A military takeover of U.S. law enforcement?

The Pentagon, rushing to complete lame-duck President George W. Bush’s expansion of the military’s role in the United States, is stepping up to put more troops inside this country and take over key roles in homeland security.

In a move that will certainly alarm civil libertarians and should concern American citizens, the military plan rolls back the Posse Comitatus Act that limits the military’s role as a law enforcement agency inside U.S. borders.

Residents in and around the nation’s capital have already witnessed the transformation of that city into an armed military camp. Assault weapon carrying soldiers guard federal institutions and commuters to and from work pass military vehicles topped with machine guns and manned by troops alongside public highways.

That, some military analysts say, is just the beginning.

Reports The Washington Post:

The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department’s role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

24 Responses to "A military takeover of U.S. law enforcement?"

  1. snargle  December 1, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I interpreted “family” in a more general, universal sense, referring to fellow citizens, as opposed to foreign enemies.

    I agree that the likelihood of a similar incident taking place now is quite remote. I was just providing a historical reference, since there was at least once case of NG troops firing on U.S. citizens.

  2. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Not a very good analogy. The troops involved were not, AFAIK, “family” of any kind to any of the protesters. The shooting came from a small group of soldiers isolated from the rest of their unit and feeling themselves to be both outnumbered and threatened after a maneuver to disperse students. The troops fired on their own, without the order of an officer, or without any ROE authorizing them to fire under such circumstances.

    The subsequent investigation found that the troops – from Cos. A and C, 1st Bn, 145th Inf, and Trp. G, 2nd Sqdrn, 107th Cav, had not been properly trained in all aspects of civil disturbance and riot-control action and that commanders had failed to maintain adequate control of their men during the dispersal action and the follow-on. The National Guard and the State of Ohio ultimately admitted to the use excessive force through settling of lawsuits with the injured and the families of the dead.

    Further, the actions of the governor and of Guard officials further inflamed the situation; however, the students protesting were becoming more aggressive in their actions.

    It was a bad situation with terrible consequences, but I do not think that it supports the contention that NG troops will blindly fire on protesters simply because they are ordered to do so.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  3. gazelle1929  December 1, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Amen.

  4. snargle  December 1, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    woody188 asked: “Are the Guardsmen too undependable to open fire on their own families?”

    Not the ones at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 when an Ohio Army National Guard unit opened fire on students during a war protest on campus, killing four and wounding nine.

  5. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    As I said above, it’s a dangerous precedent.

    It allows the camel to get its nose further under the tent without resorting to a declaration of martial law. Did we do that even in New Orleans after Katrina? Did we do that after 9/11? IIRC, the last time an American city was placed under martial law was in 1955 – Phenix City, Alabama – because civil authority had broken down, the state was powerless – unwilling? – to intervene, and both civilians soldiers were being assaulted and murdered.

    Perhaps its intent is similar to that expressed by Hamilton on the Whiskey Tax and the suppression of the subsequent rebellion: To accustom the populace to the authority of the national government.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  6. spartacus  December 1, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Obviously, Gazelle, you’ve NEVER visited the nation’s capitol and seen armed troops with assault weapons on their rooves pointed at passersby: believe me, it is quite unnerving. I have yet to get used to the barricades in front of some of our NATIONAL buildings: the armed troops in front of them are something else entirely. Try seeing the sights in our Nation’s Capitol sometime. You might just change your tune. Even spending a lot of time there doesn’t get one used to it, especially when a person has lived in the area their entire life.

    This is not much ado about nothing. We are not a third world country; nor are we supposed to be a dictatorship, although with the Bush administration, it has sometimes been hard to tell the difference. What is frightening is that the incoming administration won’t take advantage of the increased military presence for malevolent puposes, the next Republican one is likely to. The right wing of that party never gives up power easily; the next time it won’t be willing to give it up at all.

  7. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    The shootings appear to have been caused by a number of things, but a deliberate order from a competent commander was not anywhere in the mix.

    Actually, there were other cases near to it in time that did involve deliberate orders to shoot – the Watts riots in 1964 – but in this case it involved a total breakdown of civilian authority with attendant shooting, arson and looting.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  8. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    This effectively circumvents the Posse Commitatus Act (18 USC 1385) and allows, as during the Reconstruction era, the use of Federal troops to directly enforce state police powers.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  9. woody188  December 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    But to what end Flapsaddle?

    Why do it in the first place?

    Is it to undermine the state governors since they will no longer need to authorize Guard usage?

    I just don’t see the point of doing it unless you are up to no good.

  10. woody188  December 1, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Having been to Kent State too many times to even remember, I can tell you this event is still talked about to this day.

    I just don’t understand why they would re-train active duty personnel to perform what has been traditionally a National Guard duty unless they want to ensure people from the area aren’t in the unit and aren’t involved emotionally with the actions they are taking against US citizens. It would otherwise be cheaper and more efficient to use the Guard as has always been the case. Not that I would ever accuse the Pentagon of doing what’s more cost efficient or even making sense.

    Take into account many regulars are Guatemalan, Mexican, and from many other countries these days, our government having promised them fast-track to citizenship if they served, would they even hesitate should the order come?

  11. dandraver  December 1, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    I read an article by Naomi Wolfe back on October 10th concerning this issue:

    http://www.alternet.org/rights/101958/thousands_of_troops_are_deployed_on_u.s._streets_ready_to_carry_out_%22crowd_control%22/

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me to be a grab at more power by the executive branch.

    I saw on a television show a few years ago giving an accurate explanation why the police and the military are separate entities. The police protect and serve the people of the state. The military defends the state from its enemies. When the military act as police, the people tend to become the enemies of the state.

    Seeing how King George and his administration have been treating the Constitution and a disdain for the rule of law in this country, and Congress basically abdicating their responsibility of oversight of the Executive branch, what the Pentagon & Bush are trying to do should be of no surprise. What should be a surprise is that it hasn’t happened sooner.

  12. Wayne K Dolik  December 2, 2008 at 7:20 am

    “In a Democracy, a little bloodshed is a good thing.”

    George Washington

  13. ckaye99  December 3, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I am in Chicago and I don’t know if it is particularly heavy here because of Obama being around but the military/police presence in the Chicago Loop is staggering! For the actual rally we had riot police all over the place, with shoulder launched teargas grenade launchers, and dogs, and special tactical unit vehicles. On Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) there was also unbelievable overkill – for some reason ICE personnel, among others in military garb were walking around with attack dogs, eyeballing people on the street and giving out bad vibes. I have never seen such continuous presence of these paramilitary type “police” as I see now!

    This is EXTREMELY worrisome. Things have changed and I don’t like it and am getting as far away as I can!

  14. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Remembering June of 1989 and the Chinese protesters in Tienanmen Square in Beijing: The first troops present refused the order to fire and some even joined the protesters. In panic, the government brought in troops – the 39th Army, IIRC – from some distance away who did not understand the Beijing dialect.

    Yes, I believe that NG troops would not fire on their neighbors in similar circumstances, and I further believe that most NG officers would refuse such an order.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  15. woody188  December 1, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I guess it would just make too much sense to recall the National Guard. So instead our fearful leaders are going to bring in the army regulars. Why?

    Are the Guardsmen too undependable to open fire on their own families?

  16. Ladywolf55  December 1, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I really can’t see that this is “hogwash” Gazelle, and I don’t understand why you’ve been so touchy lately with most posters here.

    I wouldn’t put it past George W. Bush to pull anything he pleases to try to stay in power, or upset the apple cart of President-elect Obama. Bush strikes me as a very vindictive, vile creature, capable of just about anything, including spiteful acts against his own countrymen.

  17. Flapsaddle  December 1, 2008 at 11:20 am

    It sets a dangerous precedent – the militarization of police functions.

    Presently, in the event of a disaster, National Guard units can be mobilized to provide additional engineering and logistical support – including security – to civil authorities. I have problems with uniformed members of the armed services participating in that sort of activity, a job for which they are neither trained nor equipped.

    If you think that the military is the best thing for this type of support, then look at what has been happening in Iraq since the US armed forces ceased destroying formal resistance by military and paramilitary units and we started using the Army and the Marines as police officers.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  18. eggplant43  December 1, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I’m more than a little concerned about this action. As our liberties are eroded, an inch at a time, we don’t even feel any pain. We have not been diligent as citizens, and I fear we will all pay a price for our lack of oversight.

    As I see it, this nation functions best through the tension between disparate elements. Anything that lessons that tension threatens the edifice of democracy.

    We won’t be destroyed by the enemies from without, it will be those from within. This is the stuff of science fiction, George Orwell. Well orchestrated, you barely notice.

  19. gazelle1929  December 1, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Oh, come on. What the hell does immigration, legal or illegal, have to do with helping in the event of a disaster? I couldn’t find anything in that article about illegal immigrants and it seems disingenuous to insert that particular fear factor into the discussion.

    And where did this idea come from that troops would be or are being used against Americans? I too am opposed to the use of armed forces against Americans. But I don’t see where the “this use” came from.

  20. Malibu  December 1, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Many of us here at CHB are not pleased with a military footprint found within our individual states. It is also unnecessary if the Federal Government would simply enforce the immigration laws.

    Hopefully Blackwater will not be called in to check on the American citizens who have been labeled by Homeland Security as possible enemies.

    I, for one Gazelle, am opposed to this use of our armed forces to be used against Americans. It may be time for a demonstration by the American people that we will not accept this action. If it is not done here, it will be done elsewhere.

    CHB is known for the warning signs that need to be exposed. To ignore this threat is folly.

    Malcolm, a civil libertarian

  21. Malibu  December 1, 2008 at 10:02 am

    “There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.”

    This caught my eye and living in Arizona, where our new governor will be a member of the elite Republican Social Conservatives, I am concerned! We have as State National Guard and if we can ever get them home, we do not need to unbdermind the Posse Comitatus Act.

    I will not argue with you Gazelle as that could get us thrown out of CHB.

    Malcolm

  22. RichardKanePA  December 1, 2008 at 9:21 am

    The bin Laden wing of Al Qaeda hates Obama because Obama may permanently dash their hopes of turning Islam into a permanent waring people and dash their hopes on sicking the US on non or preferentially involved Muslim people. I would make the Inauguration day a private affair.
    RichardKanePA

  23. gazelle1929  December 1, 2008 at 9:11 am

    What a pile of hogwash you have created here. Leading off with “The Pentagon, rushing to complete lame-duck President George W. Bush’s military occupation of the United States. . ..” you have twisted the basic facts of the underlying story to create yet another opportunity for mindless rhetoric about the military versus the civilian population.

    If all else fails, read the rest of the article, which talks about how these 20,000 troops are being trained to help in the event of natural or man-made catastrophes. “. . . only 8 percent of their personnel will be responsible for security and that their duties will be to protect the force, not other law enforcement.” That comes out to about 1,600 troops. Let’s see, there are 1,600 troops, there are 300 million Americans.

    Routinely when we have a natural or man-made disaster here in the US, a governor somewhere calls out the National Guard troops to assist in one way or another. And when the governor calls for the Guard and they are off in Afghanistan or Iraq on a callup citizens are the first to scream their heads off and blame the military for not having enough resources to help them. You cannot have it both ways.

    And this tossing off President Bush’s “military occupation of the United States” as a given is criminally stupid. This stuff should be peddled somewhere else; there are plenty of conspiracy theorist websites which will welcome this junk with open arms. I hope the mainstream here at CHB are not part of that web.

  24. Nicholas H  December 1, 2008 at 8:25 am

    The “some in Congress” need to have their fascist, parasitic asses removed immediately.

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