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by Matt Ehling
Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2002 at 2:49 AM
The White House and Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge are calling for a review of the Posse Commitatus Act, which currently prohibits the military from engaging in domestic police activities.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION SEEKING DOMESTIC MILITARY POWERS
On Sunday, Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge called for a review of the Posse Commitatus Act, the 1878 law preventing the U.S. military from engaging in domestic police activities (see background below). The United States has traditionally kept the actions and jurisdictions of its law enforcement and military institutions separate and distinct. Likewise, the lack of these distinctions has been characteristic of many repressive regimes throughout modern history.
Call or write your representatives, urging them to uphold the integrity of the Posse Commitatus Act, and to keep the military out of domestic law enforcement.
Oppose the repeal or amendment of the Posse Commitatus Act.
As you are aware, the Bush administration has recently called for a review of the Posse Commitatus Act, the 1878 law preventing the U.S. military from engaging in domestic police activities.
Historically, the United States has recognized the importance of keeping its military discreet from domestic affairs. The Posse Commitatus Act is the legal fire-wall that prevents the military, specifically the Army, Navy, and Air Force, from operating domestically in a law enforcement capacity. Although enacted after the Civil War, the act draws upon a long-held understanding, dating from the founding of the Republic, that the military has no place in the internal workings of a free society. While necessary for national defense, the methods of the military are profoundly inappropriate for domestic deployment.
The military is trained to use overwhelming, lethal force to destroy enemy opposition in wartime combat. Its actions are not governed by constitutional considerations, and its application of force does not need to be calibrated to match a given situation, as do the actions of civilian police officers.
The amending or revocation of Posse Commitatus would only encourage the entree of the military into domestic operations it is not suited for. Domestic threats, including terrorism, are most properly handled by civilian police authorities. For emergencies beyond the capabilities of law enforcement, such as hazardous material response, America’s National Guard units are already available for use. Effective terrorism response should involve sharpening and clarifying existing emergency response programs, rather than opening the domestic sphere to military “mission creep”.
Use of the military in a domestic capacity has never been the long-term practice of the United States, and there in no reason why we should feel compelled, even in the face of the 9-11 terror attacks, to abandon that policy. A democracy does not survive by transforming itself into an impregnable garrison state. Please oppose any repeal or amendment of the Posse Commitatus Act.
WASHINGTON (AP) -
Homeland security chief Tom Ridge says the threat of terrorism may force government planners to consider using the military for domestic law enforcement, now largely prohibited by federal law.
President Bush has called on Congress to thoroughly review the law that bans the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines from participating in arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other police-type activity on U.S. soil. The Coast Guard and National Guard troops under the control of state governors are excluded from the Reconstruction era law, known as the "Posse Comitatus Act."
Ridge said Sunday that it "goes against our instincts as a country to empower the military with the ability to arrest," and called the prospect "very unlikely."
But he said the government is wise to examine the law.
"We need to be talking about military assets, in anticipation of a crisis event," Ridge said on "Fox News Sunday." "And clearly, if you're talking about using the military, then you should have a discussion about posse comitatus."
Two influential Democratic senators agreed with Bush and Ridge that the law ought to be reviewed, but expressed no interest in granting the military new powers to arrest American citizens.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman Senate Armed Services Committee, said posse comitatus "has served us well for a long time."
"It's kept the military out of law enforcement, out of arresting people except in the most unusual emergency situations like a riot or after some kind of a disaster where they have to protect against looting," Levin, D-Mich., said on CNN's "Late Edition."
However, he said: "I don't fear looking at it to see whether or not our military can be more helpful in a very supportive and assisting role even than they have been up to now — providing equipment, providing training, those kind of things which do not involve arresting people."
Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he favors expanding the military's role in responding to major catastrophes such as an attack by a weapon of mass destruction.
The law "has to be amended, but we're not talking about general police power," Biden, D-Del., said on "Fox News Sunday."
Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, who heads the new military command charged with defending American territory, told The New York Times he favors changing the law to grant greater domestic powers to the military to protect against terror attacks. He offered no specific changes he favored.
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