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Bush seizes on flu threat to press for martial law power
by wsws (reposted)
Friday Oct 7th, 2005 6:33 AM
President Bush Tuesday seized on the threat of a global bird flu pandemic to press yet again for the legislative changes to grant him power to deploy US combat troops in police operations on American soil.
Bush suggested that large numbers of troops could be needed to “effect a quarantine,” essentially sealing off whole cities or regions of the country in the event of an outbreak.

“The policy questions for a president in dealing with an avian flu outbreak are difficult,” Bush said in a rambling answer to a question posed at a White House press conference Tuesday. “One example: If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine?... And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?”

Answering his own question, Bush declared, “One option is the use of a military that’s able to plan and move. So that’s why I put it on the table. I think it’s an important debate for Congress to have.”

The president’s talk of deploying troops to enforce quarantines has no precedent as a public health measure in the US. Historically, quarantines have been applied against individuals and families diagnosed with an infectious disease, or used in extreme circumstances to prevent the congregation of large groups of people in areas where a disease is spreading.

But sealing off whole regions of the country by military force and preventing anyone from entering or leaving them has more in common with civil war measures than preventive health care.

It is not clear why the military would be needed for such an operation, unless it would be to set up roadblocks and shoot down anyone attempting to escape a region placed under quarantine.

Public health professionals blasted the proposal, warning that the president’s remarks were indicative of the administration’s failure to prepare for the looming flu threat.

Referring to the danger of a flu pandemic, Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, warned that the US government “is phenomenally not prepared for this.”

Describing Bush’s proposal as “extraordinarily draconian,” Dr. Redlener added, “The translation of this is martial law in the United States.”

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