Domestic Military Command Dangerous for Americans, Says ACLU

October 8, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union sharply criticized the Pentagon’s creation of a new command post today that includes responsibility for domestic law enforcement.

“We sent troops to Haiti to put their military out of the business of domestic law enforcement because it undermines democracy,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, a Legislative Counsel for the ACLU. “Now we are supposed to believe that turning our military into a national police force will somehow strengthen our democracy?”

Today’s announcement institutionalizes the substantial erosion of a century old ban, known as the Posse Comitatus Act, on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. Exceptions to the ban have often proven disastrous. In 1997, a Marine patrolling the Texas-Mexico border to prevent drug smuggling shot to death Ezekiel Hernandez, a students who was herding his family’s goats.

Claims by the Pentagon that the new command will only play a “support role” to other agencies and that its troops will not act as a highly armed police unit are inconsistent with its own recent request that Congress expand its authority to intervene when crimes involve weapons of mass destruction.

A little-noticed provision inserted in the Defense Authorization bill signed into law this week at the request of the Defense Department expands a measure adopted that permitted military involvement in “emergencies” involving chemical and biological weapons crimes. The new measure allows the military to deal with any crimes involving chemical or biological weapons — or any other weapon of mass destruction — even when there is no “emergency.”

“Under this new provision,” Nojeim said, “the mere threat of an act of terrorism would justify calling in military units. That represents a loophole large enough to drive a battalion of army tanks through.”

“It is ironic that the Pentagon is institutionalizing an operation in civilian policing at the same time Congress is investigating its participation in the Waco assault,” Nojeim continued. “As the new Waco revelations demonstrate, the military must not be turned against the American people. Soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, not to enforce laws and respect civil rights and civil liberties.”

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