Another Whimper In The Continuing Death Of Libertyby Doug Mataconis
And this time, I doubt that anyone will even notice:
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.
Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.
This comes despite the fact that the Posse Comitatus Act, passed all the way back in 1878 clearly and emphatically prohibits the use of American military forces in the United States as “law and order” forces in areas not already considered to be the property of the Federal Government.
The dangers of using military forces in areas that, by law and tradition, are the jurisdiction of domestic law enforcement should be manifest and, as Radley Balko predicts, it seems fairly clear that their role would, inevitably and inexorably, expand:
I predict that while now couched in terms of the necessity for a ready response to a cataclysmic terrorist attack, within five years there will be calls to use these forces for less urgent matters, such as crowd control at political conventions, natural disaster response, border control, and, inevitably, some components of the drug war (looking for marijuana in the national parks, for example).
Slowly but surely, the distinction between local, state, and federal law enforcement — all of which operate within limitations prescribed by the Constitution — and the military would be blurred.
From early days of the Republic, one of the greatest fears that the Founding Fathers had involved the creation of a standing army that would operate domestically in a manner that threatened the liberty of the people. Prior to the Civil War, that wasn’t a real concern because the standing army didn’t amount to very much. The passage of the Posse Comitatus Act sought to ensure that a larger Army would not become a threat to freedom.
Now, we’re on the verge of reversing 200 years of history.
There’s no real possibility that this new power won’t be abused.