Driving in this morning I heard an NPR report about the government's bird flu plan (short version: you're fucked). And it went through how the pandemic would be incredibly disruptive, and how state and local law enforcement must take the lead in planning (I call it the Katrina Pre-Emptive Strike), and how we'd have to ration medical care, and all that. Terrifying that the feds are already throwing up their hands before bird flu even hits our shores. Terrifying enough, before the postscript.
At the end of the story, as an aside, like it was mentioning that Brad and Angelina met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was this tucked-away comment:
"The government may deploy the miltary to maintain order."
(head turning in a double-take) Wha-wha-wha???
Shouldn't that merit more than one line at the very end of the story? They just zipped through it and moved quickly on. It was surreal.
"(mumble) (mumble) martial law (mumble) (mumble)... HEY CHECK OUT THIS SQUIRREL ON WATER SKIS!!!"
Most of today's published reports about the "National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza" (which, as I said, basically reads "we don't have a strategy," although the folks at The Flu Wiki
are somewhat more optimistic) don't mention this development. This WaPo article
has nothing. Neither does the AP story. The Time story
only mentions the National Guard. The New York Times report
Local police departments and state National Guard units would have primary responsibility for keeping order, but the military would be available to assist.
OK, what does "assist" mean? Would that violate the Posse Comitatus Act? Does that matter to this White House?
CTV of Canada at least has the decency to put this in the headline:
The United States government plans to stockpile vaccines, limit international and domestic flights, quarantine those who become ill and bring in the military to maintain order if a flu pandemic strikes the country.
Oddly enough, CBS4 Denver
comes the closest to adding any details to what the military would be providing:
The report envisions possible breakdowns in public order and says governors might deploy National Guard troops or request federal troops to maintain order. The military also could be activated to enforce travel restrictions and deliver vaccines and medicines, the report says.
That sheds a little light, but obviously the media isn't giving a full picture of the role of the federal military in combating an influenza pandemic. There was a lot of debate about deploying the military during Hurricane Katrina, and the relative benefits and costs associated therein. Instead of having that debate with regard to the bird flu, apparently the repsonse plan has been written with some sort of military deployment already factored in. But I wasn't sure. So I went to the source.
In the Implementation document, here's how they describe the military role:
We will provide State and local law enforcement with the guidance,training, and exercises needed to prepare them to respond during a pandemic influenza outbreak,including how to assist and facilitate containment measures.Similarly,we will provide Governors with specific information concerning the processes for obtaining Federal law enforcement and military assistance.
OK, fine. If the help is requested, it ought to be provided. It goes on:
While we rely upon local and State entities to maintain civil order, it is essential that we be prepared to respond in the event ofa breakdown of order that cannot be handled at the local or State level. We will ensure that Federal law enforcement agencies and the military have the necessary plans to assist States with law enforcement and related activities in the event that the need arises.
That's just way too vague. I don't know if those necessary plans are legal, I don't know who decides if there's a breakdown of order. And then there's this bit about the role of the Secretary of Defense:
The Secretary of Defensewill be responsible for protecting American interests at home and abroad. The Secretary of Defense may assist in the support of domestic infrastructure and essential government services or, at the direction of the President and in coordination with the Attorney General, the maintenance of civil order or law enforcement, in accordance with applicable law. The Secretary of Defense will retain command ofmilitary forces providing support.
So Rumsfeld controls the military on American soil? The military takes on a law enforcement capability?
I'm not uncomfortable with the military playing a role in the event of an outbreak. I'm uncomfortable with the complete lack of debate over what that role should be. There's more in the implementation document, but it's quite long at over 230 pages. I'll continue to track this.
P.S. I want to say for the record that I totally had the bird flu before it was cool. Back when it was on indie record labels. Back in the day.