What's A Posse Comitatus?

Can anyone say "mission creep"? The military always can, which is why a new initiative to give the Pentagon an ability to surge a combat-ready force

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Can anyone say "mission creep"? The military always can, which is why a new initiative to give the Pentagon an ability to surge a combat-ready force for domestic security is so worrying.

The 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, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department's role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military's role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

They can say it all they want, but that doesn't make it so. And more to the point, the Bush administration knows it. Their analysts have already given them a half dozen scenarios involving WMD level casualties without actually using WMDs, exploiting LNG tankers, blowing up a big enough bomb next to an existing reactor or using other everday aspects of the nation's industry and commerce. All are easier to pull off than smuggling a bomb, or radioactives, into the country or than gathering a sizeable store of such material from domestic sources without discovery.

And the point is that predicting and preventing such attacks should be the job of civilian agencies, not the military - and so should dealing with any aftermath. Political scientist Dr. Steven Taylor writes:

There are two key problems here. The first is that the function of the military isn’t domestic security and second, the military is already rather busy at the moment (and for the foreseeable future).

First, the military isn’t designed or trained for domestic responses. Training for a nuclear attack or an invasion is one thing, assigning an active-duty combat brigade to a specifically domestic task is yet another.

Indeed, one of the command centers the Bush administration has green-lighted, based on Hawaii, is specifically tasked with overseeing the military's response to an outbreak of human-strain avian flu. Another in South Carolina is tasked with earthquake response. No terrorists in sight.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute are troubled by what they consider an expansion of executive authority.

Domestic emergency deployment may be “just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority,” or even an increase in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU’s National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of “a creeping militarization” of homeland security.

“There’s a notion that whenever there’s an important problem, that the thing to do is to call in the boys in green,” Healy said, “and that’s at odds with our long-standing tradition of being wary of the use of standing armies to keep the peace.”

The military already gets the lion's share of the intelligence budget - over 80%. Back in 2005, even Saxby Chambliss was writing for the neocon Heritage Foundation that that was a bad idea. Now it seems determined, in line with Bush administration policy, to grab the domestic security portfolio too. The Dept. of Homeland Security will go right along with it too, arguing that Bush's power as the Unitary Executive Deciderer In Chief outweighs Posse Commitatus. The dynamic has been clear since the earliest days of the Bush presidency, according to an essay for the Naval postgraduate school's Strategic Insights magazine back in 2003.

America's post-9/11 obsession with securing the "homeland" shifted the domestic political landscape, including American civil-military relations. The American model of civil-military relations has been characterized by a contract according to which the military defends the nation's borders while domestic police keep order at home. "On September 11," in the words of DoD Transformation "czar" Arthur K. Cebrowski, "America's contract with the Department of Defense was torn up and a new contract is being written."

Over at Hullabaloo, DDay writes:

This goes to the other side of how this nation is changing radically - with a series of programs conceived largely by executive fiat that weakens civil liberties protections and subverts the plain letter of the law. This includes illegal wiretapping of American citizens, indefinite detention of prisoners without charges, and the dehumanizing practice of torture, which is ineffective and deeply dangerous to the lives of our troops.

And "b" at Moon of Alabama notes America's single-minded reliance on the military as the hammer for all nails and wonders, as do many of us, whether Obama and his centrist hawk national security team will really try to rollback such egregious abuses of power, or simply embrace them.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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