ACLU Says New Homeland Security Commander Raises Questions; Calls on Pentagon to Keep Military out of Civilian Law Enforcement

February 6, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today called on the government to ensure that the new homeland security commander at the Pentagon not become involved in civilian law enforcement.

“This command could be dangerous,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The military’s mission is not to respect constitutional liberties. Its mission is to use overwhelming force to defeat and kill the enemy.”

The ACLU expressed its concern today that the establishment of a homeland security commander at the Pentagon would undercut traditional reluctance on the part of the military to engage in civilian policing. Edgar said that the ACLU’s main fear is that the Posse Comitatus Act – a law dating back more than a century that bans military involvement in civilian law enforcement – is so rife with exceptions that it would not be an effective substitute for this institutional reluctance.

“Current law must be strengthened to ensure that military law enforcement does not become routine but rather is limited to truly catastrophic emergencies where civilian law enforcement cannot respond,” Edgar said.

Military law enforcement has often proven disastrous. In 1970, for example, a unit of inexperienced National Guardsmen opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University, resulting in four dead and nine seriously injured. More recently, a Marine assigned in 1997 to interdict drug smugglers at the Mexican border tragically killed a young student herding his family’s goats.

“The ACLU has no objection to the more effective coordination of the different branches of the armed services,” Edgar said. “What we’re worried about is mission creep. When the lines are blurred between the law enforcement and the military there is a very real danger of damage to our basic liberties.”

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