Bush “Solution” to Bird Flu: Martial Law

Revolution #019, October 23, 2005, posted at revcom.us

Bush has announced that in the event of a flu outbreak in the US he will consider using the military to "effect a quarantine" and putting National Guard troops under federal, rather than state, control.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told the Associated Press that a law enforcement role for the military would be an "extraordinarily Draconian measure" -- and unnecessary if the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu and not allowed the degradation of the public health system.

Redlener said, "The translation of this is martial law in the United States."

A strain of avian influenza called H5N1 has led to the death of more than 140 million birds in Asia. It has infected 116 people, of whom 60 have died, and health experts predict a flu pandemic, engulfing the world, could hit as soon as three months.

This could lead to millions of deaths around the world. The human mortality rate for this flu has been over 50 percent. In comparison, a bird flu which killed 40 million people worldwide in 1917-1918 had a mortality rate of just 5 percent. This system has huge resources – money, scientists, and factories. But the Bush administration has done little to prepare for such a pandemic. US health agencies reportedly have just two million doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug effective in combating the H5N1 virus. This is barely enough for one percent of the US population.

Bush has also asked Congress for the power to use the military for law enforcement in the event of a flu outbreak. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 bans the military from participating in police-type activity in the U.S. But Bush is trying to find ways to get rid of such constraints. He openly discussed the possibility of changing Posse Comitatus after Hurricane Katrina. And the devastating earthquake in Pakistan has evoked further discussion among U.S. military analysts about the militarization of relief work, internationally and domestically. (see Earthquake in Pakistan: Destruction, Suffering and the US Militarization of "Relief", by Li Onesto)

Deploying troops to enforce quarantines has never been done in the U.S. Sealing off whole regions of the country by military force has more in common with civil war measures than preventive health care. And disease control experts have pointed out that Bush’s plan would result in soldiers getting and actually spreading the flu.

The Bush regime is seizing on every social crisis -- real, potential or made up -- to trample on civil rights, press for unrestricted power, and make things worse. A military quarantine is no more of a helpful solution than quarantining people with AIDS, rounding up Arab immigrants after 9/11, or instituting subway searches after bombings in London. Talk of martial law to deal with the threat of a flu pandemic is a sign of the extreme times we are in and the extreme measures the Bush regime is ready, willing and wants to take.