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“The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog.”     G.K. Chesterton

March 19, 2009

Preliminary government answers about MPs in Alabama not passing sniff test

by Stephen Gordon

With respect to the story starting to hit both the mainstream media and “the tubes” about the recent US Army deployment in Alabama, the federal government response I’m seeing so far isn’t quite hitting hitting the common-sense sniff test.

The abbreviated version of this story is that US Army personnel were sent to assist with operations immediately following Michael McLendon’s murderous rampage in southern Alabama.  While this seems to be a clear violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, my initial response was to defend the military as much as possible.

As a veteran who has been involved in remotely similar operations, I’ve got a strong degree of empathy for the military side of the issue.  However, the Army Times‘ and Jerome Corsi’s World Net Daily explanations ain’t satisfying me, yet…

From the Army Times:

Geneva County Sheriff Greg Ward said Wednesday that he requested the MPs in response to an offer of assistance from a lieutenant colonel at Fort Rucker for generators, lights and other equipment.

“The lieutenant colonel called our [911] dispatch to say ‘we’re here if you need us,’” Ward told Army Times in a phone interview from his office in Geneva.

With seven separate crime scenes spanning a 20-mile area, Ward’s force of 12 deputies and about 10 more police from neighboring towns, were becoming overwhelmed, he said.

“I thought, let me call them back. So I asked for MPs to come in and relieve our personnel long enough so they could get something to eat,” Ward said, explaining that most of his men had been on the job since 7 a.m. and were exhausted.

The soldiers, he said, were assigned to five highway intersections to help keep traffic flowing and stood guard outside the most horrific crime scene in Samson in which six of the victims, including an 18-month old baby, were killed.

What Ward didn’t want, he said, was for anyone to sneak up and get a picture of the bodies and the soldiers watching the crime scene were instructed to inform the police if that was in danger of happening.

Here’s Corsi’s version:

The mystery over who ordered U.S. Army forces to patrol the streets of the south Alabama town where 11 people were killed in a shooting spree last week has been solved. WND confirmed troops from nearby Ft. Rucker provided limited assistance after a request from the police chief of Samson, Ala.

Multiple news agencies reported the Army was launching an investigation into why the troops were sent to the town, a possible violation of the law. The Associated Press reported uncertainty over who requested the assistance, noting it didn’t come from Republican Gov. Bob Riley or the White House.

“Under the authority of a mutual aid agreement which Fort Rutgers has with local law enforcement community in Samson, Alabama, the Samson city police chief requested support from military police after the shooting,” Lt. Col. Almarah Belk, an Air Force officer working for the Department of Defense press office, told WND in a telephone interview.

“Fort Rutgers provided 22 military police personnel, and five vehicles were sent into Samson to provide non-law enforcement support in the town of Samson, Alabama,” Belk said.

To be sure, I’ve had some serious problems in the past with both President Obama and Governor Riley. I strongly doubt either of them were involved in this.  To the conspiracy theorists trying to push this into a more serious issue, I’ll suggest trying to do some Freedom of Information Act requests for DNA testing on moon rocks.

However, it does appear that a law was broken — and one which helps bind the trust of citizens to the federal government.  Merely stating that local law enforcement requested federal help does not excuse whomever sent out the orders. If one is an agent of the U.S. Army, a local request does not trump federal law.

So far, I’ll stand by the points I made to the Associated Press and blogged earlier.  Here’s the AP version:

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.”

Here are the points I made earlier:

  • 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?

I’ve called Fort Rucker’s Public Affairs Office and left a message.  I’m sure I’ll probably get a reasonable response in the morning.  In the meantime, both sides would probably benefit from laying off the spin and simply providing both reasonable answers and rational responses.  I do spin for a living and am glad I didn’t step in this pile of it.  I also deal with conspiracy-minded folks and don’t like stepping in that equally smelly pile of stuff.

Based on what I know (mostly from the press) of the situation, the military response to the initial situation was “common-sense” reasonable and the situation doesn’t seem to have harmed anyone.  But it seems to be illegal.  The initial media responses seem to be disregarding mention of any actual law involved.

As I wrote earlier today, “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.”

If I was writing the Letter of Reprimand, it might begin with: When [insert rank and name] was faced with an important and timely situation, his immediate focus was upon the local crisis, but…

I also wrote: ” 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.”

From either a legal or prophetic perspective, this seems to be relevant: “There may be some local law enforcement arrangements for pooling local law enforcement resources in times of disaster, but they would not override federal law on the matter.”

I’ll add that a possible solution is to rewrite the law to state that if military personnel enter into domestic operations such as this, they should not be armed (which includes sidearms).  I’ve done my share of military operations in civilian areas unarmed and still survived.  Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

While everyone seems to be concentrating on an issue which (IMO) shouldn’t be a serious one, I’ve been trying to spend my day ensuring that African Americans have the same access to the law that the rest of us have when it comes to eminent domain issues.  I’m now several hours behind on the project, but I doubt anyone interested in this issue will care.

I used to co-edit a website with the tagline of “Common sense shoved up your …”

Perhaps it’s time for both sides in this debate to apply some common sense before they deservedly take it up their ellipses.


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7 Comments

  1. “I’ve been trying to spend my day ensuring that [blacks] have the same access to the law that the rest of us have when it comes to eminent domain issues.”

    They don’t? Is it a matter of pigment or is it really a matter of socioeconomic status? I suspect that regardless of either, they have just as equal access to the law as we all do.

    Comment by ThomasJ — March 19, 2009 @ 3:55 am
  2. So, as I understand it, the MPs would be okay doing what they did as long as they had approval from either the Governor or President? Did the previous arrangement they talk of between military and local law enforcement constitute Gubenatorial approval? And if it didn’t, how hard would it have been to ask the Governor to approve this?

    Comment by Peter — March 19, 2009 @ 6:01 am
  3. “Under the authority of a mutual aid agreement which Fort Rutgers has with local law enforcement community in Samson, Alabama…Fort Rutgers provided 22 military police personnel, and five vehicles were sent into Samson to provide non-law enforcement support in the town of Samson, Alabama,”

    I can’t imagine why such an arrangement was ever made in the first place. Doesn’t either organization have legal counsel?? If it was truly “non-law enforcement support”, doesn’t the chief of police have 22 close friends he could quickly call into service for emergencies?

    Did the previous arrangement they talk of between military and local law enforcement constitute Gubenatorial approval?

    I can’t imagine it did. The overrides for these laws are for “state of emergency” type scenarios. I can’t imagine a Governor or President could permanently delegate that type of decision to a town’s chief of police.

    And if it didn’t, how hard would it have been to ask the Governor to approve this?

    Exactly the point. The chief of police should have had the governor’s number on speed dial to get a quick approval for something like this. It’s a little bit of “red tape”, but that’s a small price to pay to show respect to an important law.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — March 19, 2009 @ 8:29 am
  4. Stephen, this only passes the sniff test if you think with your heart. It would be awful if someone took a picture of those who were killed and posted it on the internet, and you can bet that there are people out there who would, but that is an excuse, not a reason. It would have been better to have said that they didn’t have enough personnel to guard the crime scenes — still not acceptable, but that excuse, at lest, would show clear, non-sob story based thinking.

    Peter, in answer to your first question, no, they shouldn’t have been involved in local law enforcement. You are military or you are police — one or the other, not both. The military’s job is to kill people and break things. I, personally, had a job that involved keeping equipment running so the ship could get into position to launch planes . . . . so the pilots could kill people and break things.

    It does not matter if there was an arrangement between the local PD and the base. Unless the base itself was threatened — and I have yet to see anyone say that it was — the Army should not have been called in. If the base had been attacked, however, the Army would have a good basis to work with the local PD and to guard crime scenes, but not in this case.

    As for how hard it would have been to contact the Governor — unless you know someone who knows someone — very hard.

    Stephen, I think this is a lot more important than it looks on the surface, and certainly more important than Geneva County or the Army wants to admit.

    There needs to be a bright, clear line between law enforcement and military, and this is a clear violation.

    That whole “kill people and break things” line — that’s a funny way of stating it, but it’s not a joke. Every time military work with people, those people fall into clear, unambiguous groups, and at a time like this, how do you think the Army would perceive a woman, hysterical because she thinks her mother is one of the victims, throwing a fit and trying to push her way past the MPs to check?

    Hopefully — probably — they will be able to understand her terror and grief, but that is not the procedure they are trained for. They are not trained to care what the public thinks about them, and they are not trained to be nice, not like the police are.

    But the possibility of a hysterical civilian getting hurt isn’t what scares me, it’s the camel’s nose under the edge of the tent. The O-5 needs to slapped down — and hard! — to make sure this does not happen again.

    Comment by Merf — March 19, 2009 @ 8:43 am
  5. As for how hard it would have been to contact the Governor — unless you know someone who knows someone — very hard.

    Indeed, but such a connection should exist.

    Police Chief and/or Mayor >> Governor’s secretary >> Gov’s Chief of Staff >> Governor

    Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Maybe 30 if someone happens to be sleeping. If the matter is truly time sensitive, you could even send the troops to the location with orders to do absolutely nothing until further notice. The paperwork would probably be handled by the time they arrive, so no time would actually be lost.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — March 19, 2009 @ 10:31 am
  6. Jeff — “the troops.”

    National Guard, okay, but not Regular Army, not for a law enforcement situation.

    For a disaster, a bridge out, flood, tornado, where the troops will be a large number of strong backs to help find people, and people trained in first aid to be first responders, yes, but not when it comes to enforcing local laws.

    And yes, those lines of communication should be open, but from a logistics standpoint, any help from anyone further away than the next county would take too long. Thirty minutes — yes, to talk to the Governor, but much longer before anything gets done.

    It is not their fault, it is simply a fact that if the person or people you need are not already on duty, it takes time for them to get ready to do the job you need them to — gather equipment and such — and more time to travel to where they are needed.

    Comment by Merf — March 19, 2009 @ 12:11 pm
  7. [...] The Liberty Papers ?Blog Archive ? Preliminary government answers … By Stephen Gordon The soldiers, he said, were assigned to five highway intersections to help keep traffic flowing and stood guard outside the most horrific crime scene in Samson in which six of the victims, including an 18-month old baby, were killed. … The Liberty Papers – http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ & [...]

    Pingback by Crime Scene Photography Yo! Redux: crime scene? « — March 19, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

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