Monday, December 1, 2008

Stationing troops at home -- maybe not such a great idea

In a move foreshadowed by the September announcement that 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team would be stationed at home as a rapid-response force for "natural or manmade emergencies," the Washington Post reports, "[t]he 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." The move makes additional resources available in the event of crises at home. But it raises serious concerns about the potential use of the military in situations that could put Americans at risk.

It's not the first time that active-duty military personnel have been deployed at home. Troops went to New Orleans in 2005 to respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And thousands of regular-Army soldiers and Marines were dispatched to Los Angeles in 1992 to help subdue riots sparked by the "not guilty" verdicts in the trials of police officers charged with beating Rodney King.

But most troops are trained to wage war and destroy an enemy -- not maintain the peace and enforce laws. And they work under the command of federal government officials, not those in state and local office. The founders were wary of having a standing army at all, for fear that it would seize power or become a tool with which the federal government would dominate the population.

Even after a standing army was established, its domestic deployment was restricted by the Insurrection Act, which initially limited the use of military forces under federal command to deal with "insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy," and then only if state authorities were unequal to the task. The law was recently reworded to permit the use of troops in cases of "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition."

The domestic deployment of federal troops was further restricted in the wake of Reconstruction by the Posse Comitatus Act, to prevent the use of military personnel in a law-enforcement capacity. Rather than a peace-time policing mission, though, the purpose of the 20,000-strong force described by the Washington Post would seem to fall within the parameters of the revised Insurrection Act.

But even if a sizeable domestic deployment of troops is legal, is it wise?

There's still the undeniable fact that the main mission of the military is to subdue an enemy. The circumstances under which military personnel are expected to serve are very different than the legally defined, constitutionally constrained, roles played by police officers.

That's not to say that military personnel can't be trained along first-responder and police lines, but it seems likely that they would then become federal police officers rather than soldiers. It's difficult to imagine them smoothly transitioning back and forth between the two roles without the training for one bleeding into the performance of the other. If they try to act like cops on the battlefield, they may put themselves and their comrades at risk. But if they behave like soldiers while responding to problems at home, life and liberty could be in danger.

In recent years, many police forces have deliberately adopted military weapons and tactics, and the result has too often been excessively violent law-enforcement responses to peaceful legal transgressions -- sometimes with lethal results. As Professor Peter Kraska, an expert on police tactics based at Eastern Kentucky University, told the BBC for an article on the militarization of American police forces, "The problem is that when you talk about the war on this and the war on that, and police officers see themselves as soldiers, then the civilian becomes the enemy."

If the people responding to domestic crises really are soldiers, such violent overreactions stand to become even more common.

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Blogger DC said...

Glen Beck Talked about this tonight on his radio show. It is amazing what the government will do to make us "safer." Whenever our "safety" and "national security" is the topic/reason for an action in our government, it seems like the constitution is thrown right out the window.

-David Carlson
David Carlson Politics

December 1, 2008 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but our constitution became nothing more than an old piece of paper with some 'quaint' notions on how a republic should be run quite some time ago. if you want it back stop voting for folks like obama, mccain etc.

December 2, 2008 6:46 AM  

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