Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Slippery Slope toward a Banana Republic?

During my years in the Virginia Army National Guard it was an annual event to see the infantry companies of the 1st Brigade, 29th Infantry Division (Light) going through Civil Disturbance Training with riot shields.

On a variety of occasions our troops were called out in natural disasters (primarily floods), and had to provide security against looting in areas that had been evacuated.

That part of the mission always worried me, even though I could accept the necessity. The key part of this use of military force in a civilian setting, however, is that when our National Guard elements were so used, we were mobilized by the State of Virginia, under the command of the Governor, and paid by the State instead of the Feds.

This is a critical factor, along with the fact that 90% or better of the soldiers were citizens of the State in question.

Now, however, the Federal government is openly prepared Regular Army units for use on American soil.

From The Army Times:

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.

It is not the first time an active-duty unit has been tapped to help at home. In August 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell in Mississippi and Louisiana, several active-duty units were pulled from various posts and mobilized to those areas.

But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

After 1st BCT finishes its dwell-time mission, expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one.

“Right now, the response force requirement will be an enduring mission. How the [Defense Department] chooses to source that and whether or not they continue to assign them to NorthCom, that could change in the future,” said Army Col. Louis Vogler, chief of NorthCom future operations. “Now, the plan is to assign a force every year.”

The image of American GIs helping flood victims is appealing; the idea of our own troops being employed by the Federal government against our fellow citizens is more than disquieting.

Civil Libertarians will rush to cite Posse Comitatus as a direct prohibition against the use of Federal military force in civilian settings, but--ala Alberto Gonzalez--the military Judge Advocate General Corps is already preparing the legal [or at least the semblance of legal] ground.

From The Myth of Posse Comitatus, by Major Craig T. Trebilcock, U.S. Army Reserve JAG:

The Posse Comitatus Act has traditionally been viewed as a major barrier to the use of U.S. military forces in planning for homeland defense. In fact, many in uniform believe that the act precludes the use of U.S. military assets in domestic security operations in any but the most extraordinary situations. As is often the case, reality bears little resemblance to the myth for homeland defense planners. Through a gradual erosion of the act’s prohibitions over the past 20 years, posse comitatus today is more of a procedural formality than an actual impediment to the use of U.S. military forces in homeland defense....

Does the act present a major barrier at the National Command Authority level to use of military forces in the battle against terrorism? The numerous exceptions and policy shifts carried out over the past 20 years strongly indicate that it does not. Could anyone seriously suggest that it is appropriate to use the military to interdict drugs and illegal aliens but preclude the military from countering terrorist threats that employ weapons of mass destruction? For two decades the military has been increasingly used as an auxiliary to civilian law enforcement when the capabilities of the police have been exceeded. Under both the statutory and constitutional exceptions that have permitted the use of the military in law enforcement since 1980, the president has ample authority to employ the military in homeland defense against the threat of weapons of mass destruction in terrorist hands.

The distinction between a true Federal Republic and a South American-style Banana Republic is civilian control of the military and--just as significantly--the prohibition against using military forces in civilian law enforcement.

While this last step is obviously a Bushco transgression, go back to the JAG excerpt above and note the precedents we've allowed to be set: use of the US military in the Drug War and against illegal immigrants.

Just like those whacko Libertarians have been trying to tell you for years....

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