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The End of Posse Comitatus?

twig's picture

Three battalions of Marines (about 1,500, all military police) are being trained to take on civilian law enforcement duties, such as “helping control civil disturbances, handling detainees, carrying out forensic work, and using biometrics to identify suspects.“

The cover story is that the new, improved Marines will be sent to “allied countries,” where they will assist in “securing crime scenes and building cases so criminals end up behind bars and not back out on the streets because of mistakes.”

They’re good guys, see? Locking up criminals and all. No cause for concern. Well, maybe a little. Legal scholar Jonathan Turley, for example, is not thrilled with the new hybrid soldier/cops. And he’s not happy that military types are putting together plans like “Full Spectrum Operations for the Homeland: A ‘Vision’ of the Future,” even if they are just fantasizing about how the armed forces might “deter conflict” domestically (using, oddly enough, rogue Tea Partiers as the example). According to Turley:

It lays out not just the military but the legal basis for military operations to crush domestic insurrections in the United States.

I assume none of this is new. Some members of the military probably have been amusing themselves for years by thinking of ways to beat up hippies. Theoretically, the Posse Comitatus Act prevents that from actually happening. Or at least, that's what I thought. But if this article from Wikipedia is correct, good luck with that (bolding added):

The Posse Comitatus Act is the United States federal law (18 U.S.C. 1385) that was passed on June 18, 1878, after the end of Reconstruction. Its intent (in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807) was to limit the powers of local governments and law enforcement agencies in using federal military personnel to enforce the laws of the land. Contrary to popular belief, the Act does not prohibit members of the Army from exercising state law enforcement, police, or peace officer powers that maintain “law and order”; it simply requires that any authority to do so must exist with the United States Constitution or Act of Congress. In this way, most use of the Army and the Air Force at the direction of the President does not offend the statute, even though it may be problematic for political reasons. [no kidding!]

I hope this doesn’t come off as a “we’re all going to detention camps” crazy post. It could be a whole lot of nothing. But the issue of using military force domestically is on Turley’s radar, and I’ve always thought of him as one of the more rational and objective legal experts around.

I have no problem with provocative articles exploring scenarios. This [sic] are issues that we should be discussing. However, the tenor and one-sided analysis of the [Full Spectrum] piece is rather chilling. What is even more chilling is the lack of national debate as the Obama Administration continues the expansion of the military into domestic law enforcement and operations. It is indeed a “vision for the future” — the question is whether this is the vision that most citizens have for their government and themselves.

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