Posse Comitatus Alert: Military Deployed in Alabama to Aid with Murder Spree Law Enforcement Activities
As I was just interviewed by the Associated Press pertaining to federal troops being sent to Samson, Alabama immediately following a rampage last week which left 11 people dead, I’d thought I’d collect my thoughts on the issue here.
The AP is currently reporting the following:
The Army has launched an inquiry into whether federal laws were broken when soldiers were sent to an Alabama town after 11 people died in a shooting spree.
The Army confirmed Wednesday that 22 military police and an officer from Fort Rucker were sent to the nearby town of Samson after slayings last week. The town’s tiny police force and county officers were stretched to the limit after a gunman killed 10 people and himself.
Authorization from the governor or president is typically required for the deployment of federal troops on U.S. soil. It’s not clear who ordered the troops sent to Samson.
An Army spokesman says the military is trying to determine what happened. Among the questions is why the troops were sent and what they did while there.
CNS adds photographic evidence of military members on the scene as well as the following:
The troops were apparently not deployed by the request of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley — or by the request of President Obama, as required by law.
When contacted by CNSNews.com, the governor’s office could not confirm that the governor had requested help from the Army, and Gov. Riley’s spokesman, Todd Stacy, expressed surprise when he was told that troops had been sent to the town.
No request from President Obama, meanwhile, was issued by the White House–or the Defense Department.
Wrongful use of federal troops inside U.S. borders is a violation of several federal laws, including one known as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, Title 18, Section 1385 of the U.S. Code.
“Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both,” the law states.
David Rittgers, legal policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said there are other laws barring use of federal troops outside of federal property, as well.
“Title 18, Section 375 of the U.S. Code is a direct restriction on military personnel, and it basically precludes any member of the army in participating in a ‘search, seizure, arrest or other similar activity, unless participation is otherwise authorized by law,’ “ Rittgers told CNSNews.com.
“The security of a crime scene is something I think that would roll up in the category of a ‘search, seizure or other activity,’” Rittgers added.
In addition, there is the Insurrection Act of 1808, as amended in 2007, (Title 10, Section 331 of the U.S. Code) under which the president can authorize troops “to restore order and enforce the laws of the United States” in an insurrection.
Some quick thoughts on the topic:
- This does seem (based on evidence presented so far) to be a clear-cut violation of federal law. There may be some local law enforcement arrangements for pooling local law enforcement resources in time of disaster, but they would not override federal law on the matter.
- There doesn’t seem to be any major harm done, so long as we don’t allow the bar to be lowered for similar future tragedies. However, as citizens, it is important that we remain vigilant when things like this do occur.
- This needs to be investigated to determine where the fault lies. As I told the AP, if some local commander made a mistake, his wrist probably needs to be slapped, as appropriate. We do need to find where the system broke down in order to prevent something like this from happening again.
- This doesn’t seem to be part of any nefarious Obama plot to impose martial law across the land. Some folks seem to be claiming this is President Obama’s first step in some apocalyptic total-takeover scheme. For the conspiracy-minded out there, if this is such a plot, the Alabama mass murder seems to be a bad case to begin operations. It was a quick response to a local event with no advance notice. Anyway, it seems that Obama has a whole lot on his plate right now. He’s probably too occupied at the moment to be concentrating on how to use a handful of MPs to overturn the Constitution in the deep south.
- There are times when U.S. military forces do reasonably need to be involved in local issues. When I was in the Army, I was involved in an operation to remove unexploded military ordinance found on private property in the D.C. area. In this case, FEMA, local law enforcement and military personal cooperated and communicated about how to handle the issues involved and we (the military) were very mindful about the line between the military and civilians.
- That someone didn’t quickly answer the question about who ordered the MPs offbase is concerning. A quick and honest answer probably would have stopped online speculation which may continue for some time. It also (probably needlessly) undermines public confidence in the military. Why not simply say “who dunnit” so folks can move back to more important issues in their lives?
In short, we should probably try to figure out what happened and fix the problem so a) the bar doesn’t get lowered and b) we can prevent this from happening in the future. We need to remain vigilant, but not overreactive. Based on information available so far, it appears that no serious harm was done but we do need to get to the bottom of it — and with no stonewalling, either.
UPDATE: Here’s an updated AP report from the Houston Chronicle:
The chairman of the Libertarian Party of Alabama, Stephen Gordon, said while many are worried about the use of Army troops in civilian police roles, he doubts there was anything nefarious about the soldiers in Samson.
“There is no apparent harm here, but the principle still needs to be upheld,” Gordon said. “The barrier has been lowered for the next time, and we really need to take a look at what happened.”