans from birds, could mutate and start to spread easily from person to person, potentially killing millions worldwide. Experts have questioned America’s preparedness.
McHale said he believed there would be a clearer understanding within a few weeks of the military role in response to pandemic bird flu as part of a broader federal response. Pentagon officials were meeting on Wednesday to discuss the department’s role in a flu pandemic.
One issue that could face the U.S. government in the event of an outbreak is whether or how to cordon off parts of the country to prevent the disease from spreading.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, enacted during the post-Civil War reconstruction period, prohibits federal military personnel from taking part in law-enforcement within the United States. But a president can waive the law in an emergency.
National Guard troops under the command of state governors are permitted to perform law enforcement duties, but would not be permitted to do so if they were put under federal control.
McHale noted that the military has been used only under extraordinary circumstances for domestic law enforcement and restoring civil order.
While not specifically referring to enforcing a quarantine, McHale said the Pentagon has active-duty federal military units on alert and deployable at the direction of the president “to deal with occurrences of massive civil disturbance.” He did not identify the units.
On the topic of possible domestic attack involving biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, McHale said the government needs “a more robust civilian capability” to respond so the country is not exclusively dependent on the military.
McHale said the Pentagon is working to help make the Department of Homeland Security better able to make strategic plans for natural disasters or domestic attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. The department’s Federal Emergency Management Agency was strongly criticized for its slow response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the U.S. Gulf Coast in August.
Yes, I have a problem with this. It really looks to me like Bush is setting America up as a Police State. Like the movie “Outbreak”, we Americans will be herded like cattle and put in internment camps already built across America. And guess who will be the first to go? That’s right, people like me who dare to question our beloved leaders in Washington. About 100 people so far have died from this flu Worldwide! How are they so certain that it will be a pandemic? How about closing the frigging borders? Noooo, that would ruin the corporations who depend on these illeagals for their profit margin. Cancelling flights from the far east! Nada. No way.
Bush has only one answer for everything. Send in the troops. This will not sit well with many, and forget about crying wolf about terrorists in subways. We know that was a load of B.S. to divert the public’s attention from the real threats that plauge us like our open ports, where any dimwit could smuggle in a nuke. Martial law? There is no way people will give up their guns. So it looks like we are heading for civil war here in America if Posse Comitatus is repealed. Do you (the government) really believe this is good for us? You as an employee of the government work for the people. What happens when the “troops” UN, etc.. come for your family? Do you all think you”ll have a free pass? I don’t think so..
Look what happened in NOLA! It’s quite obivous that the feds can’t do anything but create total kaos. Like volunteers being arrested by Soldiers who thought they were stealing, people dying from dehydration, bloated bodies floating for weeks. trains and boats being told to go away, a moron horse trader in charge. May God help America and help it soon, before it’s too late.
Remember this quote?
“If this were a DICTATORSHIP, it would be a heck of a lot easier. A DICTARTORSHIP would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the DICTATOR.”
I do… And it scares the shit outta Me.